The d'Este family ruled the city-state of Ferrara throughout the Renaissance. When Alfonso d'Este (1486-1534) became the Duke of Ferrara in 1505, he was as ambitious as any Renaissance prince, achieving wealth and influence through alliances with France and Spain against the Pope. Alfonso married the controversial Lucrezia Borgia who was the daughter of the Pope and who was falsely accused of poisoning her previous husband and of incestuous relations with her father. Alfonso created at Ferrara a truly magnificent court, attracting there famous writers (Ariosto), poets (Petrarch) and painters (Bellini & Titian). For his palace at Ferrara, Alfonso commissioned art from the most gifted artists of the age, the jewel of his collection being a painting by Giovanni Bellini, the acknowledged leader of Venetian art. The Feast of the Gods was the last painting which Bellini was to complete before his death in 1516.
The Duke's art collection was to become famous and the Feast of the Gods was its centerpiece. The painting depicted a bacchanal described in the writings of Ovid, and the other paintings in the collection portrayed related mythological episodes. To create a grand theme and a unified design for the series, Isabella d'Este, Duchess of Mantua and Alfonso's sister, lent Alfonso the services of Mario Equicola, one of the most admired classical scholars of the Renaissance.
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