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The House of Este in Ferrara, Modena and Reggio Emilia

Map of Italy in 1499

Alfonso I d'Este, 1505-1534 Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio
- son of Ercole I d'Este -
Alfonso (*1476) succeeded Ercole I in 1505. At first he had to overcome a conspiracy of his brother Ferrante d'Este and his half-brother Giulio.
Alfonso commanded the papal troops of the League of Cambrai (1508) against Venice. When Pope Julius II decided to fight his former allies France with the Holy League (1511), Alfonso remained on the French side. This brought him excommunication as well as territorial losses (Modena and Reggio). Now he fought with France against Venice and against the Pope. Alfonso's military success was based on the excellent fortifications of Ferrara and his artillery, especially on the Ferrara-made guns, the best of his time. (In both Titian's paintings of Alfonso, the latter stands next to a cannon.) Alfonso supported the campaign of Charles V against Pope Clement VII in 1526-27 and recovered Modena and Reggio. In 1530, after the Peace of Barcelona (1529) and Charles' Emperor's coronation in Bologna, Clement VII confirmed Alfonso's property rights in Ferrara, Modena and Reggio.
Alfonso I and his brother Cardinal Ippolito I were, like their father, eminent Renaissance patrons of the arts in competition with the other upper Italian cities.
Alfonso's first wife was Anna Sforza, sister of Gian Galeazzo Sforza. In 1501 he married Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexanders VI. Their eldest son Ercole became his successor.


Cast bronze medal 1477, attributed to Cosmè Tura.     Ø 70 mm.
Armand II 89/1; Hill(1930)118; Kress 41; Pollard(2007)63.  Specimen of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Obv.:   ALFONSVS MARCHIO ESTENSIS   -   Bust of the year-old child to the left.
Rev.:  Alfonso as infant Hercules, nude, grasping two snakes, lying in a cradle inscribed MCCCCCLXXVII,
above fantastic inscription.


Cast bronze medal 1492 by Niccolò Fiorentino.     Ø 71 mm, 132,46 g.
Armand I 84/1; Kress 256; Pollard(2007)290.    Specimen of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Obv.:   ALFONSVS - ESTENSIS   -   Bust to the right, with long hair.
Rev.:   OPVS NICOLAI FLORENTINI - MCCCCLXXXXII   -   Alfonso (?) in triumphal car to the right.
In 1492 the artist was paid 18 lire for composing this medal.
The Marquess came to Florence on 2 April of that year on his way to Rome. [Kress]


Doppio ducato n. d., Ferrara.     Ø 27 mm, 6,89 g.   CNI X 443/2; RM 139/2; Friedb.268.
A very early version shows a beardless bust (RM n.1).
Obv.:   ·ALFONSVS·DVX·FERRARIAE·III·   -   Barhead bearded bust in harness to the left.
Rev.:  ·QVE·SVNT·DEI·DEO (= et QUAE SUNT DEI DEO)
"(Give) God what is God (and the Emperor, what is the Emperor)"
The Pharisee shows Christ the tribute money for the Emperor.


Testone n. d., Ferrara.     Ø 28 mm, 9,76 g.   CNI X 446/31; RM p.140 n.3.
Obv.:   ·ΛFONSVS·DVX·FERRΛRIΛE·III·  -  Armed beardless bust to the left.
Rev.:   ·DE·FORTI·DVLCEDO·  "Of strong sweetness"
extract from   DE COMDENCTE EXIVIT CIBUS et DE FORTI EGRESSA EST DULCEDO
"von dem Essenden ist ausgegangen eine Speiß and out of the strong came forth sweetness"

Half-naked Samson with a helmet holds in his right a lion's head with an outstretched mouth, from
which 5 bees swarm; With his left hand he points to a snake that winds around a tree stump.

Pope Julius II appointed Alfonso I gonfaloniere of the church on April 19, 1509. But already in 1510
he was dismissed from his post again and even excommunicated.
In this short period, the Testone (RM n.4) was issued with an extended title:
·ΛLFONSVS·DVX·FER·III·Sacrae·Romanae·Ecclesiae·CONFalonier   "... the Holy Roman Church Gonfaloniere"
Here the effigy carries a beard, and there are now seven instead of 5 bees.


Testone leggero (1505-12), Reggio.   Ø 25 mm, 2,90 g.  CNI IX 671/3; RM 150/23; MIR 1272.
Obv.:   ·ALFONSVS·DVX·   -   long-haired beardless bust to the left.
Rev.:   · - ·S·PROSP· - ·EPS·REGII·   -   City Saint Prosper blessing, viewed from the front.
2 1/2 of these light testones had the value of a real testone.


1/2 Lira da 10 soldi, n .d. Ferrara.     Ø 29 mm, 6,0 g.   CNI X 448/46-49; RM 143/9.
Obv.:   ALFONSVS·DVX·FERRARIAE·III·   -   bearded short-haired head to the left.
Rev.:  FIDES·TVA·SALVAM·TE· ·FECIt·   "Your faith has saved you"
kneeling Magdalena anoints Jesus feet, a pot of ointment between His feet, a covered table behind.
Sailko has photographed the obverse at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Rome for Wikipedia.


1/2 Lira da 10 soldi, n. d. Ferrara.     Ø 27 mm, 5,96 g.   CNI X 448/50; RM 143/10.
Obv.:   ᕠΛLFONSVS·DVX·FERRΛRIΛE·III·   -   armored bust left.
Rev.:  ·FIDES·TVA· - ·TE·SALVAM·FECIT·  -  kneeling Magdalena anoints Jesus feet, table at the side.


1/2 Lira da 10 soldi, n. d. Ferrara.    Ø 28 mm, 5,97 g.   CNI X 448/53; RM 144/11; MIR 277.
Obv.:   ALFONSVS·DVX·FERRARIAE·III· ᕠ   -   bust exactly as before.
Rev.:  ᕠ ·DE· - MANV·LEONIS· ᕠ  -  A shepherd saves his sheep with his bare hands in front of a lion.


1/2 Lira n. d. (ca. 1522), Ferrara.    Ø 28 mm, 5,73 g.  CNI X 449/59; RM 144/12; MIR 278.
Obv.:   ⚘ΛLFONSVS·DVX·FERRΛRIΛE·III   -   bust exactly as before.
Rev.:   Representation of the flight from Egypt: the Virgin and Child on the donkey.


1/2 Lira n. d., Ferrara.    Ø 28 mm, 5,63 g.  CNI X 449?/61; RM 145/13; MIR 279.
Obv.:   ΛLFONSVS·DVX·FERRΛRIÆ·III·   -   bust as before.
Rev.:  DomiNVS·PROTECTOR·VITAE·MEAE·   "God is the protector of my life"
St. Georg stabs the dragon while riding to the right.

See a detail of Titian's 3/4 body painting (circa 1523, copy in the Metrop. Museum of Art, N.Y.).


5 Soldi ca. 1522, Ferrara.     Ag, Ø 23 mm, 2,40 g.   CNI X 450/69; RM 146/15; MIR 282.
Obv.:   ALFONSVS·DVX·FERRARIE·III   -   Bearded bust to the left.
Rev.:   ·Deus·IN NOMINE·TVO·SALVVM·ME·FAC   "God, in your name, save me"
in the field:   IHS (Jesus monogram), below branch with three leaves.


Denaro, Ferrara.     Cu, Ø 18 mm, 1,33 g.   CNI X 451/95; RM 146/16; MIR 284.
Obv.:   ΛLFONSVS·DVX·FERΛRIE·III ▾   -   head left.
Rev.:   ▾ NOBILITΛS·ESTENSIS ▾   -   eagle with spreaded wings.
This coin was the smallest nominal. It was 1/12 soldo worth (20 soldo = 1 lira).


Testone o.J., Modena.     Ø 28 mm, 5,94 g.   CNI IX 201/4; RM 147/18.
Obv.:   ALPHONSVS·DVX·FERRARIAE·III   -   Bearded head to the left.
Rev.:   ·S·GEMINIANVS·MVTINAE·ANTISTES
"St. Geminian, high priest of Modena" (Lat. Mutina)
St. Geminian grasps a boy's hair as he falls from the cathedral tower.


Giulio n. d., Modena.     Ø 25 mm, 2,99 g.   CNI IX 202/15; RM 148/21.
Obv.:   ·ALFONSVS·DVX·FERRARIAE·III   -   Bearded head to the left.
Rev.:   ·S·GEMINIANVS·MVTINENSIS·PONtifex   "St. Geminianus, bishop of Modena" (Lat. Mutina)
St. Geminianus seating in the bishop's chair in front view, blessing and holding a crook.


Giulio n. d., Modena.     Ø 25 mm, 3,01 g.   CNI -; RM - (148/21); MIR 641.
·ALFONSVS·DVX·FERRARIAE·III   //   ·S·GEMINIANVS·DE·MVT·PONtifex
Similar to before, but with coat of arms under the saint.


Colombina (1534), Reggio.     Ø 20 mm, 1,59 g.   CNI 7; RM 152/27; MIR 1284.
Obv.:   ·ALFONSVS·III·DVX·REGII   -   bearded head to the left.
Rev.:   ·FILIVS·MEVS·ES·TV   "You are my son"   -   Eagle with his offspring, illuminated by the sun.
The picture refers to the practice attributed to the eagle to bring its own born to fix the sun's rays. This fire test demonstrate that they are truly his children, the eagle being the only animal that can stare at the sun without damage to the eyes. [Morosini]

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519)
- second wife of Alfonso I d'Este -
- spanish Lucrecia Borja, latin Lucretia Borgia -
Pope Alexander VI first married his daughter Lucrezia Borgia to Giovanni Sforza, then dissolved this marriage in order to marry Lucrezia to Don Alfonso of Aragon, who when becoming unsuitable, was murdered on behalf of Lucrezia's brother Cesare Borgia. Eventually, in 1501, Lucrezia married Alfonso I d'Este, with whom she had several children, including duke Ercole II d'Este and cardinal Ippolito II d'Este.


Uniface cast medal ca. 1502,   made in the neighbourhood of Giancristoforo Romano,   Ø 57,8 mm.
Armand II 89/2; Hill Corpus 232; Kress 79.

·LVCRETIA· - ESTeNsis·DE BORGIA·DVCissa
This portrait was doubtless made for the marriage in 1502; Lucrezia is here Duchess of Bisceglie, not yet of Ferrara. It is often attached to a portrait of Alfonso d'Este by another hand. Later the present bust was re-used with a new inscription describing her as Duchess of Ferrara, etc. At to the authorship, all that can be said is that it is Mantuan, in the neighbourhood of Giancristoforo Romano.   [Kress 79]


Cast bronze medal about 1505 by Filippino Lippi or Bartolomeo Melioli.    Ø 58 mm, 92,18 g.
Armand II 118/3; Hill Corpus 233a; Kress -; Börner 84; Pollard (2007) 121 (only obverse).
Specimen in the Coin Cabinet, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Obv.:   LVCRETIA♠BORGIA♠ESTEN♠FERRARIAE♠MVTinae♠AC♠REGII♠Ducissa
"Lucrezia Borgia d'Este, duchess of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio"   -   Bust to the left.
Rev.:   VIRTVTI·AC·FORMAE·PVDICITIA·PRAECIOSISSIMVM Ꮺ
"Most precocious in virtue also in beauty and modesty"
Blindfolded cupid is tied with bounded arms to a laurel tree. On it hang a sheet of music, violin, quiver
and bow as well as a tablet (tabula ansata) with the inscription BC FP · HFF EN
(BC and EN overlaid).

Ref:   [CNI and RM: page & no. eg. 87/6 = p.87 no.6]
• Corpus Nummorum Italicorum [CNI], vol.X, look at Ferrara   -   CNI-Index vol. X
• Corpus Nummorum Italicorum [CNI], vol.IX, look at Modena and Reggio   -   CNI-Index vol. IX
• Ravegnani Morosini, Mario [RM]: Signorie e Principati. Monete italiane con ritratto 1450-1796. 1984
    House of Este in Ferrara, Modena and Reggio: vol.I, p.120 ff.
• Armand, Alfred: Les Médailleurs Italiens des quinzième et Seizièmme siècles. Vol.1, Paris 1883
• Kress: Renaissance Medals from the Samuel H.Kress Collection at the National Gallery of Art. London 1967

back to Part 1
Niccolò III d'Este, reigned 1393-1441
Leonello d'Este, reigned 1441-1450
Borso d'Este, reigned 1450-1471
Ercole (Hercules) I d'Este, reigned 1471-1505
Ercole's daughter :  Isabella d'Este (1474-1539)

Part 3 (continuation)
Ercole II d'Este, reigned 1534-1559
Brother of Ercole II :  Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (1509-1572)
Alfonso II d'Este, reigned 1559-1597
Development of the coat of arms of the House of Este

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