1902 Encyclopedia > Urbino, Italy

Urbino, Italy

URBINO, a mediaeval walled city of Italy, on the site of the Roman Urbinurn Hortense, in the Marches of Ancona, stands in a commanding position on a spur of the Tuscan Apennines, near the valley of the Metaurus, about 20 miles from the Adriatic. It grew up, chiefly in the 14th century, around the stronghold of the Montefeltro family. Federigo da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, was one of the most successful condottieri chiefs of his time, and not only a man of great military and political ability, but also an enthusiastic patron of art and literature, on which he lavished immense sums of money. Federigo much strengthened his position, first by his own marriage with Battista, one of the powerful Sforza family, and secondly by marrying his daughter to Giovanni dellaBovere, the favourite nephew of Pope Sixtus IV., who in return conferred upon Federigo the title of duke. Federigo's only son Guidubaldo, who succeeded his father, married in 1489 a very gifted lady, Elizabeth Gonzaga, of the ruling family in Mantua. In 1497 he was expelled from Urbino by Caesar Borgia, son of Alexander VI., but regained his dukedom in 1503, after Caesar's death. Guidubaldo was the last duke of the Montefeltro line; at his death in 1508 he bequeathed his coronet to Francesco Maria della Bovere, nephew of Julius II., and for about a century Urbino was ruled by its second dynasty of the Delia Rovere family. In 1626 the last descendant of Francesco, called Francesco Maria II., when old and childless abdicated in favour of Pope Urban VIII., after which time Urbino, with its subject towns of Pesaro, Fano, Fossombrone, Gubbio, Castel Durante, Cagli, and about 300 small villages, became part of the Papal States until the suppression of the temporal power in 1870.
During the reigns of Federigo and Guidubaldo, Urbino
was one of the foremost centres of activity in art and litera-
ture in Italy, and was known as the Italian Athens. In
1468 Federigo gave orders to a Dalmatian architect,
Luciano da Laurana, to build him a magnificent fortified
palace; it was finished and enlarged by the Florentine
Baccio Pintelli during Guidubaldo's reign. Rich friezes,
sculptured architraves of doors and windows, and other
decorations in marble, painting, and wood-work were exe-
cuted by the sculptor Ambrogino di Milano, and by Francesco di Giorgio Martini of Siena (1439-1506), whom Vasari wrongly states to have been the principal architect of the palace. Federigo adorned his palace with fine series of paintings by Piero della Francesca, Melozzo da Forli, Paolo Uccello, and Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi; and, in addition to the crowd of able Italian artists whom he invited to his court, Flemish painters, such as Justus of Ghent, visited and worked in this hospitable city. The rich wood-work in the palace, decorated with tarsia, or wood mosaic, was executed by Gondolo Tedesco; the rooms were filled with magnificent furniture, costly gold and silver plate, and works of art of all kinds. Literature was no less encouraged under the patronage of Federigo : it was at his court that Piero della Francesca wrote his celebrated work on the science of perspective, Francesco di Giorgio his Trattato a"Architettura (published by Saluzzo, Turin, 1841), and Giovanni Santi his poetical account of the chief artists of his time, among whom, probably from jealousy, he has omitted to mention either Justus of Ghent or Francesco di Giorgio, the latter a man of extraordi-narily versatile talents, who was much employed by the duke to design fortifications and military engines, to paint wall decorations, and to carve sculptured ornaments.' Though stripped of its art treasures and dismantled of its decorations, the ducal palace still exists in a good state of preservation: it is a very picturesque, massive building of irregular plan, suited to its uneven site, and stands up very nobly on the hill, dominating all the rest of the city. The refined magnificence of Guidubaldo's court is elo-quently described by Baldassare CASTIGLIONE (q.v.) in his Corfec/iano. When Henry VII. of England conferred the order of the Garter on Guidubaldo, Count Castiglione was sent to England with a letter of thanks and with the small picture, now in the Louvre, of St George and the Dragon, painted by Raphael in 1504, as a present to the English king. This painting was among Charles I.'s collection which was sold by order of the Commonwealth in 1649.
Throughout the whole of the 16th century the state of Urbino was one of the chief centres for the production of majolica (see POTTEEY, vol. xix. p. 625 sq.), especially the towns of Gubbio and Castel Durante. Most of the finest pieces of Urbino ware were made specially for the dukes, who covered their sideboards with the rich storied piatti di pompa, of which fine specimens have recently sold for from ¿£2000 to £3000. Among the distinguished names which have been associated with Urbino are those of the Ferrarese painter and friend of Raphael, Timoteo della Vite, who spent most of his life there, and Bramante, the greatest architect of his age. The Milanese sculptor, Ambrogino, who worked so much for Federigo, married a lady of Urbino, and was the progenitor of the Baroccio family, among whom were many able mathematicians and painters. Federigo Baroccio, Ambrogino's grandson, was a very popular painter, some of whose works still exist in the cathedral and elsewhere in Urbino. This city was also the birthplace of Pope Clement XL, of several cardinals of the Albano family, and of Bernardino Baldi, Fabretti, and other able scholars.
The modern city of Urbino, with a population of 5087 in 1880, is the seat of an archbishop, and still possesses a small university, but is not a thriving place. The cathedral, a building of no special interest, stands in the great piazza opposite the ducal palace, which is now used for municipal purposes and contains the city archives. In the sacristy there is a very beautiful miniature-like painting of the Scourging of Christ, by Piero della Francesca. One of the finest paintings by this artist is a large altar-piece of the Madonna enthroned between angels and saints, now in the Brera at Milan ; it contains a very noble kneeling figure of Federigo in full armour, showing his strange profile disfigured by a bullet, which carried away part of the bridge of his nose. It was origin-ally a votive retable given by the duke to the monastic church of San Bernardino, about a mile outside the walls of Urbino, where Federigo and Guidubaldo w'ere buried. The modest house where Raphael was born and spent his boyhood is still preserved. It is now the property of a society of artists, and so is safe from destruc-tion. Its rooms form a sort of museum of engravings and other records of Raphael's works, together with a picture of the Madonna by his father, Giovanni Santi, formerly thought to be by Raphael himself. The Institute of the Fine Arts in the Marches contains a small but interesting collection of pictures, including works by Giovanni Santi, Justus of Ghent, Timoteo della Vite, and other 15th-century artists. The picture of the Holy Communion by Justus is specially valuable from its containing fine portraits of the Montefeltro family and members of the ducal court. On the walls of the chapel of the guild or confraternity of San Giovanni are some valuable early frescos, painted by Lorenzo da San Severino and his brother, of the Florentine school, about 1416. An interesting collection of Roman inscriptions, arranged by the palaeographer Fabretti, is still preserved on the upper walls of a court in the ducal palace. In the church of S. Spirito are two paintings by Luca Signorelli, the Crucifixion and the Day of Pentecost, origin-ally intended for a processional banner. The theatre, decorated by Girolamo Genga, is one of the earliest in Italy ; in it was per-formed the first Italian comedy, the Calandria of Cardinal Bibbiena, the friend of Leo X. and Raphael. The magnificent library formed by the Montefeltro and Della Rovere dukes has been removed to Rome.
In addition to works quoted above, see Dennistoun, Memoirs of ike Dulces of
Urbino, London, 1851; Card, di San Clemente, Memorie concernenti la Citta di
Urbino, Rome, 1724 ; and Sismondi, Histoire des Ilepubliques Itaiiennes, Paris,
1S07-S. An interesting view of Urbino, in the first half of the 16th century,
occurs among the pen drawings in the MSS. .4r(e del Vasajo, by'the potter
Piccolpasso, now in the South Kensington Museum. (J. H. M.)

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