An Epic Masterpiece Reunited

by Danilo Brunetti

The works of a painting cycle long divided come together at one of the city’s most beautiful museums. Tiffany Parks explains.

For the first time ever since their creation, five of the ten canvases that made up Dosso Dossi’s magnificent Frieze of Aeneas, are brought together in a single location, namely the Borghese Gallery, as part of the museum’s ongoing exploration of landscape painting and the relationship between art and nature. The Ferrarese master painted the frieze for the Alabaster Camerino of the palace of Duke Alfonso I d’Este in Ferrara between 1518 and 1520. The project, curated by Marina Minozzi and inspired by the recent reappearance of some of these paintings, is the result of an ambitious collaboration with the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Prado Museum in Madrid.

The frieze, of which only seven canvases have been found to date, was created by Dosso Dossi to illustrate specific episodes of Virgil’s epic poem. Commissioned by Alfonso I for his “Camerino delle Pitture,” already brimming with paintings by Bellini, Titian, and the same Dosso depicting stories of Bacchus and Venus (the mother of Aeneas), the exaltation of temperance in ancient rulers, and the celebration of the founders of the city, the cycle is linked in a complex way and yet differently interpreted than the earlier paintings.

The paintings on display demonstrate Dosso’s fantastical and original creativity, enhanced by the stories of ancient poetry, characterized by vibrant colors and a fascinating eccentricity, and illustrating the artistic environment of 16th-century Ferrara. The cycle of paintings presents a universal landscape with a wide variety of elements: coasts, sea, hills, and cities, as well as an infernal landscape, which Aeneas observes as he descends into the Underworld. At the same time, the hero travels towards the foundation of a new homeland, underlining the centrality of Rome for European artists in the 16th and 17th centuries.