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Fickle Fortune: Pinning Down Fortune in 16th Century Italy


The allegorical significance of Fortune in Dosso Dossi’s Allegory of Fortune has been largely unstudied. Though the painting’s patronage cannot be confirmed, the few scholars who have written on Dossi’s piece agree that Isabella d’Este is the most likely patron. If this is the case, then Isabella d’Este’s role as the commissioner of this work must be taken into account. This paper proposes that the Allegory of Fortune is not just an allegorical representation of the quality of Fortune, but an allegory for Isabella d’Este’s own struggles with fortune. By depicting such a temporal quality in a permanent state, Isabella d’Este was asserting her control over her own fortunes in life. This idea is echoed in other representations of Fortune, as well as in a Latin poem that claims that artists can assert their power over Fortune through the physical act of representing her. By giving shape to an intangible quality, both artists and patrons in the 16th century were able to trap Fortune and proclaim her to be their own. Yet in spite of these efforts, representations of Fortune continued to change, reaffirming her volatile nature.

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