Artibus et Historiae no. 63 (XXXII)

2011, ISSN 0391-9064

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STEVEN F. OSTROW - (Re)presenting Francesco I d’Este: An Allegorical Still Life in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

A large and enigmatic still life in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents Bernini’s Bust of Francesco I d’Este surrounded by an array of objects, including flora, fauna, and astronomical instruments. Since it entered the scholarly literature in 1902, this oil on canvas has confounded scholarly efforts to identify its author, determine the circumstances of its production, and decipher its iconography. After arguing for an attribution to the Modenese court painter Francesco Stringa, this essay contends that the painting, rather than communicating a vanitas theme – as it has been traditionally interpreted – is a highly charged political image, one that celebrates the virtuous rule of Francesco I and the continuity of that rule under his son and successor, Alfonso IV, who likely commissioned the painting in 1660.

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