The central figure is the Roland of French Romances (Orlando, in Italy), killed heroically, according to legend, during a rear-guard action at Roncevaux Pass as Charlemagne withdrew across the Pyrenees from Spain.But Boiardo also introduced a host of other characters and stories into his poem, among them the knight Ruggiero and his eventual consort, Bradamante, the mythical founders of the Este dynasty.The cardinal had sent Ariosto to visit Isabella in Mantua.She wrote that she had derived “the greatest satisfaction from the recitation of the work that he is composing, which made the last two days pass not only without tedium, but with the greatest of pleasure.”Whether on this or another visit to Mantua, Ariosto evidently saw Mantegna’s “Minerva Expelling the Vices From the Garden of Virtue,” the monstrous figures Ariosto used in his description of the wicked sorceress Alcina’s grotesque minions, who attack Ruggiero when he arrives on her island. A magnificent navigation map of around 1501-2 shows all the latest geographical discoveries in Africa, the Indies and the New World (where the shores of Brazil are exotically adorned with jungles and parrots).The exhibition opens with the only known copy of the 1486 second edition of Boiardo’s “Orlando Innamorato,” first published in 1482-83 (there are no known copies of the first edition). The Ferrarese court was left wanting more of the adventures of Orlando, his elusive beloved Angelica, Ruggiero and Bradamante, and the hundreds of other characters that Boiardo had brought together in his poem.Around 1505, Ariosto began to conceive of a new version, using many of the same characters, but his was more sophisticated in conception, language, variety of tone and point of view.
He failed in respect of Michelangelo and Raphael, but managed to commission a spectacular cycle of works, based on classical mythology, by Bellini and Titian (which are scattered in collections on both sides of the Atlantic).
During a visit to Mantua, Ariosto evidently saw Mantegna’s “Minerva Expelling the Vices From the Garden of Virtue,” the monstrous figures Ariosto used in his description of the wicked sorceress Alcina’s grotesque minions, who attack Ruggiero when he arrives on her island.
Influenced by these, Matteo Maria Boiardo of the court at Ferrara wrote “Orlando Innamorato” (“Orlando in Love”).
It was an environment that spurred a richness in the visual arts and inspired such epic poems as “Orlando Furioso” (“The Madness of Orlando”), a fantastical mingling of medieval chivalric romance, classical literary elements and contemporary events.
The work, by one of the great literary figures of that age, the Ferrarese Ludovico Ariosto, was first published here in 1516 and is now the subject of the exhibition “Orlando Furioso: 500 Years,” which brings together more than 80 paintings, drawings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, arms and armor.