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Monday, May 12, 2014

The Montefeltro Family

The Montefeltro Family


For those of you who read “Off the Beaten Trail: Palazzo ducale”, you may remember reading briefly about Federico da Montefeltro, who is probably the most well-known of his family. The Montefeltro family was amongst the most influential families in Italy during the 13th to early 14th centuries. They took their name from the ancient towns of Mons Fereti, which today is known as the town of San Leo. It was in the ancient towns of Mons Fereti that they first became prominent figures.


By 1234, the Montefeltro family ruled Urbino. Guido da Montefeltro fought against the papal party in Romagna and Tuscany, only to later submit to Pope Boniface VIII in 1295. His son sustained the Ghibelline cause, and ruled Urbino until 1322. His son Nolfo later lost Urbino to the papacy. It was not until 1377 that the Montefeltro family regained its power under Nolfo’s grandson, Antonio. Not only did he regain his family’s ruling over Urbino, but he also extended it over neighboring towns, and made peace with the pope. Antonio later passed his title to his son, Guidantonio. Guidantonio ensured the family’s position by marrying into the papal-related Colonna family, thereby creating a new alliance that would support his ruling.


Federico da Montefeltro


He was the duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, and was amongst the most influential people during the Renaissance. Da Montefeltro housed one of the greatest libraries of his time, owning over a thousand manuscripts, as well as a spectacular collection of books about an array of subjects from history to architecture. Most of his books had been bought from the humanist book seller Vespasiano da Bisticci. He also commissioned 30 to 40 scribes who worked continuously.

Federico da Montefeltro was born in 1422 to a noble family that ruled a large portion of then central Italy. He was the illegitimate son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro and Elisabetta degli Accomandigi, a lady-in-waiting to his wife, Countess Rengarda. Federico was raised until the age of eleven by Giovanni degli Alidosi with the Brancaleoni family. In spite of his illegitimacy, Federico was still given the education of a royal. He was later sent to Venice and Mantua. In 1437, Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg knighted him. In that same year, he was married to Gentile Brancaleoni. By 1443, he had become duke of Marcatello, as his marriage to Gentile brought him the dowry of that territory.


After his tyrannical half brother Oddantonio was assassinated by the citizens of Urbino, Federico later assumed his father’s title and dubbed duke by Pope Sixtus IV in 1444. Due to his interest in the arts and sciences, and the creation of the Palazzo ducale as a hub, or gathering place, for architects, painters, and writers, he was named, “the light of Italy”. During the Golden Age of Urbino from 1468 to 1482, he had more wealth than any other prince of Italy.



His portraits are recognizable not only because of his importance but also because of the manner in which they were painted. Portraits of a person’s profile signified the high social status of the individual. However, it was also due to da Montefeltro’s disfigured face. He suffered from a skin disease, but had also lost his right eye and a part of the bridge of his nose in a tournament in 1450. Therefore, only the left side of his face was ever painted/drawn.

Recently, there was further analysis of the portraits conducted by medical students. The students noticed hyper kyphosis, a curvature of the thoracic region of the spine, or hump. In the evaluation, several theories as to how this may have happened have been derived such as Scheuermann disease and trauma related spinal changes. The hyper kyphosis could have been caused by the repetitive trauma to the spine from being on horseback with heavy armor. This is a very plausible conclusion based on the fact that he had at one time been a knight.


In 1482, Federico died in the War of Ferrara. He was buried in the church of San Bernardino in Urbino.

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