Monday, June 27, 2016



In Gubbio, high up on the hill just above the town hall
of the main piazza, Federico da Montefeltro built a ducal
palace from 1470-82 similar to the palace he had built in Urbino
in 1470.

The Gubbio palace is slightly smaller in scale overall but has features that the duke wished
to repeat from his usual home:  courtyard open to the sky,

areas below the main house for gardens and horse stables,

views of the valley below,

and, most importantly of all, a studiolo with wood inlay work to
rival the studiolo inlays he commissioned for Urbino.

The raised seat of the bench here seems three-dimensional but all of it
is actually flat surface, an illusion created by the inlay workers using
dark and light woods. For more than a century it has been impossible to see
the Gubbio study room with these inlays in it because first the inlays were
sold to Prince Filippo Lancelotti in 1874 for his villa in Frascati, then in
1937 were passed on to an art dealer who transported them en masse to New York
where in 1939 they were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum.
        Now the ingenious woodworkers of Gubbio have invented
a way around that loss by recreating in full the intarsias (wood inlays)
of the Gubbio studiolo by making an exact copy of them, so that when a
viewer enters the studiolo in Gubbio now, the effect is to be reunited
with a 15th-century work of art as it would have appeared to the Duke
himself. The copy was carried out between 2003 and 2009; for more
on the copy work, see the website:Associazione Maggio Eugubino
See also my earlier blog entry on the inlay subjects here.
        What has become very clear from the reinstallation of the
inlays in the new copy is that the Duke wanted to be able to get to
his study quickly in his summer home. His studiolo in Urbino had
been built on the second story of the palace, above the courtyard
one floor and given the balcony view over the countryside:
                          (on the facade with the two turrets, the arched balcony on the top floor
                                                 marks the studiolo location in Urbino)
In his summer place the Duke would have ridden on horseback from Urbino,
a trip which takes a car about an hour and a half today. He could have
been weary from the ride and wanting to retire. It appears that when designing
his Gubbio palace, he wished to be near his books and papers as soon as he dismounted, so the studiolo in the Gubbio palace is right on the ground floor, directly in from the front
door to the left and left again one room's length:
With this new arrangement he would not have
had to climb the stairs as he had to for the studiolo in Urbino. He could
slide in easily from horseback to study seat and feel at home again in
his wood inlay world.
            And what a self-referential world it was! Not only are his initials
set in inlay in several places, FE, for Federico

but all of the devices with which he identified himself, the codes of his family name,
are inscribed in various ways in the wood inlay work.
            We can see the ermine of purity
with the words Non Mai - Not Ever - in Italian in the banner above it (the second N is implied),
to reflect his longstanding fealty to whatever contract he had signed, a purity
which set him aside from other condottieri who often changed sides in battle
when paid more by the other side. He would NOT EVER alter his loyalty for
the duration of the contract.
            The whiskbrooms for the cleaning and care of horses for which he was also renowned are
And then the references to his magnificent library in the books:

and  to his other intellectual pursuits, such as music and scientific observation:
His dedication to learning and erudition is represented by the Iliad passage in manuscript on
his inlay reading stand:

His armaments are also here, but they are not as prominent as they were in Urbino. They are
put away in a cupboard, partially hidden during his summer relaxation time. We can make out the
helmet, his mace, his greaves:

He seems to have shelved his battles and enjoyed the summer for reading and thinking.
Was the Duke a frustrated university professor? Having seen the futility of battle, did he rejoice in the life of the mind stimulated in his private studiolo in the comfort of his summer home, up on the hill, away from the plains of fighting, in the cool retreat from the sun of Italy that heated up armor to a state of intolerance?
          The studiolo was a small room of retreat,
but then one views the studiolo in a different way when confronted with the other unusual feature of this summer palace? The ENORMOUS BALLROOM!

There are large social rooms in the palace of Urbino, settings for the conversations in the Cortegiano by Baldassare Castiglione,

but nothing of the scale that confronts the viewer in Gubbio.

Is this room larger than the 110' X 55' X 55' room of the Banqueting House in London of 1619-22?

Larger than the double-cube room of 60 X 30 X 30 feet in Wilton House, England, of 1638, seen
above? Both of the later rooms are designed by Inigo Jones who, everyone says, was influenced by Palladio. But what if Inigo Jones was influenced by the Ducal Palace in Gubbio instead? He did visit Italy and I do not know if he saw this palace in Gubbio. But the size and simplicity of this Gubbio ballroom strike me as perfect original models for the grand rooms in the Italian style built by Inigo Jones two centuries later in England. Could Jones not have seen this large ballroom before taking the idea for a large entertainment center back to England?
      This salon/ballroom down the hall from the studiolo could have housed hundreds of guests, perhaps for meals, certainly for large dances. It had the best views over the valley from its windows fronting onto the town.

It would have provided a spectacular place for large-scale entertainment evenings of the sort during which Federico's wife took sick and died in the summer of 1472.
The portrait which Piero della Francesca does of her in 1472 is based on her deathmask and
the town of Gubbio is painted in the background of her image.
The white and grey turrets of the city's walls are visible as well as the road leading down the
hill to the town's entrance, as though the viewer were coming from Urbino to Gubbio with
the Duke. Behind Battista is also the suggestion of a lake or river. She had gone in the cold
water of the Raggio River during the day on the night she died. She had feasted with friends
afterwards in the valley, then complained of a headache and rode back to the palace on
horseback to go to bed.

           Battista Sforza, the Duke's wife, had given birth in Gubbio to their son in January. She had survived childbirth and she had not properly recovered even by July. Some scholars have thought she had weakened her constitution after the birth of her son by doing perilous barefoot penances in gratitude to God and the saints for having given her a son. (See the 2009 book on Battista by Mazzanti.)The Duke was not in Gubbio and rushed back to her to embrace her before she died, but he felt guilty for her death, which may explain his desire to memorialize her in the portraits painted by Piero:  to see her one more time and keep her alive a little longer; his own face looking at hers reinforces the idea of his desire to see her eternally.


The Latin inscription in the past tense on the back of her portrait confirms the portrait as posthumous.

She was in the Gubbio Palace when she died. Her body was taken on the journey back to Urbino
and for the wakes she was dressed in the nun robes of the Saint Clares. Perhaps her own love of entertainment was taken into account in the building of the summer palace, and the Duke acceded to the large social space to please her, not ever imagining the palace might be the site of her death.
What a light-filled arena in which to socialize! She ended her life well, as the
English: “She who observed modesty in success flies on all men’s lips, honoured by the praise of her great husband’s exploits.”  She is a tribute to her husband, but her own qualities are praised, too. All of the accolades that poured in to the Duke after her death speak of an enormous affection for this
gracious and capable young woman (26 years old.)
         If we take into account the fact that Battista died in the Gubbio summer palace, the Duke's studiolo, which is completed after her death, makes more sense. It is not just a retreat for a scholar, the Gubbio study, but the retreat for a mourning widower. The armor is put away and the Iliad passage is about death.

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