Ercole I D’Este, Duke of Ferrara, was in love with music, singing, dancing, all things modern, and his fellow countryman Girolamo Savonarola, the infamous preacher who hated all of the things the Duke cared for but liked the Duke himself. An interesting case of Renaissance twisted love. And, like all nobles of the Renaissance, the Duke loved horses and parades. That’s why he’s got himself this saddle (ca 1480). Today, it is proudly exhibited in the Estense Museum in Modena.
Only twenty parade saddles like this one are extant, meaning there can be no more than twenty Renaissance saddle collectors. Imagine their competition and mutual envy, all born out of shared passion.
The art historical beauty of this saddle is that it fuses Ancient Greek mythology with Christianity and chivalry. If I ever lecture on the origins of the Renaissance, it would be one of the key exhibits.
Ercole is an Italianised Hercules, which is why Hercules is shown slaying the Nemean lion, the feat that launched the career of the most muscular man before Schwarzenegger.
St.George slaying the dragon reflects the Duke’s Christian devotion.
Hercules and St.George are shown at the back of the saddle, while the front is dedicated to courtly love, the main reason knights were slaying dragons.
With my will not strong enough to subject myself to medieval love stories, I am not an expert on courtly love symbolism in art. My understanding of these images is a child of perplexed curiosity and common sense.
Here, the gentleman is reaching out to the lady with something that looks like an apple, a pear, or a modern vibrator. The lady responds by handing down a necklace, a rope or a collar. It might be a tongue-in-cheek metaphor, but I doubt my modern common sense is on the money.
Here, the gentleman seems to be hailing the lady while she responds like a modern-age feminist to a dog-whistling idler – shooting at him with whatever was at hand.
Yet, in both scenarios, the two couples enjoy their happy ending.
And the only question I have no tactful answer to is where the lady’s arms are in the last miniature and what she is doing with them.