Gubbio Studiolo - The Tale

Do the names 'Count Guidantonio, Lord of Urbino', and 'Count Federico da
ring any bells to you? And what about Malatesta da Rimini or, by
the way,
Francesca da Rimini  and  Paolo Malatesta da Verruchio? Well, these
two last are in Dante's Inferno, in a condition that should have been shared by
the older Malatesta. Of course, we are talking of the times going on around the
years 1200/1400 in the Italian Peninsula, when Montefeltro was a State and its
cities of Urbino and Gubbio were flourishing, in part thanks to the military
services the Counts of Montefeltro were giving to the volatile Popes that were
accumulating power (and land).

At the east of Montefeltro was the State of Malatesta, with the cities of Rimini,
Pesaro and Fano resting on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Montefeltros and
Malatestas were eternal foes, competing in arms and in prestige, intelligence,
culture and money and even in the women they married. Probably all this stories
wouldn't be remembered today if it weren't that the competition gave way at the
building of fortresses, palaces, tombs, churches and offices that had to be
decorated with the maximum splendour to surpass one another.
That was the case of the Palaces of Urbino and Gubbio, where Federico da
Montefeltro was Lord and Patron. In both palaces he built a small studio,
separated from the public areas and close to his private rooms, where he could
read, study, meditate and have meetings with very important dignitaries
attending political matters. He wanted the Studioli walls covered with intarsia
panels following the most exquisite trends in workmanship and design; the
motives should reflect his philosophy and religion: "the room's complex imagery
was rooted in the Platonic concept of the philosophical ruler, which Federico da
Montefeltro regarded as the foundation of a good government" (Olga Raggio,
Federico da Montefeltro's Palace at Gubbio and Its Studiolo", pag 79, 1999 The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY).

The techniques, designs and styles in perspectival intarsia that were used to
compose the panelling on the walls of the north Sacristy in the Florence
Cathedral, were used -later- in Urbino and  Gubbio. One of the walls of the
Florence Sacristy was produced by the workshop of Giuliano da Maiano and his
brother Benedetto, who, under the designs of the architect Francesco Di
Giorgio, seem to have executed  parts of Urbino and, for sure, the panels of
Gubbio between 1480-1483.   
The Urbino Studiolo -a National Italian Monument- is still in its original place, in
exhibition at the Ducal Palace converted in museum. But the Gubbio was
dismantled and sold in 1874 to Prince Filippo Massimo Lancellotti and shipped
by rail to Rome, later sent to Venice and sold in 1938 to Adolfo Loewi, who
miraculously could transport it out of Italy to the USA before the WWII, arriving
at New York on April 21, 1939. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, acquired
the famous Renaissance Room and put it on show until 1966, when it went into
restoration -several times postponed- that was completed in 1996; since then, in
exhibition where it remains today. Under the direction of Phillipe de Montebello
(Director of MMA until 2010) one of the most exhaustive, complete and serious
research to obtain a fuller knowledge of the room's history and of the art of
Italian Renaissance intarsia, has been accomplished and published in "The
Gubbio Studiolo and its Conservation" (MMA, 1999). Includes bibliographical
references,maps, photographs, and indexes and it is a must for consultation.  

Following are Studiolo's examples of tromp l'oeil imagery and lineal perspective.
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Fine Art in Marquetry

The relief decoration consisting of repeated plant motifs on
the horizontal border and the red luster tone make this dish
characteristic of the faience with metallic lustering made in
Gubbio (Umbria, Italy) during the first third of the sixteenth
The centre features a posthumous portrait of
Federico (1422-82), Count of Montefeltro and Duke of
Urbino, condottiere and great Renaissance patron.
In exhibition at the Musee du Louvre, Room 19

The Gubbio
Studiolo at the
Museum of Art
The Studiolo in the Ducal Palace
at Urbino, completed in
The importance of having a cultural life is
exalted in every detail of the panels. In this
case, a couple of books, harp, candlestick,  
jingle ring and  tuning key appear to be
resting on a shelf, behind  semi closed latticed
doors. Everything depicted with rigorously
detail. Op.cit.
The cage with a parrot and some seeds could
be considered a sign of Federico fondness for
nature. But at the time this kind of birds were
very rare and expensive, only in possession of
popes, kings, princes and wealthier merchants
who could afford them. Thus, its inclusion
looks like a way of showing off the importance
of the Montefeltros. Op.cit.
An inverted lute, dividers, sandglass, a
plumb bob and a set square are -again-
resting on a book. The extraordinary details
and perspective wouldn't be unnoticed. The
use of 'tarsia a toppo' to make the banding
that decorates the shelf is also
The mazzochio lies on the central
bench. It was a wooden form
where the cloth of a male
headgear was wrapped. The use
of it as exercise in perspective
drawing was in fashion in the XV
and XVI centuries.Op.cit.
To finish with this period, it's worth to cite the forewords of Philippe de
Montebello, for lack of a better synthesis:
"The craft of intarsia flourished in Italy
from about 1330 to 1530. In  the fourteenth and early fifteenth
centuries,extraordinary figurative inlays were made in Siena. Around 1435,
however, Florence emerged as the center of intarsia work. Inspired by the
architects Alberti and Brunelleschi, Florentine intarsiatori adopted linear
perspective in their compositions. With this extraordinary innovation,
Renaissance woodworkers gained recognition equal to that of painters. The  
Florentine style, noted for intricate play between light and shadow in the service
of perspective, dominated the craft until the end of the fifteenth century."
The Gubbio Studiolo and its conservation", MMA, Edition 1999)
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