Studiolo – the Renaissance passion for collecting

In the time when museums are so many and we often take them for granted, I am trying to go back to basics. My previous article was about muses and the correlations between museums and amusement. Now I am introducing studiolo.

Many wealthy people in Renaissance Italy had some kind of studiolo. When I say people, I mean, both men and women. That is to say, ladies of the courts across Renaissance Italy were often passionate collectors. One of them is Isabella d’Este, but she deserves another article.

While studiolo itself usually referred to a small cabinet, it was the root of an idea of passionate collecting. As a result, these palaces were full of art. For some reason, I didn’t take pictures inside the studiolo of the Urbino Palace, so here comes a picture from a great website about heritage of the Marche. I don’t remember if I forgot to take photos for being just overwhelmed by the beauty of this room, or it wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside.

Source: Marche d’Arte (in Italian)

Urbino, one of the centres of the world.

Located in Italy’s Marche region, Urbino is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. During the Renaissance era it was one of cultural and political centres. As a result, artists were able to get a lot of work there. Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, was known as a man of culture. So was his son-in-law, Giovanni della Rovere, who succeeded him. They nourished a little studiolo in their castle.

Palazzo Ducale di Urbino
The view from the highest tower of the Ducal Palace.

The Ducal Palace of Urbino is one of the most spectacular castles you will ever see. I think it is because you will not expect it to be so monumental and so dominating. Certainly, Urbino held a huge power in some historical eras, especially through the late 15th and the first half of the 16th century.

However, it is a lesser known town compared to Florence or Siena, towns in the nearby Tuscany. Urbino is located in the Marche region, closer to the Adriatic coast. During my visit, I got the feeling that the amount of tourists in Urbino compared to Tuscan towns is something like 1:100. The town has a truly local atmosphere, just like the whole Marche region.

Painters in Urbino

Firstly, let me give you a short explanation of the role of an artist in the Renaissance time. These artists were some kind of entrepreneurs. Therefore, each of them tried to develop a particular style and adapt it to the taste of his client. The most successful artists created statues and paintings for all the important families. As a result, we know about them nowadays, and we want to see their work in museums and galleries.

These families simply loved to collect, partly because they had a lot of creative and artistic quality around them.

For example, one of the painters who worked for the Dukes of Urbino was Piero della Francesca. He made some family portraits and other works during his business tour through a several Renaissance courts.

Piero della Francesca painting at the Ducal palace of Urbino, known for its Studiolo.
Piero della Francesca: Flagellation of Christ. This painting got numerous interpretations from different historians.

While many painters visited Urbino to work there, one of the most glorious Renaissance painters ever was born in Urbino. His name is Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, also known as Raphael. Those who visited Vatican Museums likely saw his huge fresco paintings such The school of Athens.

But another painting is important for this story. It is the painting you will see if you visit the Ducal Palace.

Raffaello Sanzio, La Muta
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino: La Muta. Some historians believe it is the portrait of Giovanna da Montefeltro. But there is no definite proof for that.

Nowadays, the Ducal Palace of Urbino is home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche – the Marche National Gallery. The ducal studiolo was sadly dismantled after the Dukes lost their political significance and remained heirless. Consequently, the collections were sold off and taken away to different directions, from Uffizi to Louvre.

“Studiolo feeling”?

Urbino is the destination for all the people who love visiting museums and looking for meaningful trips. I was there exactly a year ago, on a tour during which I also visited Pesaro. It was raining during my visit to the Palace. I imagined sitting next to the window, with my books and wonders of art. The rainy view is equally fantastic, and I got a feeling that these Dukes had some good taste.

The palace shows just a little bit of its former glory. The walls that were covered in fresco paintings are now white. Nevertheless, I could still feel how grandiose it was and still is.

After all, it continues giving that studiolo feeling, and reminding us that today we can visit collections of arts and sciences. They are not locked in wealthy people’s homes anymore.

Urbino Palace - Amusing Museums
Rainy days can be beautiful.

For more detailed information about the history of Dukes of Urbino (Montefeltro & della Rovere), I recommend you checking the National Gallery of the Marche official website. It also has other valuable information about the Palace and the Museum.

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