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Renaissance Cities - Ferrara
Imagine New York City declaring war on Washington, DC. It might not be a good time to live in the crossfire near Philadelphia. Today it might happen on a football field, but in Renaissance Italy during the fifteenth century, armies from one city almost routinely did battle with armies from neighbouring cities. So, what would you do if you were a small city sandwiched between two much bigger and more powerful cities? You throw lavish parties, smile a lot, and build wide moats. If you're the Este family living in Ferrara, you marry off your sons and daughters to the ruling families of other cities all over Europe, maintain a high social prominence, and just to be on the safe side, build your luxurious Renaissance palace adjacent to your well-fortified Medieval castle. In short, you forge astute diplomatic alliances and try to keep your neighbours happy.

The city of Ferrara is located at the top of the Italian boot, inland from the Adriatic Sea and east coast of Italy. And for the Ferrarese, it was also far too close for comfort to Venice. Meanwhile at its back door, something over a hundred miles away, was Milan. The Este family maintained one of the richest, most influential courts, in not just Italy, but in all of Europe. They claimed a lineage back to King Arthur and the Round Table, though it's strange that an Italian family should have an English heritage. And though we don't often hear much about it, there was even a Ferrarese school of painting, centring on the work of Cosimo Tura, Ercole de Roberti, and Francesco del Cossa. Though influenced by Piero della Francesca and Donatello, Ferrarese painting has a look all its own. It's highly stylised, very decorative, colourful, and strangely enough, has a Northern Renaissance look about it. But then again, perhaps it's not so strange. Ferrara was a very cosmopolitan town.

Ferrara was quite the party town too. If not descended from English kings, at least their favourite sport came from Western Europe and England--Jousting. So rich and influential was the Este family that any royalty travelling through Italy in Renaissance times felt duty-bound to stop by and pay their respects. And when they did, it was cause for celebration--pitch the party tents, light the lights (err...candles) and strike up the band. So well-connected was the Este family to nearly every city/state in the developing political environment in Europe at the time that they were in a position to exert social and political influence all over the continent far beyond the realm of their size and defensive military power. And their art was the rich, highly decorated backdrop against which such pomp and circumstance was played out. Even into this century, Ferrara and the Este family remained quite prominent in the social and political circles of the Italian nation.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
8 February 1999

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