Born around 1430 in Ferrara, Cosmè Tura was the son of a shoemaker. While nothing is known of his training, in 1451 he was asked to appraise a set of trumpet banners, suggesting that he was an established artist by this date. In later commissions, Tura continued to straddle the boundaries of what we would now consider the different worlds of art and design. The ability to produce models for a variety of different media was a necessary skill for court artists, who had to perform as both craftsmen and courtiers in the refined world of Renaissance princes. Tura excelled at this, establishing close links with the Este family in Ferrara and remaining in their employment from 1458 to the mid-1480. In this role, he produced works such as two tournament costumes for Alberto Maria d’Este, fine textiles decorated with gold lilies, silver daisies and—unexpectedly—images of sieves with water running through them, probably a reference to one of the patron’s personal heraldic devices. Objects such as these were made to be used, if only on ceremonial occasions. Unsurprisingly, no examples survive. Indeed, very few works by Tura are still extant: even his most extensive cycle of paintings, the decoration of the library of the philosopher and humanist Pico della Mirandola, has been completely destroyed.
A rare exception are the shutters for the organ of Ferrara cathedral, which were paid on 11 June 1469. Painted in tempera, the shutters are now preserved in the cathedral museum. In their original disposition, the closed shutters showed a scene of dramatic animation: St George spears the dragon while the frightened princess he is saving from a terrible death runs towards the viewer and the edge of the composition. From the landscape to the anatomy of the horse, from the representation of drapery to contrasts of light and shade, nothing is represented naturalistically in this composition, governed by frenzied expressionism instead. Opening the organ shutters revealed a moment of almost heavenly elegance: the Annunication, represented within a Renaissance portico not unlike the delightful spaces of contemporary courtly life.
Reference: Lippincott, Kristen. “Tura, Cosimo.” Grove Art Online. http:////www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000086559.
St George and the Princess, St George and the Princess, 1469, tempera on canvas, 349 x 305 cm, Museo del Duomo, Ferrara. Source: Web Gallery of Art
Annunciation, 1469, tempera on canvas, 349 x 305 cm, Museo del Duomo, Ferrara. Source: Web Gallery of Art