The current display itinerary of the Estense Gallery comprises a selection of over three hundred paintings.
The current display itinerary of the Estense Gallery comprises a selection of over three hundred paintings originating both from the centuries-long patronage of the Este dynasty and from modern acquisitions by the Italian State in the form of bequests, targeted acquisitions and donations. The layout therefore reflects how the original dynastic concept of the picture gallery has been progressively integrated to adapt to the character of a National Gallery. The collection is now organised in chronological order from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, broken down into schools of painting and well-defined thematic sections. These include, for instance, the portraits and the important sixteenth-century cycles of detached frescoes by Niccolò dell’Abate and Lelio Orsi, originating from the fortresses of Scandiano and of Novellara.
Among the oldest works, which revoke the time at which the Este court of Ferrara was one of the greatest centres of the Renaissance, are masterpieces by Cosmè Tura, Dosso Dossi and Correggio, in a long symbolic itinerary which leads up to the masters of the Venetian sixteenth-century school, including Cima da Conegliano, Veronese and Tintoretto.
The seventeenth and eighteenth-century rooms reflect the new surge of patronage which followed the transfer of the capital to Modena.
Starting with Francesco I, immortalised in the famous portrait by Velázquez, the Este Dukes acquired cabinet paintings as well as masterpieces of sacred art from the churches in the territory. In this way, they have passed down to us exquisite works by Emilian masters such as Leonello Spada, Carlo Bononi, Luca Ferrari and Alessandro Tiarini, and also by foreign painters including Nicolas Tournier and Nicolas Régnier, along with landscapes and still lifes and above all monumental altarpieces by some of the greatest artists of the Baroque, including the Carracci, Guido Reni and Guercino. Fostering of the arts continued also in the first half of the nineteenth century, under the government of the last Este Duke, Francesco V, with the acquisition of important works by the exponents of the academic Este school, an integral part of the artistic heritage bequeathed to the city, now conserved in the repositories of the most important Modena institutions.