The dukes of Urbino came from House of Montefeltro. Within the palace, on some of its ceilings, the family’s coat of arms is displayed. Again, looking up brings rewards. To form the coat of arms, three golden bands on a shield of azure are combined with the Holy Roman Empire’s eagle, granted when the family was made a vassel of the emperor.
All of the examples shown here of the coat-of-arms of the dukes of Urbino were found in Palazzo Ducale.
“Because of the talent which the painter Raphael of Urbino possesses, he has decided to come to Florence for a time, to perfect himself in his art. His father was dear to me for his many excellent qualities, and I had not less affection for his son, who is a modest and agreeable young man, and one who will, I hope, make all possible progress.”
— from a letter by Elisabetta, Duchess of Urbino to Piero Soderini, Gonfaloniere (judge) of Florence, dated 1.October.1504
ROYAL PATRON Raffaello’s father, Giovanni, was the court painter to Duke Federico III. Elisabetta married Federico’s son, Guidobaldo. The courts of both father and son were the most brilliant in Europe. All the arts florished here, espcially literature, poetry and painting.
We climbed to what seemed like the highest point of this hilltop town to visit the monument honoring Urbino’s most famous son, Raffaello Senzio. Beginning in 1894, sculptor Luigi Belli took threee years to complete the monument. Orginally it was placed in Piazza Duca Federico, between the cathedral and Palazzo Ducale. It was moved to a park in 1947. One of the pedestal’s bas-relief panels (see photo #3) above shows Raffaello directing work on St. Peter’s Basilica.
Palazzo Albani is one of the most important in the city and currently a building in the University of Urbino. Palazzo Albani, in its present-day form, is a splendid princely residence of the 18th century. In the mid-17th century several adjoining houses were bought by Orazio Albani (1576-1653) and later by his sons Jerome and Charles. This set the stage for the building we see today.
The brother of Pope Clement XI, Horace, and his nephew, Annibale Cardinal Albani, are given credit for having completed, in the second and third decades of the 18th century, the acquisition of several large buildings. The reconstruction project was worked on by several architects, including Carlo and Francesco Fontana, followed by Philip Barigioni, Giambattista Bartoli and Peter Paul Alfieri.
The Albani family coat-of-arms (see photo #3) hangs immediately above the door. And above a window directly above the entry door is the coat-of-arms of Pope Alexander VIII (see photo #2); this pope created Giovanni Francesco Albani a cardinal
Born in Urbino on the 22nd of July 1649, Giovanni Francesco Albani was sent to Rome at the age of 11 to study at the Roman College. He was a brilliant intellectual, with high morals and very pious; these qualities caused him to rise rapidly at the papal court. On 13.February.1690, he was created a cardinal-deacon and later Cardinal-Priest and was ordained to the priesthood.
At the age of 51, in the Conclave of 1700 the Sacred College of Cardinals selected Cardinal Albani the next pope, after deliberating for 46 days. Because Cardinal Albani was known for his for justice and prudence, taking the name Clemente was fitting.
Thanks to the Albani family Urbino experienced what could be called another Renaissance at the start of the 18th century. Giovanni Francesco, who had become Pope in 1700 with the name of Clement XI, and his grandsons, Cardinals Alexander and Hannibal, were patrons and promoters of endeavors, which improved the face of the city, enriching it with works of art.
This monument to Urbino’s native son stands not far from his family’s palazzo, now a building in the University of Urbino.
The interior of the Church of the Holy Spirit is a single room, rectangular in shape. The treasure of this little church is the barrel-vaulted ceiling, divided into 15 squares depicting the four prophets, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and scenes from the Old Testament, including the Judgment of Solomon (see photo #5).
On the walls are fourteen paintings depicting the Virgin, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles (see photos #2 and #3); they are thought to have been painted by Urbino’s native son, Girolamo Cialdieri.
A beautiful Pentecost hangs behind the altar (see photo #4); it is attributed to Federico Zucca.
The small Church of Santo Spirito is located along the Via Bramante within the district of Saint Lucia. Documents give the church’s origin as 1554; but a congregation of the Holy Spirit existed as early as 1398. The extent of the façade’s decoration consists of the marble surrounding the door and the window above it.
The scroll work and the classically-inspired fluted columns are quite fine. The rounded pediment above the entry door is craved with a chalice and the Eucharist (see photo #4).
This 18th century fountain bears the coat-of-arms of Pope Benedict XIII; it stands opposite Palazzo Albani, the stars on the fountain are taken from the coat-of-arms of the Albani family. Pope Clemente XI was a native son of Urbino and the Albani family.
The church of San Domenico in Urbino is located opposite to Palazzo Ducale. Built by the Dominican community between 1362 and 1365, the church was consecrated in 1365. However, some frescoes of the apse indicate that it is likely that some parts of the building are a few decades older.
The church was restored by Philip Barigioni between 1729 and 1732. The facade is made of brick and is distinguished by a double staircase, that goes on to converge at the porch. It was made of travertine between 1449 and 1451 by Maso di Bartolomeo.
Luca della Robbia is responsible for the grouping that shows Madonna and Child with Saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great and Peter the Martyr in glazed earthenware This is a perfect copy, the original, dated 1451, is located at the Palazzo Ducale across the street.
The facade has been changed from the original by adding two windows, but the frieze decorated with plant motifs has been retained.
The interior is made up of a nave only, following the renovation work of Barigioni the decorations along the walls have been lost. Between 1950 and 1960 two pictorial cycles of frescoes in the apse, from the 18th century, attributed to Antonio Alberti da Ferrara came to light. They are currently kept at the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche and the Diocesan Museum Alban.
This red granite obelisk was first raised at the Temple of Isis in Sais, Egypt in 580 BC, and taken to Rome in AD 90.
Brought to Urbino in 1737, it was placed in front of the Church of San Domenico.
The 18-foot tall obelisk was donated by Urbino’s native son, Gian Francesco Cardinal Alberti, who went on to become Pope Clement XI.
“Elisabetta’s wedding was settled to take place early in 1488. She had already seen the young Duke of Urbino, who was almost her own age, a handsome boy, of cultivated tastes, but afflicted with hereditary gout. They appeared to have been mutually attracted to each other, and there seemed to be every prospect of happiness.”
— from “The Most Illustrious Ladies of the Italian Renaissance, Elisabetta Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino” 1905 by Christopher Hare
The Duomo was constructed on top of the ruins of a sixth-century church. Completed in 1604 and then destroyed by an earthquake in 1789 it was rebuilt. The Duomo has a NeoClassical façade and houses important art works, including the “Last Supper” by Federico Barocci. The Museo Diocesano has a collection of glass, ceramics, and religious items.
The Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini designed the cathedral on the order of Duke Federico III. After the earthquake of 12 January 1789 the people of Urbino were forced to rebuild their cathedral entrusting the project to the Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier.
On the church’s central pediment (see photo #4) are three white marble sculptures of the Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity. While at the ends of the two side sloping pediments stand likenesses of St. Augustine, on the left and Saint John Chrysostom, on the right.
You're making your way through the Galleria Nazionale, and it's pretty darned impressive. But then you come to the Duke's Study. As my little guidebook says, "Take time to really look at the exquisite inlaid images. Note the mastery of perspective (for example, the latticed cupboard doors appear perfectly open). Let the Duke share his passions: art, culture, religion, war, love, music and caged birds." Too right! Within this very limited space, Baccio Pontelli created a series of masterpieces in wooden inlay, probably designed by Donato Bramante. I brought home only a little book mark depicting a plump Italian squirrel enjoying a nut, but every time I open a book and see it, I smile recalling how awed I was by Pontelli's artistry.
In case you don't already know, admission is four euros. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 8:30 AM - 7:15 PM, Mondays until 2:00 PM.
Now that you've made the rather serious effort to get to Urbino, you will be richly rewarded if one of the items on your "must see" list is the Palazzo Ducale. It isn't just the focal point of half the postcards and other artistic depictions of the town. Instead, it is a blockbuster collection of art in all its forms -- frescoes, sculpture, tapestry, intricately carved and fitted woodwork, glorious paintings -- all of which is presented in a massive palace which will interest even those who aren't so keen on the art world.
The word is that the Duke, Federico da Montefeltro, who began his life as a mere Count and ruled from 1444 onwards, changed the "cultural and urban context" of Urbino, which had been merely one of many small local duchies until he succeeded his stepbrother. No doubt. It was his architect who designed the small twin towers, or torricini, which welcome visitors to Urbino. To this spot in the middle of nowhere, Federico brought the cream of Florentine and Lombardy artists, and he must have set them all to work to fill the vast palace. He also began to assemble a library which, for its time, must have been amongst the most impressive in the world. (The collection of some 600 Latin manuscripts, 168 in Greek, 82 in Hebrew and 2 in Arabic was purchased for the Vatican Library in 1657.)
One of the Duke's favorites was the father of the painter now simply known as Rafael, and Papa is well-represented in the collection. There are, however, a few of his son's master-works on display, including "La Muta" whose picture appears below.
I highly recommend Rick Steves' guide for room-by-room descriptions of the treasures to be found at the Palazzo. Allow adequate time to see the rooms now open for public viewing. Then treat yourself to a glass of Prosecco in the lovely gardens behind the Courtyard of Honor.
The Palazzo collection is now denominated the Galleria Nationale delle Marche. Entrance fee is 4 Euros. Open Tuesday-Sunday 8:30-7:15, and Monday from 8:30-2:00.
You can actually get a good idea of the immensity of the Duke's mounted forces if you climb to the Fortress. Looking down, you'll see the long front of the stables (on the right of the palace), and a round tower which enclosed a spiral ramp so that the horses could make the steep climb to the palace itself. The subterranean level of the Ducal Palace is open to tourists, and it's fascinating -- showing the influence of modern ideas of waste disposal, water works, and refrigeration (snow, of course, was used). Even on a very hot day, we found the air temperature in these levels was cool. It must have been a blessing to those weary horses, and to the men stowing the huge quantities of provender for the animals.
Entrance fee (which includes the entire palace) is 4 Euros. Open Tuesday-Sunday 8:30-7:15, and Monday from 8:30-2:00.
Raphael -- our shorthand name for Raffaello Sanzio -- was born in this substantial and attractive house, and taught to paint by his father Giovanni Santi, who was one of the Duke's pet artists. (You can find examples of both Raphael pere et fils at the Ducal Palace.) The place actually sounds a little better than it turns out to be; it is rather bare, and has nothing but copies of the masterworks on display. It's also a VERY steep climb.
Admission is three euros.
In my collection of trip suggestions for Italy I already mentioned the abundance of historical festivals throughout the country. Festa del Duca in Urbino is certainly one of these which are worth to be visited. It is being held on the third weekend in August (the one which is closest to Ferragosto, August 15), from Fridays to Sundays to be precise. Duca is of course referring to Federico da Montefeltro, Urbino’s prominent and important historical inhabitant and duke. On the three days of the festival horse races and historical tournaments are being held up on the fortezza ground, workshops and markets show ancient craftworks such as candle dipping, basket making, woodwork, weaponry, herbs and food stalls and music of course. The outdoor exhibits are accompanied by indoor presentations, lectures and exhibitions referring to the time of Italian Renaissance of Federico and his family. Of course the whole festa and the events are very much authentic, since all involved people live their history (in contrast to the so-called historical festivals I know from Germany where I often believe that they just masquerade themselves and play a bit “Medieval”). The festa culminates in the corteo storico (historical procession) on Sunday evening. It starts at 9 p.m. when the groups gather at the piazza in front of Palazzo Ducale, accompanied by drums and cannon shooting (with gunpowder but equally loud). Then the groups walk up to the fortezza where each group is being presented to the performers of Federico da Montefeltro, his wife Battista Sforza and their entourage. This all is very much atmospheric, since the town is lit by torch lights and candles. (Again no photos.... the thing with lack authenticity of Italian Renaissance girls and cameras around the neck...)