Urbino Renaissance

The Renaissance in Urbino was one of the fundamental declensions of the early Italian Renaissance.

During the rule of Federico da Montefeltro, from 1444 to 1482, a fertile and vital artistic climate developed at court, thanks to cultural exchanges with numerous centers on the peninsula and also abroad, especially the Flemish ones. The cultural movement in Urbino was exhausted inside the court, around its most refined prince, and although it developed very advanced and avant-garde solutions, it did not generate a real local school, even for recourse above all to foreign artists. In spite of this, the language of Urbino, by virtue of the movement of artists, became widely diffused, which made it one of the key declinations of the Italian Renaissance.. Among the basic characteristics of his humanistic culture there were the unmistakable tone made of measure and rigor, which had protagonists as Piero della Francesca, Luciano Laurana, Giusto di Gand, Pedro Berruguete, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Fra Diamante.

According to the French historian André Chastel, the Renaissance Urbinate, called “mathematician”, was one of the three fundamental components of the Renaissance of the origins, together with the Florentine one, “philological and philosophical”, and the Paduan one, “epigraphic and archaeological”. Of the three was the one “more closely connected to the arts”.

In approaching the sixteenth century, the city, while remaining an island of refined culture, saw an impoverishment of its vitality in the visual arts. Nevertheless, in Urbino one of the great geniuses of the mature Renaissance was born and took the first steps: Raffaello Sanzio. From a cultural and literary point of view instead Urbino remained for a long time one of the most stimulating environments in Italy, as testified by Baldassarre Castiglione, who set his Cortegiano at the court of Guidobaldo and Elisabetta da Montefeltro.

Historical and cultural context
Federico da Montefeltro, a successful conduit, a very talented diplomat and enthusiastic patron of arts and literature, was responsible for the transformation of the Duchy of Urbino from the capital of an economically depressed area into one of the most fertile and refined artistic centers of the period.

In 1444 Federico took power after the death of his brother Oddantonio in a conspiracy.

At the time he was a captain of fortune among the most requested, but he had also received a rare humanistic education in Mantua, curated by Vittorino da Feltre. From the master he absorbed the interest in mathematics, which would have marked a large part of his cultural interests and his artistic committences, and as a result of the architecture, considered based on arithmetic and geometry. From this arose the interpretation of André Chastel of Urbino as a court of mathematical Humanism, which he had in Piero della Francescahis greatest interpreter and whose influence can be referred to the work of Bartolomeo della Gatta, the only one in Urbino who seemed to understand Piero.

Federico put his hand to the impelling political problems and began a reorganization of the state, which also included a restructuring of the city according to a modern, comfortable, rational and beautiful footprint. All his efforts, in almost forty years of government, were aimed at this purpose, which, thanks to his extraordinary talents combined with considerable fortune, came to a whisker from full realization. The point of reference in this ambitious cultural project was immediately Florence and its novelties linked to humanism and the Renaissance. With the Tuscan city, as early as 1444, an alliance and a climate of mutual protection was established, which facilitated the exchange of artists and personalities.

Frederick called to his court Leon Battista Alberti, Paolo Uccello, Luciano Laurana, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who wrote the architectural treatise for him, and the mathematician Luca Pacioli. Great interest was also in Flemish painting, starting in the seventies, so much so that the duke called to work with him like Pedro Berruguete and Giusto di Gand, who developed a happy dialogue between the “realistic” Nordic figurative tradition. and the Italian “synthetic”. Giovanni Santi, father of Raphael, he wrote a poetic account of the main artists of the period.

The palace was discussed on the form that should have the ” ideal city “, on the perspective, on the historical and moral heritage of the “illustrious men”.

Famous the library of the Duke, organized by the humanist Vespasiano da Bisticci, rich in codes with precious illuminated pages.

Federico, through the descriptions of Baldassare Castiglione in Il Cortegiano, introduced the characters of the so-called “gentleman” in Europe, which remained fully in vogue until the twentieth century.

Architecture, urban planning, sculpture
The first Renaissance enterprise in Urbino was the portal of the church of San Domenico, created in 1449 similar to a triumphal Roman arch by Maso di Bartolomeo, called in the city through the intercession of Fra Carnevale, an Urbino painter sent perhaps by Federico himself in the workshop of Filippo Lippi, one of the three most famous Florentine painters of the time (with Beato Angelico and Domenico Veneziano). Maso was a Florentine architect, sculptor and goldsmith, already trained in the workshop of Donatello and Michelozzo, with whom he had worked at the Prato Cathedral.

Palazzo Ducale and the city
«[Federico] built a palace, in the opinion of many, the most beautiful in all Italy; and of every oportunity what so well supplied it, that not a palace, but a city in the form of a palace being seemed. »

(Baldassarre Castiglione, Il Cortegiano, I, 2)
The most ambitious project of Federico da Montefeltro was the construction of the Palazzo Ducale and, at the same time, the urban arrangement of Urbino, making it the city “of the prince”.

Before Federico’s intervention, Urbino appeared as a small town perched on two contiguous hills, with an elongated and irregular shape surrounded by walls. The main road axis cut the city along the lower part between the two hills, leading from one side towards the sea and the other towards the Apennine passes to Perugia and Lazio. The ducal residence was a simple palace on the southern hill, to which was added a neighboring castle, on the edge of the cliff towards the Porta Valbona.

The first phase: Maso di Bartolomeo
In about 1445 Frederick first joined the two ancient ducal buildings, calling Florentine architects (led by Maso di Bartolomeo) who built an intermediate palace. The result was the three-storey building of the Jole, in austere, simple and typically Tuscan style. The interior was decorated with some simple old-style antiqued accents in the furnishings, as in friezes and chimneys, focused on the celebration of Hercules and military virtues.

The second phase: Luciano Laurana
In the sixties the project of the building was changed, to make it also an administrative seat and a place to host famous people. From about 1466 the works in fact passed to a new architect, the Dalmatian Luciano Laurana. The new courtyard was the fulcrum of the new structure, which connected the previous buildings. The courtyard has harmonious and classical forms, with a portico with round arches, oculi and Corinthian columns on the ground floor, while the main floor is marked by pilasters and architraved windows. Along the first two string courses run inscriptions in Roman capitals, the classical epigraphic character, as well as the classical ones, for the precision copied from flavius specimens, are the capitals.

From this nucleus the palace was then extended towards the city and in the opposite direction. The facade towards the city had an “open book” shape (in “L”) on piazzale Duca Federico, which was specially arranged by Francesco di Giorgio Martini and later closed on the north side by the side of the cathedral. The building thus became the fulcrum of the urban fabric without tearing and submitting, with its presence, even the neighboring religious authority.

The front overlooking Valbona was instead completed with the so-called “facade of the Torricini”, slightly rotated to the west compared to the orthogonal axes of the building. It owes its name to the two towers that flank the high and narrow façade, but softened in the middle by the ascending rhythm of three overlapping lodges, each repeating the triumphal arch pattern. The Torricini façade does not look towards the inhabited area but towards the outside, for this reason a greater stylistic freedom was possible, without having to take care of the integration with previous buildings, moreover its imposing presence is clearly visible even from a distance, as a symbol of ducal prestige.

The third phase: Francesco di Giorgio
In 1472 Francesco di Giorgio Martini took over the works, completing the “L” façade, taking care of the private spaces, the loggias, the hanging garden and perhaps the second floor of the courtyard, as well as the connection with the underlying structures outside the walls.. At the foot of the cliff there was in fact a large open space, called “Mercatale” as market place, where Francesco di Giorgio created the helical ramp, which allowed wagons and horses to reach the building and the “Data”, or the large stables placed at half height.

In the interior spaces curated by Francesco di Giorgio there is a change in taste, marked by a more sumptuous and abstract decoration. Despite these differences, the palace succeeded in the almost miraculous aim of balancing the various parts in an asymmetric complex, conditioned by the irregularities of the ground and by the pre-existing buildings, in which the rigor of the individual parts balances the lack of a unitary project.

San Bernardino
Outside the palace was Francesco di Giorgio Martini to investigate some problems derived from the reflections developed at court. An example of this is the church of San Bernardino, built between 1482 and 1491 by the testamentary disposition of the Duke, who intended to be buried there. The architect used a Latin cross plan with a single nave, with a piedicroce covered by a barrel vaultwhich is grafted on the presbytery with a rectangular base (slightly flattened on the side of the transept, otherwise resembling a square altogether), where originally three semicircular apses were opened (the one behind the main altar was then torn down and replaced by a rectangular niche The effect was that of the ” tricora “, of late-antique inspiration, but realized with a spatial sharpness typical of the urban culture.The exterior is almost bare, with brick facing enlivened only by the stringcourse cornices, from windows and from the portal. The interior is instead characterized by almost bare walls, articulated by the full and empty volumes and with few details of refined preciousness, such as the gray moldings on the structural joints (of Brunelleschi’s memory) or the columns on high plinths that support the dome and make it easier to read the weight on the ground. The inscription in Roman capital letters runs along the entire perimeter and closely resembles that of the courtyard of honor of Palazzo Ducale.

Military fortresses
While he was in Urbino, Francesco di Giorgio Martini also wrote the Treaty of architecture, engineering and military art, where the various types of architecture were taken into consideration with a wide appeal to illustrations created by the artist himself. The study of monuments and basic texts of ancient architecture was actualized with a more elastic attitude, open to concrete solutions to problems and to experimentalism. In practice this attitude was found in the creation of numerous military fortresses commissioned by Federico for the defense of the Duchy. Even though many of those buildings have been destroyed or heavily modified, San Leo, Mondavio e remain almost intactSassocorvaro, which show how the offensive and defensive functions are integrated specifically for the orography of the sites, with empirical intuitions often brilliant, which put aside the complex geometric or zoomorphic plants represented in the Treaty. The bobbins are often composed as free aggregations of elementary solids (such as cylindrical towers), ideal for the passive defense of the projectiles. Few and subtly refined are the formal decorations, such as the string-course cornices that elastically wrap around the perimeters or the thickened corbels that support the walkways animating the smooth curtain walls.

Painting and inlay
The local school of painting was initially dominated by Fra Carnevale, a pupil of Filippo Lippi and various passing teachers, among whom Paolo Uccello, who lived in Urbino between 1467 and 1468 to paint the Predella of the Profaned Host. According to Vasari, however, in the city he was present since the age of Guidantonio da Montefeltro Piero della Francesca, whose first documentary traces in the city date back to 1469.

Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca is rightfully considered one of the protagonists and promoters of Urbino culture, even if he was not from the Marche region, neither from birth nor from training, but from Tuscany. But it was in Urbino that his style reached an unsurpassed balance between the use of rigorous geometric rules and the serenely monumental breathing of his paintings. His relationship with the court of Federico da Montefeltro is not fully clarified, especially with regard to the frequency and duration of his stays, as part of a life full of poorly documented movements. At least one stay in Urbino between 1469 and 1472 is considered plausible, where he brought his style already outlined in the fundamental traits from the first artistic tests and summarized in the perspective organization of the paintings, the geometric simplification that invests the compositions and also that single figures, the balance between ceremonial immobility and investigation of human truth, the use of a very clear light that lightens the shadows and permeates the colors.

One of the first works perhaps related to the Urbino patrons is the Flagellation, an emblematic work with multiple levels of reading that continues to excite research and studies. The table is divided into two sections proportioned by the golden ratio: on the right, in the open, three figures in the foreground, while on the left, under a loggia, the scene of the scourging takes place in the distance.of Christ proper. The very precise perspectival frame coordinates the two groups, apparently unrelated to one another, while the colors match and exalt each other in the clear light, which comes from different sources. The arcane fixity of the characters is increased by unusual elements of iconography, in which theological questions and facts of current events are mixed.

In the double Portrait of the Dukes of Urbino (about 1465) one already notices an influence of Flemish painting (it is oil painting), in the landscapes faded in extremely distant depths and the attention to detail in the immediate near effigies of the dukes. Remarkable is the study of light (cold and lunar for Battista Sforza, warm for Federico), unified by a strong formal rigor, a full sense of volume and some tricks, such as the red-red frame of Federico’s clothes, which isolate the portraits making them loom over the viewer.

In the Madonna of Senigallia (about 1470), set in a room in the Palazzo Ducale, Piero miraculously fuses a clear and simplified composition with the use of light in a poetic way. Here too we find references to the Flemings, like the little room in the background where a window opens where a ray of sunlight filters, lighting reflections in the head of the angel in front.

But the research on the harmony between the spatial rigor and the luminous truth had their best outcome in the Pala di Brera (1472), already in San Bernardino, where Federico da Montefeltro himself kneeling as client was portrayed. Figures and architectural setting are closely linked, in fact the characters are arranged in a semicircle occupying the space of the apse in which the scene is set. The pigments used are not many, but the use of different binders allows to obtain different effects while maintaining tints. Space is profound and light is its abstract and immobile protagonist, which defines shapes and materials in the most diverse effects: from the dark opacity of the poor fabrics of the saints, to the reflections of the shiny armor of Federico.

The Studiolo and the Library
The Studiolo by Federico da Montefeltro (1473-1476) is practically the only one of the interiors of the Palazzo Ducale to have largely preserved its original decoration. There is a magnificent ornamentation, with continuous references between the real architecture and the illusionistic one represented in the famous wooden inlays (by Baccio Pontelli, Giuliano da Maiano and other artists for the drawings) and in the paintings once conserved here.

Originally the upper part was in fact decorated with a frieze with twenty-eight portraits of illustrious men of the past and present, arranged on two registers, by Giusto di Gand and Pedro Berruguete, and today divided between the Louvre Museum and the Marche National Gallery. (who keeps them in another room).

The portraits, which included both civil and ecclesiastical, Christian and pagan personalities, were intensified from a slightly lowered point of view and the unified background which, thanks to the perspective, created the effect of a real gallery.

The dazzling colors and the continuous references between real and fantastic architecture had to create in the spectator an effect of great wonder. The inlays are attributed to various authors, such as Giuliano da Maiano and, for the drawings, Botticelli, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and the young Donato Bramante. However, the inlays of Baccio Pontelli stand out, specializing in the complex perspective constructions of geometric objects, which created a continuous exchange between reality and fiction, dilating the otherwise tiny space of the room.

The objects portrayed alluded to the symbols of the Arts, but also to the Virtues (the Fortress bat, the sword of justice, etc.), as if the exercise of the first opened the way to the Virtues themselves. A portrait of Federico was present and clarified the allegory of the whole, which exalted the Duke as the protagonist of the virtuous parable of the ethical and intellectual meanings of decoration, which advocated the theme of thoughtful solitude, ethics and contemplation as nourishment of action.

The natural branch of the Studiolo was the Library of Federico da Montefeltro, now kept in the Vatican Apostolic Library, where there was a series of paintings on the walls with the liberal arts, symbolized by female figures on thrones, which were composed strongly shortened by the bass, at the height of steps in a space that ideally continued from one painting to another. The Arts were portrayed in the act of delivering their insignia to Federico and other court figures, investing them as ideal vassals.

Heritage and influence
The rarefied and extremely refined climate of the court of Federico essentially concerned the Palace, and within it it was exhausted, not favoring the development of a real local school. At the death of the duke the artistic activities suffered an undeniable arrest, but thanks to the return home of foreign artists who had agreed there was a vast spread of the language of Urbino, with fruitful elaborations. The most obvious examples are the developments in the relationship between real and painted architecture, inaugurated by Piero della Francesca and by the curators of the inlays of the Studiolo, which was collected by Melozzo da Forlì, who exported it to Rome, and from the nascent Perugian school, especially in the beginnings of Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino.

The climate born in the lordship of the Montefeltro remained however a pillar in the local figurative culture, influencing the formation of two of the main interpreters of the full Renaissance, originally from Urbino: Raffaello and Bramante.

The sixteenth century
With the extinction of the Montefeltro Urbino remained a brilliant Renaissance court, although no longer in the forefront of the vanguard, thanks to Della Rovere. The court, endowed with great elegance and taste, was commissioner of Titian, who created for example the famous Venus of Urbino. In the first decades of the sixteenth century, the production of the famous historiated ceramics reached its peak, with artists such as Francesco Xanto Avelli and Niccolò Pellipario, known as Nicola da Urbino, followed in the second half of the century by the flourishing shops of the Fontanaand of the Patanazzi. At that time the city became a center at the forefront of counter-reformed pictorial production, thanks to Federico Barocci.

Source from Wikipedia