Northern Italian painter Lorenzo Costa died on 5 March 1535 in Mantua. He was 75, an impressive age for a man of his time. His long career unfolded among the cities of Ferrara, where he was born around 1460, Bologna, where he reached immediate success as a young artist working for the Bentivoglio family, and Mantua, where he succeeded Andrea Mantegna as court painter to the Gonzagas.
Connected to the powerful noble families which ruled Italy’s leading cities, Costa was well-versed in depicting the pleasures of courtly life. Works such as A Concert (1485–89) reveal his interest in the expression and pose of singers and musicians, a fascination shared by such contemporaries as Piero della Francesca.
Costa’s courtly audience was interested in the rediscovery of antiquity and its myths, a key element of the Italian Renaissance. Learned nobles often explored the classical world in the peace of their studiolo, a small private room dedicated to reading, studying and writing. Mantegna and Costa both painted mythological scenes for the studiolo of Isabella d’Este, the powerful, learned and stylish marquess of Mantua.
Costa did not only paint for the court: he also lived in it, establishing friendships with other members of the marquises’ household. A record of his social life as a courtier is his Portrait of Battista Fiera, the Gonzagas’ court physician who likely cured Costa of syphilis in 1507–8.
Reference: Maria Cristina Chiusa, “Costa family,” Grove Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000019737
See also: Stephen Campbell and Clifford Malcolm Brown, The Cabinet of Eros: Renaissance Mythological Painting and the Studiolo of Isabella d’Este (New Haven, 2006)
Isabella d’Este in the Kingdom of Love, 1504-1506, 198 x 165 x cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Source: Musée du Louvre