Renaissance Man: The Gubbio Studiolo

Renaissance Man: The Gubbio Studiolo

Anna Hoffman
Jan 28, 2010

If you've looked at Maxwell's entry for the Bloomingdale's Big Window Challenge 2010, you'll notice his trompe l'oeil bookshelf wall, painted by Mark Chamberlain, which was inspired by the Studiolo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (image 1). The Studiolo happens to be my favorite room in the Met, so let's take a look at this tiny microcosm of Renaissance humanist values and artistic accomplishment.

The Studiolo is a room relocated to the Met from Gubbio, Italy, from the ducal palace of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, who commissioned the space around 1476. Federico (image 2) was a fascinating character, a never-defeated soldier and an enlightened leader who governed based on humanist values of equality and education. His studiolo is on the one hand completely unique within its category, while at the same time fulfilling all the expectations of that type of space.

In 15th century Italy, the studiolo, or study, was found in many Italian courts, an inner sanctum for private contemplation and for privileged visitors. It belonged solely to one person, and was created from scratch, composed consciously in order to reflect the owner's ideal self as a collector and person of letters. Renaissance studioli therefore took on a significant aspect of display.

The contents of studioli were pretty standard: they were designed to hold and display the owner's collections: antiquities, books, natural curiosities (like coral and semi-precious stones), manmade arts (painting, sculpture, gem carving, musical instruments, metalwork, etc.), and scholarly accoutrements.

Studioli, then, were opportunities for prominent patrons to show off their erudition and accomplishments and, therefore, their worthiness as leaders. For Federico da Montefeltro, this aspect of propaganda was very important. He had achieved his ducal position as a condotierro, or a mercenary soldier, and so he felt some pressure to legitimize his authority through humanistic patronage, as well as by adopting all the outward expressions of the Renaissance leader. The well-educated illegitimate son of a count, Federico used his wealth and military victories to turn Urbino into an important humanist center. He filled his library with important manuscripts (some plundered after successful battles) and commissioned the best artists of his day to paint portraits of historical figures like Dante, Euclid and Homer.

Federico da Montefeltro's studiolo is typical in terms of what objects he chose to display there. What is highly unusual (to put it mildly) is how he displayed them. He commissioned the da Maiano brothers, who ran the leading intarsia workshop in Floren