Learned Man with a Compass and Globe

Dosso Dossi (Giovanni Luteri)

Tramuschio, Mirandola, c. 1486 – Ferrara, 1542

Oil on canvas

Inv. Property of the Fondazione Carife, on loan to the Pinacoteca

The Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara

Together with the other painting belonging to the Fondazione Carife depicting a Learned Man with a Book, the Learned Man with a Compass and a Globe is part of a larger series which is known to contain four other works. Their provenance is unknown, but the size of the canvases and the scholarly theme of the iconography indicate that they were intended for a library or study in one of the Este residences or palaces. The most convincing theory is that the paintings formed a cycle dedicated to the seven liberal arts. The figure measuring the firmament with a compass and holding a globe featuring the signs of the zodiac is probably Astrology. The fact that the liberal arts are personified not by traditional medieval feminine figures, but by athletic, semi-nude philosophers fits perfectly with Dosso’s taste, and that of the Este court, for unusual iconography. The powerful, semi-nude masculine figures represent the pinnacle of Dosso’s engagement with Michelangelo’s work, with their clear echoes of the Ignudi in the Sistine Chapel. The expansive forms and the rapid execution are distinctive of Dosso’s style in the early Twenties of the sixteenth century.