The camerino d’alabastro (alabaster room)—one of the private apartments linking the Castelle Estense and Palazzo Ducale in Ferrara—was created for Duke Alfonso I D’Este as home to a collection of paintings famous across Italy. Among the masterpieces were works by Giovanni Bellini (The Feast of the Gods, 1514), Titian (three canvases, including Bacchus and Ariadne, 1519-23, now in the National Gallery, London), and the Aeneas Frieze (around 1520) by the court painter Dosso Dossi. Dossi’s frieze—made up of ten canvases of episodes from Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid—and the remainder of the camerino’s contents, were dispersed when Alfonso’s grandson Alfonso II died without heir in 1597 and the collection fell, through feudal law, into the hands of the papacy.
The Dossi frieze joined the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese to decorate his villa—now the Galleria Borghese, in Rome—and was subsequently relocated to Spain. Now, the Galleria Borghese is reuniting five of the paintings for the first exhibition dedicated to Dossi’s frieze. The location of the majority of the canvases was, until recently, unknown. “Until the late 1990s, we only knew about three of the ten paintings,” says the curator Marina Minozzi. “Now we have located seven.”
The Rome show will include sections of the frieze loaned from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Louvre Abu Dhabi, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and private collections. “These are works of great originality”, Minozzi says. Their impact is still staggering today.”
However, not all the known Aeneas canvases will be exhibited: part of the frieze owned by the National Gallery of Canada has been deemed too fragile to transport to Italy, while another held by Birmingham’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts may not feature due to “logistical problems”. While research into the frieze is progressing, Minozzi says, the work remains shrouded in mystery. “Art historians are still unsure about the sequence of the panels,” she says. “Even today, there is so much to discover about this magnificent work.”
• Dosso Dossi: the Frieze of Aeneas, Galleria Borghese, Rome, 4 April-11 July