Paintings by Ercole d'Antonio de' Roberti are rare; his life was short and many of his works have been destroyed. His most famous post was as court artist for the Este family in Ferrara. The son of the doorkeeper at the Este castle, by 1473 de' Roberti had left Ferrara and was working in Bologna in the studio of Francesco del Cossa, an artist heavily influenced by Andrea Mantegna. Mantegna's linear style remains evident in de' Roberti's paintings during his lifetime. De' Roberti's first secure works--contributions to the predella and the lateral pilasters for the altarpiece commissioned from del Cossa for the Griffoni Chapel in San Petronio, Bologna--are from the 1470s.
While there is no documentation that de' Roberti went to Venice, he may have visited there around 1480. His only extant documented work, a large altarpiece for a church in Ravenna, is permeated with a classical calm reminiscent of the contemporary paintings of Giovanni Bellini, a sensibility whose deep pathos endured throughout de' Roberti's career. As court artist in Ferrara from 1487, de' Roberti worked almost exclusively for the Este family. De' Roberti's role went far beyond making art: he accompanied Alfonso d'Este on a papal visit to Rome, served as wardrobe manager for Isabella d'Este's wedding in Mantua, and may even have made salamis.