They say the name of the palace comes from the motto 'schivar la noia' meaning 'avoid boredom' and refers to the building's function as a place for fun and recreation for the Dukes of Ferrara. It has the appearance of a long building divided into two wings: the single-storey 14th-century wing to the west (home to the Civic Museum) and to east the two-storey 15th-century.

In the 'Hall of the Virtues' there is a sumptuous gold-painted panelled ceiling realised in the 15th century, with decorative motifs of rare beauty. In the upper band of the walls the seated women represent the cardinal and theological virtues. Note that the virtue that is missing is Justice, the one that the patron Borso considered most important. It was probably represented in a different form from the others (a fresco or a statue) or even, as some maintain, personified in the Duke himself when, in this very room, he sat to listen to entreaties and settle legal disputes.  

The 'Hall of the Months' there is one of the most important 15th-century cycles of frescoes in Italy. It is the collective work of different painters from the school of Cosmè Tura. The high walls used to be divided into 12 sections, one for each month, but today only the months from March to September can be seen.
Each month is in turn divided into three horizontal bands: in the upper one (the World of gods) are the triumphant chariots of pagan gods, surrounded by mythological or ordinary life scenes. The world of man, upon which are inflicted the divine laws, is painted in the lower part showing the activities of the court and the townsfolk, and in which the figure of the patron, Duke Borso d’Este is portrayed, glorified as a wise and fair governor of his states. The third band is placed between men and gods and shows Western and Egyptian Zodiac signs, evidence of the great importance held by astrological 'science' in the court.

Palazzo Schifanoia also houses works of a various nature including paintings, manuscripts, small bronzes, objects in ivory and decorated ceramics.