The Palazzo Ducale, Urbino or Ducale Palace, was built on a cliff in the ancient city of Urbino largely in the 1460’s and later, under the genius of prominent architects of that time. It’s infamous owner, Federico da Montefeltro, a condottiero and mercenary general for the papal powers, was arguably one of the most passionate humanists of his time, and fashioned his home into a icon of art, learning, and human achievement. Inspired by the renowned architect Brunelleschi, the facade, symmetrical courtyard and towers, and great entry staircase are among features said to rival Florence’s best architectural expressions of beauty, gracefulness, symmetry and classical structure, making it a prime example of Renaissance humanistic expression.
When studying this era, it seems at first that all roads lead to Florence, however, the Duke and his castle stand staunchly in the background playing strong supporting roles in many Renaissance political tales. June Osborne, author and art historian best describes the foundation of this monument in her book The Story of a Renaissance City: “The city of Urbino is encircled by walls, it rises in layers – Roman, then medieval, and then the crowning achievement of the Renaissance.” (1)
At the palace’s very heart lies a library-study (studiolo) once considered second only to the Vatican library in volume and scope, and lavishly decorated with symbols honoring the liberal arts and showcasing craftsmanship considered “the single most famous example of (the) Italian inlay.” (2) while honoring at once both Greek scholars, Italian artists, and church leaders.
Other notable, well-educated humanists resided in the cultural center of Urbino such as Baldassare Castiglione, count of Novellatra, ambassador, notable author of the era, and member of the Urbino court. His most famous work, The Book of the Courtier, was based on his experiences in the Urbino court and defined gentry for the Renaissance era. His striking portrait, attributed to the great painter Raphael, depicts a richly dressed, courtly gentleman with warm, intelligent eyes–certainly well-suited in every respect to represent a well-polished humanist of his time.
When I visit Europe, Urbino and this monumental palace, which is now an art musuem (National Museum of the Marches), is one experience I don’t want to miss.
From Foders Travel Guide: “If the Renaissance was, ideally, a celebration of the nobility of man and his works, of the light and purity of the soul, then there is no place in Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, where these tenets are better illustrated” (3)
link to a great picture of the palace http://www.paradoxplace.com
1. Urbino: The Story of a Renaissance City, June Osborne, Francis Lincoln ltd., 2003
2. WIKIPEDIA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ducal_Palace_of_Urbino