Warrior duke’s monument to Renaissance art
URBINO, Italy - From Julius Caesar to Benito Mussolini, the Italian peninsula has had its share of tough guys. But few were as tough - or as simultaneously urbane - as Federico III da Montefeltro (1422-82), count and later duke of Urbino. As a mercenary general who never lost a war, he fought both for and against most of the Italian powers of his time: Florence, Milan, the papacy, and even the king of Aragón (who hired him to conquer Naples).
Once the most feared man in Italy, he is remembered today for his extraordinary good taste. The side of Federico that won him the epithet “the Light of Italy’’ is prominently displayed in his castle in downtown Urbino, home to the national art museum of the Marche region.
Federico was one of the great patrons of the early Renaissance. Not only did he arrange the education of the young Raphael (born in Urbino), he brought Piero della Francesca to his court. In fact, the duke is best remembered as the hook-nosed man in the red hat in Piero’s famous dual portrait of Federico and his second wife, the pale Battista Sforza. He was always painted in left profile because he had lost his right eye and the bridge of his nose in a jousting accident.
Many of the masterpieces he commissioned or purchased are elsewhere (the portrait is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence), but the paintings and sculpture in Federico’s castle are still a great survey of Renaissance art. The original artisanry - like the trompe l’oeil marquetry in the library - remains as it was installed more than five centuries ago.
National Art Gallery of Marche, Ducal Palace, Urbino; 011-39-0722-309-602, www.comune.urbino.ps.it. Open daily. Adults $5.50, students $2.75.