Posts Tagged With: urbino

The city of Urbino: literature, art and architecture

The Art of Urbino By Karolina Sotomayer The Ducal Palace in Urbino contains numerous works of art in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche. This gallery is famous for exhibiting one of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the world. Containing paintings by Titian, Raphael and Piero Della Francesca, it is a must-see when in Urbino. The following words will uncover some of the wonderful artistic masterpieces that can be found in the gallery. images-9 Probably one of the most jaw-dropping and significant places of the palace is the famous Studiolo for Federico da Montefeltro. The artist, who up to date remains unknown, should be praised for the masterpiece he has created. The intricate woodwork and the details of the walls of the studiolo are simply breathtaking. On the top wall of the room, one can appreciate a series of portraits of Cardinal virtues as well as other well-known people of the time, mostly members of the church and of Federico’s court. The general area can be divided into three registers, each filled with images that represent mainly the liberal arts. The artist therefore, has included images of books and scientific instruments as well as symbols of many subjects related to this education system. Grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy are some of the subjects present in the walls of the studiolo. Probably one of the most notable pictures however, is Federico and the prince’s portrait, in which the prince is wearing a robe, presumably symbolizing their humanistic ideals and a lance, whose meaning has various interpretations. One of the explanations given to why it is inverted is that it symbolizes the intention of creating war to reach a state of peacefulness. In the same manner, we see Federico holding a book, which represents the kind of man he wanted to be perceived as; he wanted people not only to know him as a wise man in decisions of war, but also as an educated person, as a lover of literature and the arts. In the article titled The Inlaid Decorations of Federico da Montefeltro’s Urbino Studiolo: An Iconographic Study, Luciano Cheles (32) describes the studiolo inscriptions in the following way,   Generally speaking, the studiolo inscriptions are reminders that the room is the refuge of a cultivated person. They fulfill this function better than the books, the scientific instruments, etc., for words being conventional signs, they denote literacy to a literate élite. There are more words in the studiolo than in any other part of the palace.   Apart from being the “refuge of a cultivated person”, it was also a room meant to embody the concept of vita contemplativa, or contemplative life, mainly characterized by the presence of landscapes from the Montefeltro territories and subjects from the liberal arts such as philosophy. The studiolo is an example of the variety of forms art could take during the Renaissance period for it is not very common to see an entire room’s walls covered in woodwork. The gallery contains other significant works that have given the place its prestige and fame. La Muta, one of Raphael’s earliest paintings resides in the Apartment of the Duchess at the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche; this painting is also known as the Portrait of a Gentlewoman. Dated around 1505-07, the oil on canvas painting was given the name of The Silent One not as a means of describing the woman portrayed but to keep her identity unknown. There is a clear resemblance with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for Raphael had great influence of Florentine art and Da Vinci himself. In previous portraits to the Renaissance period, the faces of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza are done in profile and in rigid, straight poses; during the Renaissance period, art found a new road and the people in portraits began to look more natural and their poses more relaxed. The resemblance of La Muta with the Mona Lisa is in the softness of the skin and in the variation of the body posture seen in the hands, which are one placed on top of the other and the torso, which allows the portrait to be in ¾ perspective. Raphael was present during the making of the Mona Lisa and so he learned one of Da Vinci’s most valuable techniques, which can be found in the hands. These are crucial to the addition of realism to the figure, and how this woman wanted to be seen. The hands of La Muta are one placed on top of the other, symbolizing virtuosity; in the same way, she holds a handkerchief as a symbol of piety. Da Vinci’s version of the hands seems to be unsurpassable for his time; however, Raphael did a similar version adding his own signature technique, the index finger pointing forward gives a chance to enhance the details of the knuckles, making the hands seem even more real than those of the Mona Lisa. The pointing index finger does not only serve this purpose; this position of the hand is known as mano pantea, characteristic of Renaissance paintings, it meant the person had a spiritual life but no right to give blessings; this symbol is often found in pictorial depictions of Christ. It may seem hard to believe that so many messages can be hidden in a single pair of hands, however, even the jewelry the woman is wearing, such as the rings on her index fingers can tell us about her spirituality, confidence and wealth.Unknown-6 Another treasure found at the Galleria of the Ducal Palace is the Ideal City. Like, the studiolo, this masterpiece’s author remains an enigma to many. After various analyses and comparisons to other works of his, the creation of this painting has been attributed to a painter known as Cosimo Rosselli around the 1480’s. As a gift from the pope to Federico da Montefeltro, the Ideal City is said to have an Albertian character, meaning it has a formal style of composition, scale and decoration. Based on the laws of logic, the artist has managed to create beauty and balance. This concept of equality of powers is reflected in the buildings at the sides of the central building through their equal sizes and heights. During the Renaissance period, an enlightened government was that which respected its citizens’ freedom in order to manage a peaceful and harmonious society. In this way, it is clear that all the elements in the painting revolve around the central piazza and the central building. There are doubts on what this building’s purpose is, however most assume that it is a temple. The concept of the ideal city therefore, was extremely important during the Renaissance period, especially in Urbino under the Duke of Montefeltro’s power. According to Baldassare Castiglione, a writer of the time who was part of the court in Urbino, “Federico’s aim was to build a city in the form of a palace” (16). Even though nobody knows what this meant, it was clear that the Duke wanted to build a city that was not being imposed on its people and the landscape. During the Renaissance, people began to look closely at how things should be done and how people should behave; the perfect example of this is the Book of the Courtier, written by Castiglione himself in which he deals with the subject of what the ideal Renaissance man should be like. This is the same idea exposed in the painting of the Ideal City.Unknown-7 A visit to the national gallery of the Ducal Palace is a glance back at a period in history when people woke up and changed the way they perceived their life purposes. People became more curious and acquired the desire to improve, to gain more knowledge instead of believing solely what their religion told them. Likewise, Renaissance art was a return to discovering the human capacities and appreciating the human body and its mysteries.           Works Cited   Author Unknown. The Renaissance Ideal. Date unknown. Page 16. Print.   Cheles, Luciano. “The Inlaid Decorations of Federico da Montefeltro’s Urbino Studiolo: An Iconographic Study.” Kunsthistorischen Institutes, (1982). 32. Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz. Jstor. Web. April 23, 2014.   Galleria “Portrait of a Gentlewoman (The Silent One).” Galleria Borghese. Web. April 14, 2014     Niyazi, Hasan. “Raphael’s sublime ‘La Muta’ and the mano pantea.” 3Pipe-Problem, 2011. Web. April 16, 2014   Saalman, Howard. “The Baltimore and Urbino Panels: Cosimo Rosselli.” The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 110, No. 784 (Jul., 1968). The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd. Jstor. Web. April 23 2014.   Russano, Massimiliano. “Ideal-City Paintings Express Renaissance Concepts.” The Epoch Times. Web. April 23, 2014   Bibliography for Pictures Artist unknown. Studiolo for Federico da Montefeltro. Nd. Ducal Palace of Urbino.   Luciano Laurana. The Ideal City. Circa 1480. Galleria Nazionale delle Marche.   Sanzio, Raphael. Portrait of a Gentlewoman. 1505-07. Oil on canvas. Galleria Borghese.

The City of Urbino

By Kirby Franklin

Although few people have heard of Urbino, it was a mecca for culture, art, and commerce during the Renaissance period. The city especially developed this reputation under the rule of Federico III da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, because his influence created the great structures that we see to this day. The sight of Urbino, nestled on top of a hillside, is a direct representation of the medieval town it was envisioned to be. While architectural information lacks in the Roman and Medieval periods, it set the basis for what Urbino would become. Today, the main attractions to Urbino would have to be the architectural masterpieces, the Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace) created during the Renaissance period. During the Roman period, Urbino went by the name of Urvinum Mataurense, meaning “the little city on the river Mataurense”. Life during this time period was rather simple. Most of the citizens devoted their time to agricultural practices, so leisurely activities like architecture were not a top priority. However, the city center was a lively place that contained a basilica dedicated to the Roman architect Vitruvius, as well as other public buildings including baths, theatres, and temples. The Roman inhabitants built the infamous city walls during the third and second centuries BC (six portions of the original wall have survived to this day). This was their contribution to the architectural city that we see today. images-12 Unfortunately, very little information is known about the physical appearance of Urbino during the medieval time period. The most drastic change that occurred had to do with the expansion of the city at the end of the eleventh century. Land outside the city walls almost entirely belonged to the Church and lacked development, but the religious administration brought a considerable amount of urbanization to previously rural places. The need to contain the city within the walls persisted, so when the city grew, the walls grew with it. Very little changed occurred with this growth, the new additions mostly consisted of new living quarters and street patterns. Thus, setting the groundwork for the architectural masterpieces of the Renaissance to take place. At the end of the twelfth century, the then duchy of Urbino passed a law that allowed for further changes to happen to the city, but this time on a much larger scale. With this consent, during the middle of the fifteenth century, Duke Federico III da Montefeltro initiated the construction of the Ducal Palace. This undertaking would completely revamp the city, which made it a radical step for the town that required a great deal of care and effort so as to not destroy the existing urban structures. The foundation of the city had long ago been set by the Romans, therefore Montefeltro’s original blueprints had to be modified in order to accommodate this. An architect from Dalmatia, Luciano Laurana, was assigned to take on this task. He designed the façade, the infamous courtyard, and the grand entrance staircase. His contributions to the palace embodied what the people of the time envisioned as the exquisite living quarters that royalty were to live in. What Laurana created perfectly met Federico’s standards; he wanted to “create a city in the form of a palace…an ideal but impossible city, existing only in the mind.” Montefeltro wanted transformation, and that is what he got. Perhaps the most famous portion of the building, and the part that was constructed first, is that of the Palazzetto della Iole. The name originates from the fact that the main room has a marvelous chimney with figurines of Iole and Hercules carved into it; this attention to detail is what grants the Palazzetto della Iole its honorable reputation. The façade, for example, has a different exterior from the rest of the palace with its arched windows, most of which have mullions cutting the windows in half. The six windows in the middle feature ledges with ovolo moldings, leaves of ivy, and garlands of oak leaves. Three arched windows follow the other six; they have the same moldings, but the decorations are different, proving that the last three were made at a later date. Near the windows we can clearly see remains of medieval buildings where Federico had the intention of “pulling them down in order to avail himself of their site” (Rotondi, 19). On the inside of the palace, the Sala della Iole, Sala degli Affreschi, and the Sala dell’Alcova are the most grand rooms. Two of these rooms have vaulted ceilings with a medallion of Montefeltro’s eagle. For reasons unknown, Luciano Laurana only oversaw construction of the Ducal Palace for six years, after that, he left the creation in the hands of other architects and designers. His departure, unfortunately, makes it difficult to determine which other parts of the palace should be accredited to him or others.images-13 The second phase of the palace contains a mixture of Laurana’s designs with the finishing touches from other decorators. For instance, Laurana designed the marvelous entryway, but the decoration of the Grand Staircase is credited to Federico Conte, as his initials appear throughout the piece. Oddly enough, “there is a complete absence of heraldic emblems,” (Rotondi, 55) meaning that the Montefeltro family has no obvious representation as visitors enter the palace. The third phase largely represents the works of Francesco di Giorgio. One of his contributions to the palace was his work in the Duchess’s suite and the restoration of the ceiling in the Sala delle Iole. The palace typically had vaulted ceilings that gave the inside of the building elegant characteristics. Francesco di Giorgio, however, preferred a heavier look and made the ceilings flatter. Another glorious aspect to the palace is the Secret Garden, which both architects contributed their ideas to. Laurana began the project, designing a portico, a patio, a basement to support what was above, and a space to collect rainwater. Although some aspects were not exactly executed in this way, the end design was somewhat similar to this, with arches and floor level changes. Francesco di Giorgio comes into play with his hydraulic works. In order to supply the plants with water, a cistern (giant tank) was placed at the top of a spiraled ramp that led to the vegetation below. We know this is attributed to him because “during his youth he had been in charge of water installation in his native Siena” (Rotondi, 67). Clearly, the Ducal Palace is a place with various complicated, yet beautiful features. Urbino has a great deal of historical significance, and even more when it comes to our travel course. It is the setting for literature, art, and architecture throughout various time periods in history. Although, one could argue that its greatest achievements occurred during the Renaissance period. The Ducal Palace, of course, is an architectural work of art that has a great deal of history, as it was such a huge project. It undoubtedly holds many more treasures than mentioned here, but the most important aspects were portrayed as best as possible.

Renaissance Literature of Urbino: The Book of the Courtier

By Kloie Rush-Spratt

The age of the Renaissance in Italy was marked by art, knowledge, and culture. In Urbino, the most significant example of such is the building of the Ducal Palace and it’s influences it had on literature. Although the literature from the Italian Renaissance varies from region and was influential, Urbino holds much literary significance because of its source of the ideals of the Italian Renaissance. In the Italian Renaissance literature is another expression of the values cherished during this time period. Although literature found Urbino is but a few, this can be seen clearly with Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier and even in Giovanni Santi’s poetry. When Federico Montefeltro commissioned the Ducal Palace in the 1400’s he wanted to show Renaissance Italy that Urbino was a civilized city of culture. Montefeltro’s encouragement for education and art was at the root of his design. This made Urbino a center of attention from all over Italy and, from the help of Baldassare Castiglione, all over Europe as well. Castiglione looked at Urbino and saw that the city set the foundations for the ideal Renaissance man. In 1507, Castiglione wrote his first draft of The Book of the Courtier. The book is essentially the discussion on what makes the perfect cultured and ideal Renaissance man and woman. The topics covered range from the value of painting or sculpture, to the use of language, and the degree of a warrior-like status. What is important to note about The Book of the Courtier is the narrative style. The book is written as a dialogue–which is an important insight into the values of Italian Renaissance Culture. The book is not an instruction pamphlet–not dictatorial. Instead, the topics are all opened to debate and are debated. Each courtier in the book is offered a chance to speak and are given equal value. This highlights Montefeltro’s goals with Urbino, for it to be a city of growth through sharing of knowledge. Interestingly enough, that is how this book is presented. Another example of Renaissance ideals is the language the book is spoken in. In The Book of the Courtier there is a discussion on language of the ideal courtier. In this discussion there is favor for the Tuscan, romantic, lyrical language over the “archaic” Latin. This is seen in the book as the old men have a distaste for the new ideals of the Renaissance and relish in the ways of the medieval past. This is immediately put to shame by Castiglione who finds this lack of open mind to be limiting and ultimately a mistake. This preference of contemporary language is notable in Castiglione’s own style of writing. Olga Zorzi Pugliese does an analysis in her book Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making. Pugliese also discerns how Castiglione’s language is less militaristic. The tone in the book is also lightened by the constant jests made by the characters during their discussions, creating a feel of an open space for an easy going debate. Despite the ideal man having to progress to contemporary times, there are still some ideals that continue from the medieval times. Although there is a rise in the appreciation of art and dance, the ideal man is also to have a specific physique that is comparable to one of a warrior. Yet, while the man must have high self-esteem, what must be noted is the lack of arrogance the man should have. He’s fighting should not be for himself but for the righting of general wrongs, to even correct the prince if need be. This interesting equalization of a courtier and prince leads into the ideals of self-respect and humility. The ideal courtier is expected to uphold their own honor, presenting themselves as an individual. However, the courtier must not be flashy and wear subdued colors to showcase their elegance and humility. Although this may seem to contradict the idea of creativity, it actually highlights another Italian Renaissance value. For example, Castiglione also coined the word sprezzatura, which is the certain nonchalance a courtier must have of all his knowledge–he must avoid to impress. This reflects the design of the Ducal Palace, which although is tall, spacious and grande, has a simple elegant design that was meant to be open to the people. This idea of being sophisticated yet humble is another value seen in the Italian Renaissance that is reflected in literature. Also, on a note of equality, there is a discussion of the high respect for women the courtiers must have. This dialogue goes into the third book of the novel in which there is a strong defense of women and the need to be equal with men, to rid of their tyranny. Castiglione’s perceptive argument of women versus men is insightful, and ahead of his time. It is interestingly enough to note that feminism discussion has no conclusion. In fact, the debate is loosely connected to the idea of the ideal courtier and oddly enough that is last discussion in The Book of the Courtier. Perhaps Castiglione’s purpose with this was to make a point that there is not always closure. Also the ideal man is connected to all topics of conversation and although he must strive for truth, he must always be open to debate and alternative opinions. Another writer from Urbino was the famous painter Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi. Although not as influential, Santi’s poetry also recognizes the value of art–specifically paintings. Santi’s most known work is “The Life and Deeds of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino” and is ultimately a tribute to Montefeltro’s excellence and all the culture he had brought to Urbino. In this epic Santi praises many artists, showing the high esteem held for them in this time period. Santi was held close to the Ducal Palace because of his respect for such culture, and often wrote and staged theatrical events. Unfortunately, Santi has been overshadowed by the prestige of his son, making it difficult to find many of his works. Renaissance literature coming for the city of Urbino is scarce, yet the grand influence of The Book of the Courtier has impacted Europe for centuries. Urbino as a city of culture was recognized early on with the architecture of the Ducal Palace and was emphasized by the artwork by Raphael and “The Ideal City.” Even with Santi’s poetry one can see the potential the ideal Renaissance city had. However, the writings from Castiglione were the most influential as they fueled an cultured intrinsic lifestyle that was adapted by many. Ultimately, The Book of the Courtier sets the standards of man as having honor, integrity, athleticness, and, overall, culture. Many subjects are left open, such as women or preference of a prince over republic. These discussions that bear no certain conclusion are only an example of Castiglione’s belief in growth–that nothing is settled and there is always room for improvment. The Book of the Courtier was read by the courts all over Europe, namely England. It’s strong value in art, knowledge and culture has been used as instruction for the perfect courtier throughout centuries since. Indeed, Castiglione’s literary contribution highlights not just the peak of Urbino’s excellence, but also the values of Italian Renaissance culture. Works Cited Cavallo, Jo Ann. “Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making by Olga Zorzi Pugliese.” Rev. of Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making. Renaissance Quarterly Spring 2009: 206-07. JSTOR. Web. 3 May 2014. Morris, Roderick C. “Reconsidering Raphael’s Father.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 9 June 2009. Web. 2 May 2014. Osborne, June, and Joe Cornish. Urbino: The Story of a Renaissance City. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2003. Print. Pugliese, Olga Zorzi. Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making. Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2008. Print.

Categories: Central Italy | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at