Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino and facial disfigurement Also known as

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Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino and facial disfigurement

Also known as Federico III da Montefeltro (June 7, 1422 – September 10, 1482), was one of the most successful condottieri of the Italian Renaissance, and lord of Urbino from 1444 (as Duke from 1474) until his death. In Urbino he commissioned the construction of a great library, perhaps the largest of Italy after the Vatican, with his own team of scribes in his scriptorium, literally "a place for writing adjacent to the library in palaces, and assembled around him a great humanistic court in one of the great architectural gems of the early Renaissance.

All the portraits of Federico are from his left side - During one of his early campaigns Fedrico was blinded in his right eye and carried a vast and disfiguring woundmark for the rest of his life, so that he required to be portrayed only on his 'good' side. The nose bridge was apparently created by surgeons to give the surviving left eye the ability to "see right"

Federigo's memorial to his wife (Battista Sforza 1446  - 1472 (26)) and of course to himself (1422 - 1482 (60) painted by Piero della Francesca c1474 and now famously exhibited in Room 7 of the Uffizi in Florence. Interestingly, unlike most Renaissance portraits these are both painted sideways on to disguise Frederico’s facial disfigurement and so his late wife is also painterd in the same position.

Federico was born in Castello di Petroia near Gubbio, the illegitimate son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino, Gubbio and Casteldurante, and Duke of Spoleto. Two years later he was legitimized by Pope Martin V, with the consensus of Guidantonio's wife, Caterina Colonna, who was Martin's niece.

In the aftermath of the Peace of Ferrara in 1433, he lived in Venice and Mantua as a hostage. In 1437 he was created knight by Emperor Sigismund, and in the same year he married Gentile Brancaleoni in Gubbio.

At sixteen he began a career as condottiero under Niccolò Piccinino. Codottiero were the mercenary soldier leaders of the professional, military Free companies contracted by the Italian city-states and the Papacy, from the late Middle Ages until the mid-16th century. In 1441 he distinguished himself in the conquest of the castle of St. Leo, which Federico was to hold for the rest of his life. After Piccinino's resignation, he went to Pesaro to defend it against his great enemy in the Marche, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, lord of Rimini.

On July 22, 1444, his half-brother Oddantonio da Montefeltro, recently created Duke of Urbino by Pope Eugene IV, was assassinated in a conspiracy: Federico, whose probable participation in the plot has never been established, subsequently seized the city of Urbino. However, the financial situation of the small dukedom being in disarray, he continued to wage war as condottiero.

The Duke portrayed (with dented helmet) in the "Brera Alterpiece" by Piero della Francesca in around 1470 (Pinotecca di Brera, Milan

His first condotta was for Francesco I Sforza, with 300 knights: Federico was also one of the few condottieri of the time to have a reputation for inspiring loyalty among his followers. In the pay of the Sforza—for Federico never fought for free—he transferred Pesaro to their control, and, for 13,000 florins, received Fossombrone as his share, infuriating Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. Despite Federico's efforts, the Sforza sovereignty in the Marche was dismantled in the following years. When Sforza left for Lombardy, Sigismondo fomented a riot in Fossombrone, but Federico reconquered it three days later.

After six years in the service of the Florence, Federico was hired in 1450 by Sforza, now Duke of Milan. However, he could not perform his duties as he lost an eye during a tournament. He subsequently carried a vast and disfiguring scar for the rest of his life, so that it was necessary to portray him only on his "good" side. Malatesta profited from his illness to obtain the position under Sforza, whereupon Federico in October 1451 accepted instead a proposal by Alfonso V of Aragon, King of Naples, to fight for him against Florence.

This late-Gothic world was the one into which Federico was born — a world of medieval knightly assumptions, unquestioned pieties and sumptuous decorative surfaces — before he set off on the peregrinations of his youth, during which he drank deep of the New Learning and received the education that was to make him an outstanding patron of innovative artistic and literary forms.

In 1453 the Neapolitan army was struck by malaria, and Federico himself risked losing his healthy eye. The Peace of Lodi of the following year seemed to deprive him of occasions to exhibit his ability as military commander. In 1458 the death of both Alfonso and of his beloved illegitimate son, Buonconte, did not help to raise Federico's mood. His fortunes recovered when Pius II, a man of culture like him, became Pope and made him Gonfaloniere of the Holy Roman Church. After some notable exploits in the Kingdom of Naples, he fought in the Marche against Malatesta, soundly defeating him at the Cesano river near Senigallia (1462). The following year he captured Fano and Senigallia, taking Sigismondo Pandolfo prisoner. The Pope made him vicar of the conquered territories.

In 1464 the new Pope Paul II called him to push back the Anguillara, from whom he regained much of the northern Lazio for Papal control. The following year he captured Cesena and Bertinoro in Romagna. In 1466 Francesco Sforza died, and Federico assisted his young son Galeazzo Sforza in the government of Milan, and also commanded the campaign against Bartolomeo Colleoni. In 1467 he took part in the Battle of Molinella. In 1469, on the death of Sigismondo Pandolfo, Paul send him to occupy Rimini: however, fearing that an excessive Papal power in the area could also menace his home base of Urbino, once having entered Rimini Federico kept it for himself. After defeating the Papal forces in a great battle on August 30, 1469, he ceded it to Sigismondo's son, Roberto Malatesta.

The matter was solved by the election of Pope Sixtus IV, who married his favorite nephew Giovanni Della Rovere to Federico's daughter Giovanna, and gave him the title of Duke of Urbino in 1474; Malatesta married his other daughter Elisabetta. Now Federico fought against his former patrons the Florentines, caught in the Pope's attempt to carve out a state for his nephew Girolamo Riario. In 1478 Federico was involved in the Pazzi conspiracy.

Portrait of Duke Federico (with undented helmet)and his Son Guidobaldo painted by Pietro Berruguette in 1480-81, now in the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino.

However, after the death of his second wife Battista Sforza (daughter of Alessandro Sforza) he spent much of his time in the magnificent palace in Urbino. In 1482 he was called to command the army of Ercole I of Ferrara in his war against Venice, but was struck by fever and died in Ferrara in September.

Federico's son, Guidobaldo, was married to Elizabetta Gonzaga, the brilliant and educated daughter of Federico I Gonzaga, lord of Mantua. With Guidobaldo's death in 1508, the duchy of Urbino passed through Giovanna to the papal family of Della Rovere—nephews of Guidobaldo.

Portrait in one of the Duke's hundreds of manuscript books.  The Duke (who obviously liked the red "campaigning hat" look when not in knight's fatigues) is talking to the Florentine humanist writer Christofo Landino, whose best known work was a set of philosophical conversations between Lorenzo de'Medici, Leon BattistaAlberti and Marsilio F

And this is what the Palazzo the Duke built between 1444 and 1472 looks like on a June evening 550 years' later (on the left is the Duomo

The Renaissance Man
During the Renaissance period Urbino reached a very high cultural level because many scholars and artists lived and worked there. Some of the leading humanists of the time, such as Leone Battista Alberti, Marsilio Ficino, and Giovanni Bessarione, and mathematicians like Paul van Middelburg, came together at the court of the Montefeltro Duke Federico III, who ruled Urbino

from 1444 to 1482, to create and implement outstanding cultural and urban projects.

Federico, the “New Prince,” was a military commander and a patron of the arts.
He surrounded himself with distinguished artists, such as Maso di Bartolomeo, Luciano Laurana, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Luca della Robbia, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Melozzo da Forlì, Antonio del Pollaiolo, Ambrogio Barocci, and Giovanni Santi. During his reign the city became a centre of European importance: Federico, whose court became a favoured staging post between Rome and other European cities, maintained diplomatic relations not only with the other Italian rulers but also with Louis IX of France and with Ferdinand II of Aragon and Naples. Urbino became a cultural and architectural model for other courts, and so elements from Federico’s palace can be recognized in the castles of Mathias I Corvinus in Hungary and that of Stanislas

II in Prague. Urbino, the “ideal city,’ was the birthplace of Raphael, Bramante, and Barocci, and among the celebrated figures who lived there were Luca Pacioli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Pietro Bembo.

Coat of arms of the House of Montefeltro

Federico, nicknamed "the Light of Italy", is a landmark figure in the history of the Italian Renaissance for his contributions to enlightened culture. He imposed justice and stability on his tiny state through the principles of his humanist education; he engaged the best copyists and editors in his private scriptorium to produce the most comprehensive library outside of the Vatican; he supported the development of fine artists, including the early training of the young painter Raphael. He ordered for himself the famous Studiolo di Gubbio, eventually purchased and brought in its entirety to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Federico took care of soldiers who might be killed or wounded, providing, for example, dowries for their daughters. He often strolled the streets of Urbino unarmed and unattended, inquiring in shops and businesses as to the well-being of the citizens. All citizens, regardless of rank, were equal under the law. His academic interests were the classics, particularly history and philosophy.

All his personal and professional achievements were financed through mercenary warfare. Through dedication to the well-being of his soldiers, his men were enormously loyal and, incredibly, he never lost a war. He was decorated with almost every military honour including the English Order of the Garter.

*Gino Franceschini, I Montefeltro. Varese, 1970.
*Walter Tommasoli, La vita di Federico da Montefeltro. Urbino, 1978.
*Claudio Rendina, I capitani di ventura. Rome, 1996

Web sites






  1. Do a web search of other portraits by Piero della Francesca. Describe and sketch a selection of other portraits. Compare these with the Duke Frederico Urbino.

  2. Why do you think the Duke only wanted his ‘good side’ to show?

  3. Although the Duke was a humanist and was not superstitious write an account of how ordinary people in Urbino might have thought of him.

  4. Compare the way Duke Urbino is portrayed with how Two face in Batman Forever is portrayed.

  5. Find the website of the organisation that support people with facial disfigurement-Changing Faces http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/Home

  6. Do Changing Faces Questionnaire http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/lendyourface/

  7. Now write a letter to Duke Urbino and try to convince him to be painted face on.

  8. Draw or paint a portrait of Duke Urbino Face on.

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