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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.


Urbino, (anc. Urvinum Mataurense), a city and archiepiscopal see of the Marches, Italy, in the province of Pesaro and Urbino, 19 m. direct SW of Pesaro and 50 m. by rail N by W of Fabriano, a junction on the line from Ancona to Rome. Pop. (1901) 6809 (town), 18,244 (commune). It is picturesquely situated on an abrupt hill 1480 ft. above sea-level; its streets are narrow and crooked, and the town has a medieval aspect. It is dominated by the ducal palace erected by Luciano da Laurana, a Dalmatian architect, in 1460‑82, for Federigo Montefeltro, and regarded by the contemporaries of the founder as the ideal of a princely residence. The sculptured doorways, chimneys and friezes of the interior are especially fine. Some are by Domenico Rosselli of Florence, others by Ambrogio d'Antonio da Milano. The rich and beautifully executed intarsia work may be due to Baccio Pontelli. The massive irregularity of the exterior is due to the unevenness of the site. The decoration of the exterior was never completed; but the arcaded courtyard is the finest of the Renaissance, except perhaps that of the Cancelleria at Rome (Burckhardt). The palace is now partly used for government purposes, and also contains the municipal archives, a collection of ancient inscriptions, formed by the epigraphist Raffaele Fabretti (many of them from Rome), a gallery of sculpture of various periods and a picture gallery. This last contains a small but interesting collection of pictures, including works by Paolo Uccello, Giovanni Santi, Justus of Ghent, Timoteo della Vite, and other 15th‑century artists, also a "Resurrection" by Titian (a late work). The picture of the "Last Supper" by Justus is specially valuable from its containing fine portraits of the Montefeltro family and members of the ducal court. The cathedral, a building of no special interest, stands in the great piazza close to the ducal palace. It was erected in 1801 after the collapse of the former structure. In the sacristy there is a very beautiful miniature-like painting of the "Scourging of Christ," by Piero della Francesca, and other pictures by later artists. In the crypt there is a fine pietà in marble by Giovanni da Bologna.º Opposite the palace is the church of S. Domenico, a Gothic building with a good early Renaissance portal and a relief in the lunette by Luca della Robbia (1449). The interior was spoilt in the 17th century. S. Francesco has a fine 14th‑century loggia and campanile, and a handsome portal of a chapel in the interior by Constantino Trappola (15th century).

S. Bernardino, outside the town, is a plain early Renaissance structure. On the walls of the chapel of the guild or confraternity of San Giovanni Battista are some valuable early frescoes, painted by Lorenzo and Giacomo Salimbene da San Severino in 1416. In the church of S. Spirito are two paintings by Luca Signorelli, the "Crucifixion" and the "Day of Pentecost," originally intended for a processional banner. The modest house where Raphael was born and spent his boyhood is preserved. It is now the property of a society of artists. Its rooms form a museum of engravings and other records of Raphael's works, together with a picture of the Madonna by his father, Giovanni Santi, formerly thought to be by Raphael himself. A monument was erected to him in the piazza in 1897. The theatre, decorated by Girolamo Genga, is one of the earliest in Italy; in it was performed the first Italian comedy, the Calandria of Cardinal Bibbiena, the friend of Leo X and Raphael. The magnificent library formed by the Montefeltro and Della Rovere dukes was removed to Rome, and incorporated in the Vatican library (but with a separate numbering) in 1657. There is a free university founded in 1564 which has two faculties (with 163 students in 1902‑03), and also a technical school. The town has manufactures of silk, majolica and bricks.

The ancient town of Urvinum Mataurense (taking its name from the river Mataurus or Metaurus) is mentioned a few times in classical literature, and many inscriptions relating to it exist. The course of its walls can still be traced. It was an important place in the Gothic wars, and is frequently mentioned by Procopius. At the end of the 12th or the beginning of the 13th century it came into the possession of the family of Montefeltro. Of this by far the most important member was Federigo da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, one of the most successful condottieri chiefs of his time, and not only a man of great military and political ability, but also an enthusiastic patron of art and literature, on which he lavished immense sums of money. Federigo much strengthened his position, first by his own marriage with Battista, one of the powerful Sforza family, and secondly by marrying his daughter to Giovanni della Rovere, the favourite nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, who in return conferred upon Federigo the title of duke. Federigo's only son Guidubaldo, who succeeded his father, married in 1489 the gifted Elizabeth Gonzaga, of the ruling family in Mantua. In 1497 he was expelled from Urbino by Caesar Borgia, son of Alexander VI, but regained his dukedom in 1503, after Caesar's death. Guidubaldo was the last duke of the Montefeltro line; at his death in 1508 he bequeathed his coronet to Francesco Maria della Rovere, nephew of Julius II, and for about a century Urbino was ruled by its second dynasty of the Della Rovere family. In 1626 the last descendant of Francesco, called Francesco Maria II, when old and childless abdicated in favour of Pope Urban VIII, after which time Urbino, with its subject towns of Pesaro, Fano, Fossombrone, Gubbio, Castel Durante, Cagli and about 300 small villages, became part of the papal states until the suppression of the temporal power in 1870.

During the reigns of Federigo and Guidubaldo, Urbino was one of the foremost centres of activity in art and literature in Italy. The palace erected by Federigo has already been mentioned. It was at his court that Piero della Francesca wrote his celebrated work on the science of perspective, Francesco di Giorgio Martini his Trattato d'architettura (published by Saluzzo, Turin, 1841), and Giovanni Santi his poetical account of the chief artists of his time. The refined magnificence of Guidubaldo's court is eloquently described by Baldassare Castiglione (q.v.) in his Cortegiano. When Henry VII of England conferred the order of the Garter on Guidubaldo, Castiglione was sent to England with a letter of thanks and with them a small picture, now in the Louvre, of "St. George and the Dragon," painted by Raphael in 1504, as a present to the English king. This painting was among Charles I's collection which was sold by order of the Commonwealth in 1649.

Throughout the whole of the 16th century the state of Urbino  p793 was one of the chief centres for the production of majolica, especially the towns of Gubbio and Castel Durante. Most of the finest pieces of Urbino ware were made specially for the dukes, who covered their sideboards with the rich storied piatti di pompa. Among the distinguished names which have been associated with Urbino are those of the Ferrarese painter and friend of Raphael, Timoteo della Vite, who spent most of his life there, and Bramante, the greatest architect of his age. The Milanese sculptor, Ambrogio, who worked so much for Federigo, married a lady of Urbino, and was the progenitor of the Baroccio family, among whom were many able mathematicians and painters. Federigo Baroccio, Ambrogio's grandson, was a very popular painter, some of whose works still exist in the cathedral and elsewhere in Urbino. This city was also the birthplace of Pope Clement XI, of several cardinals of the Alban family, and of Bernardino Baldi, Fabretti, and other able scholars. An interesting view of Urbino, in the first half of the 16th century, occurs among the pen drawings in the MSS. Arte del vasajo, by the potter Piccolpasso, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

See also E. Calzini, Urbino e i suoi monumenti (1897); G. Lipparini, Urbino (Bergamo, 1903).

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Page updated: 18 Nov 17