great pictures here are Piero's Madonna di Senigallia that could
almost be an interior painting by Vermeer, Raphael's La Muta,
the Silent One, an anonymous portrait of a gentlewoman who we
feel might talk to us if she only wished to, and a famous vision
of the Ideal City by an unknown hand (possibly Piero della
Francesca's) and much used by art designers to illustrate books
on the Renaissance.
The Duke's Studiolo is the most unusual room in the palace. His
tiny study is entirely decorated in exquisite trompe l'oeil
inlaid woodwork panels, some based on designs by Botticelli.
To understand the complex domestic organisation that propped up
what Yeats called "that mirror-school of courtesies", visit the
vast warren of cellars, kitchens, laundry rooms, stables and
even an ice store in the sotterranei or basements. No single
architect can be credited as the creative genius behind this
blueprint for the unfortified Renaissance dwelling, although
Luciano Laurana and Francesco di Giorgio Martini figure large.
It has to be seen rather as the sum total of Duke Federico's
Few traces remain of earlier Roman Urbinum Metaurense - see some
in the exhaustive collection of ancient stone inscriptions in
the Museo Archeologico on the ground floor of the Ducal Palace -
and virtually the entire city within the walls dates from the
15th and 16thC; the ghost of Federico would still not lose his
way in the maze of pink-bricked alleys.
Giovanni Santi was a court painter at Urbino who might have been
consigned to the lumber room of art history if he hadn't been
the father of the divine Raphael . Few can doubt that Raphael's
childhood at the court helped mould his genius. The house where
he was born is now a delightful little museum - a simple fresco
of the Madonna and Child in one of the rooms may have been one
of his earliest works. You will find it in Via Raffaello that
runs up from Piazza della Repubblica.
Stagger on up to the summit of the steep hill to find a striking
statue of the painter and grandstand views of the countryside
If you are not sated with art, hunt out the Oratorio di S.
Giovanni Battista in Via Barocci to see a small church entirely
decorated in 1416 with wall-to-ceiling frescoes by the
Marchegiani painters Jacopo and Lorenzo Salimbeni. Ignore the
fact that few outside the Marches have ever heard of the
brothers; use your own eyes and enjoy the brilliance of their
earthy vision of the life of St John the Baptist and a
terrifying Crucifixion - or just count the number of playful
small dogs you can spot in the lively scenes.
A rarely visited but nevertheless delightful stop is the Orto
Botanico. This small, walled botanic garden is full of rare
plants, the shade is welcome, and there are definitely no
paintings. The entrance is in Via Bramante.
As you leave Urbino pause to pay your last respects at the tombs
of Duke Federico and his son, Guidobaldo, in the fine church of
San Bernardino. It was built in 1491 by Francesco di Giorgio
Martini and stands on the hill above the junction for the Pesaro
road - follow the signs.