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January 23, 2013

Gubbio Studiolo of Federico da Montefeltro — "The finest Italian Renaissance room in America"

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You will find it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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Below, excerpts from H. George Fletcher's September 1, 2012 appreciation in the Wall Street Journal.

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Above and below, photos from the Metropolitan Museum website.

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Within the vast halls and imposing galleries of New York's Metropolitan Museum, well-hidden from the casual visitor, resides the finest Italian Renaissance room in America. The studiolo from Gubbio, in the Marches region of Italy and the former southern capital of the Montefeltro lands, is a marvel of the Renaissance woodworker's skill.

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This studiolo, which tricks the eye with its seeming three-dimensionality of fictive cabinets, objects you could grab, and projecting benches, proved to be the final architectural triumph created for Federico da Montefeltro (1422–1482). A scholar and accomplished military strategist, Federico led an adventurous life. Born in Gubbio itself, he died in Ferrara two months shy of his 60th birthday.

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In his lifetime, Federico developed the Montefeltro castle at Urbino into the huge architectural complex that survives to this day. He became Duke of Urbino in 1444; in 1474, Edward IV conferred the Order of the Garter and Ferrante, King of Naples, bestowed the Order of the Ermine on him; he served as captain general of the Italian League and as condottiere to popes and secular rulers in Italy. In Mantua as a youth, Federico had immersed himself in the works of Greek and Latin antiquity, the basis for his lifelong love of literature. He had studied mathematics, a foundation for his military skill in artillery and siege warfare. Portraits usually depict him in left profile, concealing his ruined right eye but not his broken nose, the unhappy outcomes of a joust in about 1450.

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Federico's military successes brought him the wealth to pursue the development and enjoyment in Urbino of an important library. The "Urbinati" manuscripts survive in the Vatican Library.

The studiolo, or intimate study, arose in the 15th century in the papal court and the palazzi of important noblemen. Richly decorated in intarsia work, it was a small bookroom and place of private contemplation, the setting for intimate discussions between the ruler and a privileged visitor. The construction of Federico's first studiolo, still in situ in the Urbino palace, began in 1476. From this time, the architect Francesco di Giorgio was in charge of all of Federico's construction projects. In dramatically expanding his father's modest Gubbio residence, Federico had extended it toward the local cathedral while leaving a cathedral plaza between the buildings. This constrained the eastern wall in an eccentric angle, and the studiolo, installed within the odd angle of this wall, thereby acquired its disproportionate, rhomboid shape.

Like its kin, the Gubbio studiolo is a marvel of inlaid woodwork, a triumph of the intarsiatore, the artisan in inlay. Many types of wood are required—spindle-wood, bog oak, cherry, walnut, pear and mulberry—including wood stained by fungus, producing a polychrome palette; these permit the full development of patterns and colors that inform the illusionistic results of three-dimensional depth, shadows and perspective. Two elaborately coffered ceilings, in gold and polychrome, crown the main section and the window alcove. The blank walls above the intarsia wainscoting once held allegories of the liberal arts and portraits of the Famous Men whom Federico emulated.

Created in the Florentine workshop of the brothers Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano, the studiolo was installed in Gubbio from 1480 until 1483. The final panels, installed after Federico's death, reference Guidobaldo, but virtually all the panels reflect Federico's life, interests and achievements. The intarsia panels "read" clockwise from the left of the doorway. The prime viewing site is in the center, facing the long wall, with one's back to the window alcove; the Order of the Garter dominates the view. The viewer's ideal height, 5-foot-6, incidentally tells us how tall Federico was.

Federico's personal military, scientific and literary interests parade before us: fictive cabinets partially ajar display arms and armor, armorials, scientific devices, musical instruments and scores, documents and writing tools, caged songbirds and many, many books. Some items spill out of the cabinets or rest on equally fictive benches, while others recede into the shadows. The Latin inscriptional frieze extols the merits of approaching Learning with humility. Light comes from the principal window in the alcove and from two eyebrow windows high up in the same "eastern" wall. A patterned, tiled floor completes the ensemble. The setting mimics the shapes and orientation of the now-bare stone room in Gubbio.

Various fittings were removed from the Gubbio palazzo in 1874, and some of these adorn the Italian consulate in Berlin. The studiolo, dismantled at the same date, was moved to decades-long storage in Rome and Frascati; a panel beneath the principal window vanished a century ago and remains untraced. Mounted for sale in Venice in 1938, but finding no buyer, it came to New York in 1939. Its owner-gallerist, fleeing the Fascists and Nazis, sold it to the Met Museum in early 1941, where it was initially installed until 1967. Following complete study and admirable restoration, the studiolo was reinstalled in 1996 in its current, brilliant state. An exhaustive two-volume study published in 1999 is a model of its kind.

In these stressful days, the studiolo remains the stunning retreat it constituted for Federico and Guidobaldo. Enjoy its intimacy. Very few may enter at the same time, and bags and strollers are banned. The outside world falls away as you contemplate the marvels of the Gubbio studiolo.

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Should you find yourself in Manhattan today, you could do worse than bag whatever it is you're supposed to be doing and take some time out to visit this magnificent creation.

I know I would.

January 23, 2013 at 08:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

Joe, you need to stress up front and quick to the viewer that this is not real, it is Faux finishing (French for false) at its most exquisite. It is breathtaking thank you for this post who knew it even existed well you did.

Posted by: friskypainter | Jan 24, 2013 12:15:48 AM

What I wouldn't give to have a personal study of that caliber!

Posted by: Rattlesnake Jake | Jan 23, 2013 8:27:44 AM

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