17 January 2016

Guidobaldo I – Duke of Urbino

Military leader headed a cultured court

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was to become Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in Gubbio in 1472. 

He succeeded his father, Federico da Montefeltro, as Duke of Urbino in 1482.
The portrait by Raphael is housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Raphael's portrait of Guidobaldo da
Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, can be
found at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Guidobaldo married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the sister of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, but they never had any children.

His court at Urbino was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy where literary men were known to congregate.

The writer Baldassare Castiglione painted an idyllic picture of it in his Book of the Courtier.

Castiglione was related on his mother’s side to the Gonzaga family of Mantua and represented them diplomatically.

As a result he met Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court among the many distinguished guests.

During this time Castiglione also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him that is now in The Louvre in Paris.

Castiglione’s book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, was written in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Elisabetta Gonzaga and her guests and provides a unique picture of court life at the time. It was published in 1528, the year before he died.

Guidobaldo fought as a captain on behalf of Pope Alexander VI alongside the French troops during the invasion of southern Italy by King Charles VIII of France.

As a condottiero (mercenary military leader) he was later hired by the Republic of Venice to fight against Charles. At one point he was taken prisoner but was freed after a few months.

He had to flee from Urbino in 1502 to escape the armies of Cesare Borgia, the Pope’s son, but was able to return in 1503 after the Pope died.

Guidobaldo adopted as his heir, Francesco Maria della Rovere, his sister’s child. In 1508 Guidobaldo died, aged 36, and was succeeded as Duke of Urbino by his nephew.

Travel tip:

Urbino, which is inland from the Adriatic resort of Pesaro, in the Marche region, is a majestic city on a steep hill.  It was once a centre of learning and culture, known not just in Italy but also in its glory days throughout Europe. The Ducal Palace, a Renaissance building made famous by The Book of the Courtier, is one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The Palazzo Ducale in Gubbio
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Gubbio, where Guidobaldo was born, is a small town in Perugia in the region of Umbria that still has many of its medieval buildings. It became absorbed into the territory of the Montefeltro family in the 15th century and Federico Montefeltro, Guidobaldo’s father, had the ancient Palazzo Ducale rebuilt in a similar style to his palace in Urbino.


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