News from Urbino

  A roman lion supports a late Gothic building - photo by Steohen Kaye

1204 Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, a vew from the rear

Sept 21: To catch up on Urbino, we employed a guide and interpreter since time and language had to be bridged.  We ascertained that Urbino broke into the modern world around 800  after Pepin the Short (aka Pepin Cour) passed through on a conquest of the Lombards who had succeeded the Romans. Pepin's son, Charlemagne, no minor figure in his day, managed to give the Pope control over Urbino, a vassalage that continued more or less until 1860, in exchange for the Pope's agreement to crown Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor, a presumptuous title that lasted right up to Napoleon.  Urbino gained fame and fortune when Frederico Montefeltro, a well-born condottieri, gained control of Urbino, built himself a palace and filled it with artists, poets and writers, including Machiavelli who must have given him lessons in survival tactics and Castiglione Baldessare who gave everyone lessons in courtly manners (He wrote the book on the subject.)  Renaissance scholars note that Frederico's court was the leading court of his time, exceeding even the Medici's in the quality of his resident artists and scholars. Among the honors showered on Frederico was the Order of the Garter conferred by King Edward IV in 1474  (the year Frederico gave the King a Raffael) and a Ducal title, conferred by the Pope.. Art and books whose provenance includes the palace of the Montefeltro's turn up in the most significant museums and libraries in the world.   

1166 Fermo's 16th century square houses a picture gallery, a classy restaurant, cafes, shops and government offices.

Frederico married well, his son married well as did his daughter, with the result that the son's heirs carted off a good many of the possessions to Rome when they became cardinals and a Pope and the daughter married into the Medici's so part of the collection ended up in Florence.

1167 Fermo’s town hall The government is conducted in a hall of some dignity.

Despite the palace having been emptied of its possessions over the years, the many palatial rooms are now filled with an impressive collection of Renaissance art supplied by the commune and other galleries. Some of it is part of the fabric of the architecture, such as elaborate fireplaces and doors and wood panels designed by Botticelli and Francesco di Giorgio Martini. There are paintings by Raphael, two sumptuous paintings by Piero della Francesca over which we lingered, and many by minor masters  with Venetian connections.

1168 Detail from the annunciation by Lorenzo Lotto

Urbino, once part of Umbria, is now part of Marche, a province created in 1860 as part of unification and the demise of the Papal States. It is that province we are exploring.  We have visited small cities, each with Roman ruins that supplied building materials to later buildings, mostly churches. We see foundation stones and columns embedded in church walls, and paving stones still in good shape after 2000 years of continuous use.

1169 An example of the Romanesque in Ancona.

 Remember the Picenis? They were mentioned by Caesar in his Gallic Wars. They occupied the coastline south and north of Venice around the 9th century BC;  their memory is preserved by the names of towns and villages.  They got mixed up with the Gauls or Galli who settled here and had to be conquered by the Romans (who built the Flaminia Road that we have been travelling on to get here for the purpose) in the third cent BC to exert their control over this section of Italy and continue their road building which went all the way to Spain. Local museums have artifacts of Picene origin, not unlike Etruscan relics of the same period.  The land we traveling through has been cultivated for 2,900 years. It has seen incessant warfare, sacking, destruction and rebuilding. We see Roman and medieval ruins, city walls breached, torn down and only partially restored. The area is dotted with castles, many sacked during the Ghibeiline wars. No building of the Roman or post Roman period seems to have survived. As waves of conquerors came and were in turn conquered, buildings and people were the victims. Records are scarce thanks to frequent fires and sackings. Yet, the past is still with us, it lives on in these old hills that have silently watched the parade of history march by, a history too complex for a few paragraphs.       

1170 Caesar Augustus made sure Romans knew what a fine looking man he was. His image was well distributed through his empire.