Tag Archives: Urbino

Life is Good in the Greenhouse

Urbino’s Botanical Gardens have been in existence for around 200 years. They are now managed by the University and have beds of flowers and herbs with medicinal properties amongst the horticultural treasures.

Leaving the bustling city behind, we stepped inside….

Urbino: botanical gardens

It’s an oasis of shade in the heat of the day….

Urbino: botanical gardens

A cool, calm paradise….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Miniature oriental parasols….

Urbino: botanical gardens

But beware the carnivorous corner: behind the wire, waiting, watching for prey….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Beware the pointed thorns….

Urbino: botanical gardens

And the cacti – spiky, spooky, sharp….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Handle this heart – like all hearts – with care….

Urbino: botanical gardens - handle this heart with care!

Like weapons of war….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Like palm trees….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Like sea urchins, crowned with light….

Urbino: botanical gardens

There are flowers too: some beautiful….

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….and others disguising their thorns behind delicate, blood-red blooms….

Urbino: botanical gardens

And flowers that seem more leaf than flower….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Urbino: botanical gardens

Leaves veined in impossibly bright pink….

Urbino: botanical gardens

Berries: shiny red and green baubles….

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Urbino: botanical gardens

Bark – a particular favourite of mine – landscapes of texture, colour, pattern….

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Here and there are signs that someone works here…sometimes….

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Urbino: botanical gardens

Everywhere, an air of neglect….

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….and decay….

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Flashes of colour….

Urbino: botanical gardens

…and mostly monochrome….

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Father and Son

In my last post (“Duke”) I wrote about Urbino and the fabulous Ducal Palace. We had so many photos to share and there was so much to say that I decided to separate 2 other delicious Urbino experiences into their own posts. Once I get going I find it difficult to stop writing; I have not yet learned the bloggers’ rule of short, sharp posts. Perhaps I never will….

Urbino: Raphael's house

Urbino: Raphael’s house

One of Urbino’s most famous sons was Raphael who, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, were surely the 3 greatest masters of Renaissance art.

Urbino: Raphael's house

Urbino: Raphael’s house

Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi, was a well-regarded court painter in Urbino. Born in 1483, Raphael had a privileged upbringing in and around the court at the Ducal Palace. The family home, a smart 15th century building in the centre of the city, is now a museum.

Raphael’s parents both died when he was a child. His father was reasonably wealthy, and had managed to apprentice his son to Perugino, a highly successful painter from Umbria (see earlier posts). Perugino’s influence can be seen in Raphael’s work, although Raphael left for Florence and Rome in his early 20s and broadened his techniques to embrace the earthier styles of the Florentine and Rome masters.

Few traces of the artist remain in Raphael’s house, but it is well worth a visit for its evocative atmosphere.

Urbino: Raphael's house - sculpture of Raphael

Urbino: Raphael’s house – sculpture of Raphael

Giovanni Santi also used the house as his workshop, and the stone on which he mixed his paints can still be seen in the courtyard.

Urbino: Raphael's house - paint stone

Urbino: Raphael’s house – paint stone

Several of Santi’s paintings are in the National Gallery of Umbria within the Ducal Palace.

Urbino: Ducal Palace, painting by Giovanni Santi

Urbino: Ducal Palace, painting by Giovanni Santi

In one of the rooms in Raphael’s house is a charming fresco of the Madonna and Child. This had been attributed to Santi, but more recent scholars believe this is an early work by Raphael, due to the use of light in the picture which is evident in his later paintings.

Urbino: Raphael's house - early fresco?

Urbino: Raphael’s house – early fresco?

Other than this one (possible) original painting, the museum only has copies of Raphael’s works, but they do illustrate the diversity and talent of this man who died at the young age of 37 but who left a wonderful legacy behind him.

Urbino: Raphael's house - copy of  "La Fornarina"

Urbino: Raphael’s house – copy of “La Fornarina”

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