Dossi was born in San Giovanni del Dosso Mantova - Mantua. His early training
and life is not well-documented; his father, originally of Trento, was a bursar
(spenditore or fattore) for the Dukes of Ferrara. He may have had training
locally with Lorenzo Costa or in Mantua, where he is known to have been in 1512.
By 1514, he would begin three decades of service for dukes Alfonso I and Ercole
II d'Este, becoming principal court artist. Dosso worked frequently with his
brother Battista Dossi, who had trained in the Roman workshop of Raphael. The
works he produced for the dukes included the ephemeral decorations of furniture
and theater sets. He is known to have worked alongside il Garofalo in the
Costabili polyptych. One of his pupils was Giovanni Francesco Surchi (il Dielai).
Dosso Dossi is known less for his naturalism or attention to design, and more
for cryptic allegorical conceits in paintings around mythological themes, a
favored subject for the humanist Ferrarese court (see also Cosimo Tura and the
decoration of the Palazzo Schifanoia). Freedburg uses the term sprezzatura to
refer to Dossi's caricature-like, primitivist, and eccentric distortions of
proportion. Dossi is also known for the atypical choices of bright pigment for
his cabinet pieces. Some of his works, such as the Deposition have lambent
qualities that suggest some of Correggio's works. Most of his works feature
Christian and Ancient Greek themes and use oil painting as a medium.
The painting Aeneas in the Elysian Fields was part of the Camerino d'Alabstro of
Alfonso I in the Este Castle, decorated with canvases depicting bacchanalia and
erotic subjects including Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini and Venus
Worship by Titian. The frieze paintings were based on the Aeneid; this scene by
Dossi is book 6, lines 635-709, wherein Aeneas is guided over the bridge into
the Elysian Fields by the Cumaean Sibyl. Orpheus with the lyre flits in the
forest; in the background are the ghostly horses of dead warriors.
In Hercules and the Pygmies, Hercules has fallen asleep after defeating Antaeus,
and is set upon by an army of thumb-size pygmies, whom he defeats. He gathers
them in his lion skin. Paintings depicting a powerful Hercules were commonly
made for the then-ruler Duke Ercole II d'Este. The subjects of the Mythological
Scene and Tubalcain are unknown.
Portrait of a Youth, the only confirmed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia by Dosso
Dossi (1514-1516), at the National Gallery of Victoria.Recently, "Portrait of a
Youth" at the National Gallery of Victoria, the mysterious portrait of an
unknown subject by an unknown painter, has been identified as a portrait of the
infamous Lucrezia Borgia by Dosso Dossi
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