FEATURE image: Dosso Dossi (c. 1489–1542), Melissa, 1520s. 69.25 x 68.5 inches, Borghese Gallery, Rome.
Dosso Dossi (c. 1489-1542)– whose actual name was Giovanni de Lutero–was an Italian Renaissance painter who belonged to the School of Ferrara. Among scores of artists who painted mainly in the Venetian style influenced by Giorgione (c. 1477-1510), Dosso Dossi dominated the school that maintained its tradition of painterly artificiality.
Melissa is Dosso Dossi’s masterpiece: a benign personage in the Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516) of Ludovico Ariosto (1574-1533). The enchantress frees humans from the black arts of the wicked sorceress Alcina. The painting depicts Melissa at the moment she burns the seals and spells of Alcina and liberates two men from the tree trunks.
The realistic dog is certainly a human being under Alcina’s spell who will be liberated by Melissa and take up again the suit of armor he watches earnestly. The trees are stylized, artificially-lighted elements – that is, Giorgionesque – that provide a magical setting for the poem’s characters.
The figure of Melissa is draped in a fringed red-and-gold-brocaded robe and enriched by Titianesque glazes. She is particularly alluring in a sparkling gold and green setting moored by meticulously and softly portrayed meadows, background figures, and distant city towers.
SOURCE: History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Third Edition, Frederick Hartt, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1987.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, Allan Braham, The National Gallery, London (William Collins), 1985.