The Italian painter Cosimo Tura (1430-1495) was the principal master of the school of Ferrara and one of the leaders of northern Italian painting.
Cosimo Tura was born in Ferrara sometime before April 28, 1430. He became court painter to Duke Borso d'Este in Ferrara. The duke provided Tura with rooms in the ducal household, later gave him a house, and paid him so well that Tura became a wealthy man. For the duke he executed numerous commissions in what are now called the applied arts. Documents reveal that he designed flags and banners, costumes for pageants, silverware, and tapestries and that he painted horse trappings and tournament helmets and shields.
Tura never married; he had a son by his housekeeper. After his patron died in 1471, Tura's popularity waned. In his later years he lived in a tower of the Ferrara city walls. He died in April 1495.
Tura's early style shows his development out of the International Gothic art of the early 15th century in Ferrara. Works such as the Portrait of a Member of the Este Family (ca. 1451), the Madonna with Sleeping Child (ca. 1460), and an allegorical figure (Venus or Spring; ca. 1465) display the decorative Gothicism of such masters as Pisanello, Gentile da Fabriano, and Rogier van der Weyden. However, Tura's own contribution is seen in his frequent use of involved symbols and attributes and his love of astrological symbolism. In these early works there is a concern for carefully delineated contours, rather flat and smooth colors, and meticulous craftsmanship, characteristics that persisted in all his paintings.
Tura's mature style built upon the linearism and decorativeness of his early works but added a concern for figures in action. All the monumental works associated with Tura date from the period 1465-1480. In 1465-1467 he decorated the library walls of the castle at Mirandola for Count Francesco I Pico (these frescoes no longer exist). In 1468-1469 he painted the organ door for the Cathedral of Ferrara. The St. George Slaying the Dragon on the outside of the door is all movement, action, and noise; the Annunciation on the inside is tranquil and silent.
There is scholarly disagreement over whether Tura executed any of the frescoes (1469-1471) in the Hall of the Months in the Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara. A document which indicates that Tura was employed elsewhere at the time has been widely accepted to indicate that he did not participate in the decoration. However, the style of the frescoes, especially of the allegory September, is certainly his, and some scholars have argued that Tura could easily have carried out two projects at the same time. If he did not actually paint in the Palazzo Schifanoia, he must have assisted in designing the frescoes and perhaps supplied some of the cartoons. The painters who executed the cycle were Francesco del Cossa, Baldassare d'Este, Ercole de'Roberti, and Antonio Cicognara.
Among Tura's extant late work only the St. Anthony of Padua (1484) can be assigned with assurance. It is a strangely compelling depiction of the saint, who is rendered with an emphatic fullness that contrasts with the creamy texture of the painting itself.
Eberhard Ruhmer, Tura: Paintings and Drawings (1958), has good plates and a full bibliography. For general background see Benedict Nicolson, The Painters of Ferrara (1950); Ernest T. DeWald, Italian Painting, 1200-1600 (1961); and Cecil Gould, An Introduction to Italian Renaissance Painting (1957). □