Francesco I d’Este

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Portrait by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y VELÁZQUEZ

Oil on canvas72 x 55 cm Modena, Monuments and Fine Arts Office of Modena and Reggio Emilia – Estense Gallery

Francesco I d’Este was born in Modena on September 6, 1610, to Alfonso III d’Este and Isabella of Savoy. In August 1629, he succeeded his father, who abdicated to take up the cloth and enter the order of the Capuchin monks. From that day, Duke Francesco I undertook to recapture of the lost lands of his ancestors, blessed as he was with intelligence, personality and a great desire to achieve success.
In January 1631, he married Maria Farnese, by whom he had a son, Almerico, who often accompanied him on his military campaigns.
In the complicated, ever-changing political scene of the era, initially, he decided to ally himself with Spain. At a later time, he crossed over to the rival France, thus re-establishing the traditional alliance with the House of d’Este.
In later years he rediscovered a knightly, bellicose spirit that led him to become the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
He fell ill and died in Santhià on October 14, 1658.
In Velázquez’ portrait, the Duke wears an armor draped with the red sash of the General of the Seas, an office with which Phillip IV honored him in 1638. During his stay in Spain, he was also appointed Viceroy of Catalonia and, later on, Knight of the Golden Toson, as portrayed by the fleece that hangs from the sash.

The portrait is believed to have been commissioned by Francesco I d’Este in 1638 and inventoried in the ducal collection in 1663. It was sold in the early eighteenth century, probably bought by the ducal secretary Rocco Lorenzetti. Through the descendant Paolo Canali Lorenzetti it was sold to Duke Francesco IV d’Este. Subsequently, it was donated to the Fine Arts Academy of Modena.

In 1986, Aceto Balsamico del Duca made a monetary contribution to the restoration of this precious work, carried out by Mrs. M. Paola Degli Esposti, and in 2010 it financed both the safeguard of the portrait and the new frame of the painting.

On the occasion of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, the portrait of the Duke was exposed at the exhibition “La Bella Italia, Arte e Identità delle Città Capitali”, in the impressive setting of Reggia di Venaria, in Turin.

In May 2012,  due to the damages caused by the earthquake, the Galleria Estense in Modena closed; in 2013 for three months, the portrait of Duke Francesco I d’Este by Diego Velázquez is exposed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to call the attention of the American public to the terrible damages caused in Modena by the severe earthquake.

The American exhibition was the occasion for the launch, both in Europe and in the United States, of a crowdfunding campaign in favor of the Galleria Estense, in order to secure some valuable sculptures in the museum and to contribute to the realization of a anti-seismic base for the admirable marmoreal bust of the Duke Francesco I d’Este by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1650-51).

The operation of crowdfunding was organized with the support of Aceto Balsamico del Duca, and the generous cooperation, as exceptional testimonials of Massimo Bottura, Mirella Freni, and Raina Kabaivanska.

In May 2015, the Galleria Estense of Modena reopened to the public after three years of forced closure. On that occasion, several masterpieces – including works by Bernini, Velázquez, Correggio, El Greco, Cosmè Tura – were returned to visitors in a completely restyled fitting, with LED lights, new colors on the walls, a larger number of works exposed and modern educational equipment.

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