Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Majestic Urbino: The Cradle of the Renaissance

Over the 'Alpe della Luna' towards a distant sea lies majestic Urbino, nestled between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic. Once a centre of learning and culture almost without rival in Western Europe, this jewel of a renaissance city remains little changed from the days when Frederico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, set up his celebrated court here in the second half of the 15th-century, attracting artists and scholars from all over Italy and beyond with an influence that spread throughout Europe. Military leader, ruler and one of the greatest humanist patrons of the arts, Federico was the original Renaissance man, and his Palazzo Ducale now home to the National Gallery of Le Marche — Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, is his lasting legacy. The city also blessed the Italian Renaissance with two of its native sons: Raffaello Sanzio (1483–1520), or Raphael, one of the most influential painters in history and an embodiment of the spirit of the Renaissance; and the architect Donato Bramante (1444–1514), who translated the philosophy of the Renaissance into buildings of grace and beauty, and likely served as an assistant to Piero della Francesca while in Urbino. Aside from the elegant, colonnaded main courtyard, some of the Palazzo's more intimate spaces are truly impressive, in particular the duke's compact study with its trompe l'oeil marquetry panelling. Raphael's meticulously observed Portrait of a Gentlewoman, Piero della Francesca's Flagellation and Luciano Laurana's eerily empty Ideal City are highlights of the art collection. Achieving UNESCO World Heritage status in 1998 for representing 'a pinnacle of Renaissance art and architecture, harmoniously adapted to its physical site and to its medieval precursor in an exceptional manner', it's easy to lose oneself in the scenic and artistic beauty of this hilltop "Cradle of the Renaissance.”

The beautiful Palazzo Ducale which houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche

The elegant colonnaded main courtyard designed by Luciano Lauren for Duke Federico da Montefeltro was created to give the Duke's guests the feeling they were inside the mansion of a Renaissance prince 

Coat of arms of Duke Federico da Montefeltro

Original fresco fragment from the Ducal Palace

 Early 15th-century altarpiece by Antonio Alberti da Ferrara

Detail of a Madonna con Bambino

Ancient altarpiece with The Madonna and Child with St Jerome and the lion

Exquisite miniature altarpiece at the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche

Detail of Nicola di Maestro Antonio, Triptych of the Annunciation, with the angel speaking the words AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA — "Hail Mary full of grace"

Kenneth Clark placed 'The Flagellation of Christ 'by Piero della Francesca in his personal list of the best ten paintings, calling it 'the greatest small painting in the world'

The Duke Federico da Montefeltro's exquisite study, famous for its detailed marquetry called 'intarsia', very popular in northern Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries

Designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in the 15th-century with some also by Botticelli, the exquisite marquetry of Duke Federico da Montefeltro's study is the single most famous example of this Italian craft of inlay. Crafted from walnut, beech, rosewood, oak and fruitwoods on a walnut base, the 'intarsia' depicts trompe l'oeil shelves, benches, and half-open latticework doors displaying symbolic objects representing Duke Federico's wide-ranging artistic and scientific interests, with depictions of books recalling his extensive library.

Detail of armillary sphere and books in trompe l'oeil cabinet

Marquetry detail of a squirrel

Detail of books, candle and a little note in the corner

One of two chapels beside the Duke's study

The Throne Room with a valuable collection of Flemish tapestries designed by Raffaella

One of the masterpieces in the gallery is the 'Portrait of a Lady' by Raffaella, also known as 'The Mute Woman'

Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi

Finding ourselves in quiet Piazza San Francesco just off Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi in the historic centre of Urbino, we found a shady table under an enormous umbrella at Il Girarrosto and sat down for a light lunch before heading back to Monterado. Run by the Amati family for generations, Il Girarrosto offered a menu featuring typical local Urbino cuisine with dishes including Tagliatelle con Fagolio, Passatelli in Brodo, Stringhetti con Baccala, and Seppia con Piselli. Fortified with a cold beer and glass of local wine, we enjoyed one of Il Girarrosto's signature dishes, "I Brutti di Urbino" con pomodoro, cipolla e fossa, and delicious Cioncioni con cicoria e fossa, then explored Urbino's grand Duomo, the Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunto. 

Il Girarrosto, tucked away in quiet Piazza San Francesco

The menu features typical Urbino dishes

A large bottle of cold Acqua Frizzante for a hot day in Urbino

House made bread

A cold Italian beer

A glass of Marchegian Verdicchio

"I Brutti di Urbino" con pomodoro, cipolla e fossa

Cioncioni con cicoria e fossa

Housemade almond biscotti

A pigeon keeping cool in the heat

Urbino's grand Duomo, the Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunto, was rebuilt in the early 19th century in neoclassical style and is part of Urbino's UNESCO heritage as it was at the centre of the urban renewal of the beautiful city by the ducal family in the Renaissance

The interior and main altarpiece, by Christopher Unterberger, represents the Madonna between the city's patron saints

In1789, a powerful earthquake toppled the cupola, and made a reconstruction necessary

One of the ancient names for Mary is Mater Misericordiae, Mother of Mercy

Chapel of the Santissimo Sacramento, built at the end of the 15th-century

The paintings on the ceiling are by Antonio Viviani 

Federico Barocci's Last Supper from 1590

The sculptures beside The Last Supper appear to be striding forth from their niches

The local cinema on Corso Garibaldi has thoughtfully retained the building's original architectural arches and loggia

View down one of the laneways in Urbino with the green valley below

Panoramic view from Urbino to the Appenines in the distance 

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