The portrait of the Duke and the Duchess of Urbin is one of the most famous paintings of the history of art. The dyptich arrived in Florence in 1631 with the inheritance of Vittoria della Rovere, wife of Ferdinando II dei Medici and last descendant of her dinasty, she brought to Florence (anf to the Medici) all the masterpieces that the Della Rovere family collected until then.
The painting, oil on a wooden panel, represents Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza, the ruling couple of the city of Urbin, in Umbria in the second half of 1400. Often associated with the IDEA itself of Renaissance, this portrait celebrates the human being as the main subject of its time. Federico was that kind of man under several aspects, he could gather around his court the most famous artists of the XV century and he was able to transform Urbin in a cultural and artistic capital.
|Portrait of the Duke And Duchess of Urbin, by Piero della Francesca 1474 - Uffizi Gallery, Florence|
The couple is portrayed in a perfect profile, a reference to the classical portrait medals which gives an ancient solemnity to the two Dukes. For Federico, choosing the representation in profile was a forced choice. In fact, the Duke lost his right eye during a tournament and for this reason only the left side of his face is portrayed. His nose was also broken in that accident and caused the famous aquiline shape which gives his face a unique personality.
The portrait is characterized by the extreme naturalistic effects: his olive imperfect skin is covered by a network of wrinkles, the awkward nose which is not at all idealized, all these elements contribute to give a real, earthly image of the Duke.
He is wearing the red dress symbol of his ducal rank. The cylindrical hat with a bright red stands out against the blue sky background, a detail of seamless geometry that gives the composition a strong sense of abstraction, as if he was designed on a different plan than that of the background, nearer to the viewer.
The pose is straight, the look is determined, but also transmits the benevolence of the Duke of Urbin. The color red is preponderant on the painting and the background reminds the typical Flemish landscape.
On the left side of the Federico's wife, the Duchess Battista Sforza is also painted as a profile so that the two are boldly looking to each other.
The extremely pale face of the Duchess with an exaggerated high forehead (symbol of aristocracy in those times) is framed by a richly decorated hairstyle where a precious jewel emerges in the center of her head and a light white veil blows in delicate and complex folds. Everything communicates richness and power as the fabric of her dress' sleeve made of silk brocade (this is not a tatoo as many people ask me...!) and the pearls around her neck.
Originally the two portraits were linked by two hinges, so that could be closed like a book. On the back of what is now a painting, Federico da Montefeltro and his wife are shown in their "Triumph" on two antique wagons in the company of the Virtues.
The Duke wears his armor just like a leader, while he is crowned by a winged lady standing on a sphere, maybe she represents Victory. In front of him , the four cardinal virtues: Justice,with the scale and the sword, Prudence, looking in a mirror, Fortitude, with the column, and Temperance who gives us her back.
The Duchess sits in a chariot pulled by two unicorns, symbols of chastity, to emphasize her pious and gentle soul. At her side, two ladies symbol of Chastity and Temperance, and in front of her, Charity with the pellican and Faith, dressed in red with the cup and the wafer in her hands.
With his almost metaphysical style, Piero della Francesca represent perfectly the Renaissance man, aware of the centrality of his role in the universe and the importance of his intelligence and his culture.