DOSSI, Dosso
(b. ca. 1490, Ferrara, d. 1542, Ferrara)


Italian painter (original name Giovanni di Niccolò di Lutero), part of a family of painters. Dosso Dossi and his less talented younger brother Battista Dossi were the leading painters at the court of Ferrara under Alfonso I d'Este and Ercole II d'Este. Their father was a native of the Trentino who became bursar at the court of Duke Ercole I of Ferrara and whose property, the Villa Dossi in the province of Mantua, gave the brothers their surname. Their activities were typical of Renaissance court artists: decorating palazzi and villas with frescoes and canvases, usually on mythological or poetic themes; providing designs for tapestries, theatre sets, festival decorations, banners, coins and tableware; painting portraits and small-scale devotional works; gilding their employer's furniture and decorating and varnishing carriages and barges. Most of this work, mentioned in ducal records, is now lost. They also painted altarpieces and, when permitted to do so by the Duke of Ferrara, larger decorative projects for other patrons.

Dosso Dossi was the outstanding painter of the Ferrarese School in the 16th century. His early life and training are obscure, but Vasari's assertion that he was born around 1474 is now thought unlikely. He is first recorded in 1512 at Mantua (the name 'Dosso' probably comes from a place near Mantua - he is not called 'Dosso Dossi' until the 18th century). By 1514 he was in Ferrara, where he spent most of the rest of his career, combining with the poet Ariosto in devising entertainments, triumphs, tapestries, etc. for the Este court.

Dosso painted various kinds of pictures - mythological and religious works, portraits, and decorative frescoes — and he is perhaps most important for the part played in his work by landscape, in which he continues the romantic pastoral vein of Giorgione and Titian. The influence from these two artists is indeed so strong that it is thought he must have been in Venice early in his career. Dosso's work, however, has a personal quality of fantasy and an opulent sense of colour and texture that gives it an individual stamp {Melissa, Borghese Gallery, Rome, c. 1523). His brother Battista Dossi (c. 1497-1548) often collaborated with him, but there is insufficient evidence to know whether he made an individual contribution.

Although responsive to a wide range of outside influences, the most important of which were probably those of Giorgione in Venice and Raphael in Rome, he was an artist of great originality with a strong feeling for effects of light and colour. Landscape plays a prominent and highly expressive role in his work.

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