Since I began to travel throughout Italy
I have been 4 times to Ferrara, a record on my journal!
In 2022 it was particularly important for me to return, for a collection of sculptures of ladies and knights inspired by Orlando Furioso had been temporarily displayed in the courtyard of the castle.
Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando) is an epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto dated 1516, one of the classics I’m going to explore in 2023 (along with Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata).
Settled with the background of wars between Muslims and Christians, it tells about the paladino Orlando in love with Angelica, who will eventually marry Medoro, driving our knight to madness.
Other prominent characters are Ruggiero and Bradamante, whose marriage marks the origins of the Este dynasty.
Ferrara has been homeland of notable names of the past
Besides poet Ludovico Ariosto, we should also mention Belle Époque painter Giovanni Boldini, film director Michelangelo Antonioni and novelist Giorgio Bassani, author of Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini about the destiny of a Jewish family a few years before the breakout of World War II.
Though expecting a town of historical significance, I did not know that it had been one of the great cradles of the Renaissance, attracting artists from almost everywhere.
Ferrara conveys me a quiet slow paced atmosphere, if compared to other cities of Emilia-Romagna, perhaps because of the gentle architecture of palaces and arcades.
Modena for example reminds me of rock and opera.
I imagine Imola will make me live again the times when I used to cheer for Formula 1.
Parma speaks to me about composer Giuseppe Verdi and praised conductor Arturo Toscanini.
The stunning Palazzo dei Diamanti
the Diamond Palace, is where I had walked among the extraordinary Giovanni Boldrini’s portraits exposed alongside a bit of history of fashion in late 2018.
Try to figure it out: not just a window, not just a doorway, rather ALL the exterior walls, one by one, in complete white – glowing in a sunshine day!!! INCREDIBILE!
You won’t see any other similar wonder for the rest of your life…
Giovanni Boldini was born in Ferrara, but spent much of his life and business in Paris during the period remembered as Belle Époque, i.e. between the second half of the 1800s and the outbreak of World War I, when fashion took the field, hand in hand with literature and art, becoming distinctive of the self and therefore exposed to all interpretations.
It was the time of a fashion that had to cover absolutely everything, but emphasize female forms.
Boldini’s women had expressions of ladies with CLEAR personalities
He used to leave nothing to chance, choosing everything down to the smallest detail: the pose, the dress… And husbands got obviously jealous!
Women were bewitched by Boldini; was it for vanity, or were they simply craving for admiration?
In those portraits I find a harmony of elements that project beauty in both visual and profound ways.
I feel kind of a heed to return to the true beauty of unassuming femininity, something vital, unique and unrepeatable.
The ESTE CASTLE looks like a typical medieval manor house
with the moat around it filled with water, elevated bridges, and stacked cannonballs.
Commissioned for defensive purposes, it had later become the residence of dukes and duchesses (Lucrezia Borgia among them), each living in their own wing, each with their own court “peppered” with parallel courts, all playing rivals with one another.
This is testified by some rhyming quotations, such as those from Ariosto himself, an INTOLERANT member of Hippolytus’ court:
From the opinion of most I remove myself
[from those] Who stay in court esteem greatness
Whom I for the contrary to servitude turn
The castle was house of the Este dynasty, whose name was strengthened in the 1500s.
They managed power by branching it into clientelistic entanglements, viewing the state itself like a property to be divided among them.
Duke Borso, for example, used to say that Ferrara was the school of Italy and he the master presiding over it… 😒
The spacious kitchens were the stage of banquet-shows full of shadows, dreams, Chimeras, fictions, metaphors and allegories.
In the lightless basements was imprisoned Julius, brother of Alfonso I, pardoned after a very long time, and though seen still strolling vigorously in the clothes of fifty years earlier.
The courtyard is beautifully preserved.
Everything here really seems to have remained at the time of those who reigned over it, no brick seems evere out of place.
Its courtyard “invaded” by ladies and knights
Horses, men and women at human scale.
A few women covered with burkas, another one with a dagger, two others on a boat in the act of fighting.
Oh, no! They‘re hunting 😲
Their curvy lines are certainly a sign of distinction of women’s strength from men’s.
It’s impressive to stand among all those horses on the ground or bolted.
Sculptures that celebrate no one’s power, instead calling to mind great values of courage.
An angel watches and writes, sitting on horse and rider now on the ground.
On the opposite side an aged man, head covered, with a book and a thoughtful expression. Ariosto himself?
Writers keep out of battles, but they WATCH them with the close attention that those who throw themselves headlong into fight often lack.
Intrigued by a hand-to-hand fight on the ground, I approach guessing they are both men, but instead one is a woman, and the man lies under. A simple detail related to contemporary society, or… medieval literature passage?
At this point the book attracts me even more... 😍
Such literature was not designed to entertain but to PASS DOWN knowledge.
Returning on their pages helps regain vigour and get rid of stereotypes.
When I dive more into the beautiful historic centre, I always wonder
“Will I be able to admire the cathedral in full? ” No way…
In 2022 the work after the earthquake was still in progress, but at least the extraordinary facade was more visible.
I also stopped in the room of the fallen, on the opposite side, feeling as usual deeply moved… my consolation is that NO ONE is forgotten by their beloved ones; and even less is forgotten by God.
I remember having been a little disappointed by the
stop at Ariosto’s House
not because of the much or less to see (ANY historic place is heritage), but for lack of a minimum service to welcome visitors.
I mean: it was June, hot and I was a stranger.
I found it hard having to read thousands of notions without someone to help me understand in simpler words WHO WAS Ludovico Ariosto and WHAT he REPRESENTS TODAY for Ferrara.
Wouldn’t it be time to engage in greater local initiative?
Anyway: my interest in The Orlando has remained firm.
To sum up, this has been my Ferrara experience, having still (of course!) much more to discover, like for example the Jewish Museum.
But my Ferrara memory keeps tied to history: the castle, the Renaissance period, women able to employ their influence to decide diplomatic strategies, and the humanistic ideal of pursuing good governance despite of betrayal and manipulation.
Always a good choice to travel and learn from history: an opportunity for us today to bring in a meaningful change.
GRAZIE for reading!
Do you have a Ferrara story to share?
Feel free to leave a comment or email me!
I enjoy experiencing art & culture firsthand.