The Schifanoia Palace is a symbolic place in the history of Ferrara, and its troubled evolution over time is a true reflection of the vicissitudes that have affected the city. The extraordinary importance lies in it being the only urban residence built by the Este dynasty to have preserved, in its almost original form, an extended figurative cycle, providing absolute proof that the school of painting, which the art historian Roberto Longhi included.
The palace was erected in 1385 by order of Alberto V d’Este and is an example of a “delizie” – a dwelling built for entertainment and leisure. The term “Schifanoia” comes from “schifar” or “schivar la noia” (to escape from boredom), to get away from the tedium of the pressing political commitments of government.
The building acquired its present form under the rule of Borso d’Este who, in 1465 instructed the architect Pietro Benvenuti degli Ordine to extend the body of the building to the east and to create an elevated floor to accommodate the ducal apartments and a large reception hall: the “Salone dei Mesi” (Hall of the Months). It was in this room that the artists Francesco del Cossa and Ercole de’ Roberti created one of the most astonishing masterpieces of Italian Renaissance art: the decoration of the hall with a cycle of months, an astrological and mythological celebration of the deeds of the family.
The facade of the building was originally painted in faux marble decorated with broad, brightly coloured geometric designs. An imposing marble portal was subsequently added, surmounted by a large Este family crest and a unicorn, a mythical creature that Borso was extremely fond of, to the extent of making it his own heraldic emblem. In 1493, Schifanoia was enlarged for the last time by Biagio Rossetti, the architect who was responsible for the famous urban expansion plan known as the “Addizione Erculea” (Herculean Addition). In the second half of the sixteenth century Francesco d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso I, commissioned new decorations, employing the pictorial talents of the young Sebastiano Filippi, better known as “Bastianino”.
With the departure of the Este family from Ferrara in 1598 the building began to decline, with neglect and improper use causing significant damage. The gallery that connected the main late fourteenth century body of the building to the garden was demolished, together with the grand external staircase that gave direct access to the Hall of the Months. The frescos were covered with white plaster.
Starting in 1821, the decorations were rediscovered and restoration began. Finally, on November 20th 1898, the antique “Delizia” became the Schifanoia Civic Museum.