Duke

We crossed the Umbrian border into Le Marche along roads that wound round tall, craggy mountain peaks. We were headed for Urbino, one of the cultural capitals of the Renaissance. The historic centre, dating largely from the 15th and 16th centuries, has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Surprisingly, Urbino attracts fewer visitors than other Renaissance cities, presumably because of its location rather than its quality. It is all the better for its limited number of tourists.

It was here, in the middle of the 15th century, that Duke Federico of Montefeltro built the Ducal Palace, one of Italy’s most beautiful Renaissance palaces and – if you believe the proud boasts of the people of Urbino – a model for all of the others.

Urbino: Ducal Palace

Urbino: Ducal Palace

The fairytale twin towers of the Ducal Palace give Urbino its distinctive skyline. Unfortunately when we arrived they were wrapped in scaffolding: a little necessary maintenance no doubt!

Urbino: Ducal Palace under wraps!

Urbino: Ducal Palace under wraps!

The entrance is rather unassuming – a large door opening off a paved square next to the cathedral. But the door led into a majestic courtyard, perfectly proportioned and tastefully ornamented with columns.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, courtyard

Urbino: Ducal Palace, courtyard

Urbino: Ducal Palace, courtyard

Urbino: Ducal Palace, courtyard

Urbino: Ducal Palace, courtyard

Urbino: Ducal Palace, courtyard

Sweeping marble staircases led to wide corridors, bright with light from the many windows.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, stairway

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, stairway

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, corridot

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, corridot

The rooms are sizeable but not overly ostentatious; decorative features were mostly limited to the doors, architraves, corbels and fireplaces.

Urbino: Ducal Palace

Urbino: Ducal Palace

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, ceiling

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, ceiling

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, column

Urbino: Ducal Palace, interior, column

Most of the walls were bare: they would probably have been hung with tapestries in Federico’s day. There are fragments of frescoes in only 2 rooms.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, fresco fragment

Urbino: Ducal Palace, fresco fragment

Federico clearly had a penchant for cherubs as they are a regular feature throughout the Palace. These little angels decorated a fireplace….

Urbino: Ducal Palace, fireplace detail

Urbino: Ducal Palace, fireplace detail

….and these cheeky faces were on the ceiling of his tiny, marble-clad chapel….

Urbino: Ducal Palace, chapel ceiling detail

Urbino: Ducal Palace, chapel ceiling detail

Some of the rooms are very grand in size, used for feasts or audiences with the Duke.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, audience room with Lion of St Mark

Urbino: Ducal Palace, audience room with Lion of St Mark

One of the most interesting rooms is the Duke’s tiny study – the “Studiolo”, covered in intarsia – an elaborate form of marquetry using inlays in wood. This room is one of only 2 surviving examples.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, Duke's study (studiolo), intarsia

Urbino: Ducal Palace, Duke’s study (studiolo), intarsia

Urbino: Ducal Palace, Duke's study (studiolo), intarsia

Urbino: Ducal Palace, Duke’s study (studiolo), intarsia

The windows were highly decorative, with small panes of wobbly glass.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, external window

Urbino: Ducal Palace, external window

Looking out from inside the Palace, the cathedral dome could be a watercolour painting. I think this is my favourite photo of our entire trip.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, internal window

Urbino: Ducal Palace, internal window

We also visited the underground rooms. Here there were kitchens, stables, laundry rooms and an ice house. Federico was all set to entertain in style.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, basement - laundry and dyeing room

Urbino: Ducal Palace, basement – laundry and dyeing room

Fittingly, since Duke Federico was an enlightened patron of the arts, inviting the greatest artists, poets and scholars to his splendid home, the Palace now houses the National Gallery of Le Marche. Amongst its collection are works by Piero della Francesca – the Flagellation of Christ and the Madonna of Senigallia – and the anonymous painting of the “Ideal City”, possibly another della Francesca masterpiece.

The star exhibit was Raphael’s “La Muta” (the Silent One), an anonymous painting of a gentlewoman. I am a great admirer of Raphael’s paintings and this one is stunningly beautiful; the woman is elegant with hands poised gracefully, referencing Leonardo’s Florentine style and the Mona Lisa. This reproduction does not do the original justice.

Urbino: Ducal Palace - "La Muta"

Urbino: Ducal Palace – “La Muta”

As well as paintings, there are lovely sculptures such as this delicate head of a woman – notice the tendrils of hair.

Urbino: Ducal Palace,  fragment

Urbino: Ducal Palace, fragment

This Palace was a fitting home for a quintessential Renaissance man.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, exterior door, detail

Urbino: Ducal Palace, exterior door, detail

Next to the Ducal Palace stands the cathedral, marble fronted and well proportioned.

Urbino: Cathedral

Urbino: Cathedral

Urbino: Cathedral

Urbino: Cathedral

Opposite was the church of San Domenico, attached to a former monastery which is now a hotel. This is where we stayed for 2 nights, so the view from our cafe breakfast table was delightful, whichever way we turned.

Urbino: Church of San Domenico

Urbino: Church of San Domenico

Urbino’s houses are mostly brick, its narrow streets set against a backdrop of mountains and wide skies. It is, however, not stuck in the past, but is a very cosmopolitan place, a University city, bustling with long-limbed youth.

Urbino: lanes

Urbino: lanes

Urbino: balcony

Urbino: balcony

Urbino: walkway

Urbino: walkway

Urbino: Saint George and the Dragon

Urbino: Saint George and the Dragon

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