Jupiter, Mercury and Virtue,
c. 3rd decade of the 16th century,
Lanckoroński Collection, Wawel Castle
Dosso Dossi (c.1486-1542) was a Renaissance painter from the city of Ferrara in Northern Italy. Collaborating with his brother Battista, Dosso created some of the most groundbreaking yet baffling works for the dukes of Ferrara. Dosso’s paintings, however, remained largely unheard of apart from occasional appearances in academic journals, until a series of traveling exhibitions in 1999 brought the artist back in attention. Heavily influenced by High Renaissance masters Leonardo and Michelangelo, as well as by Venetian painters, Dosso adopted a rich yet still subtle colour palette. What set him apart from his peers, on the other hand, were his atmospheric and “impressionistic” landscape and imaginative treatment of mythological subjects. In 1523, commissioned by Duke Alfonso I d’Este, Dosso painted Jupiter, Mercury, and Virtue, a profound rendition on canvas of extraordinary scale (44 1/8 x 59 inches). The painting is an illustrious demonstration of Dosso’s skills and visions during of his mid-career. To show this, this paper includes a visual analysis of the painting as well as a description of major iconographic aspects in context with the artistic and social developments in High Renaissance Ferrara.
In Jupiter, Mercury, and Virtue, from a visual perspective, a trio of figures occupies the surreal stage-like setting; the leftmost is Jupiter, the king of gods in Roman mythology. Sitting with his legs crossed next to his thunderbolt, Jupiter is calmly painting butterflies on a blue canvas, a delicate extension of the hazy sky in the background. With his back turned to his father Jupiter, Mercury is seated in the centre with his winged hat and green drapery blowing fiercely in the gusty winds. He puts his fingers to his lips to shush a pleading female figure in a lavish golden dress and luxurious jewelry, identified as an allegory of Virtue.