Palazzo Ducale, Urbino

The Ducal Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) is a Renaissance building in the Italian city of Urbino in the Marche. One of the most important monuments in Italy, it is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The construction of the Ducal Palace was begun for Duke Federico III da Montefeltro around the mid-fifteenth century by the Florentine Maso di Bartolomeo. The new construction included the pre-existing Palace of the Jole. Luciano Laurana, an architect from Dalmatia who had been influenced by Brunelleschi's cloisters in Florence, designed the façade, the famous courtyard and the great entrance staircase. Laurana's light and noble arcaded courtyard at Urbino rivals that of the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome as the finest of the Renaissance. Overcoming the exigencies of the clifflike site, which made an irregular massing of architecture necessary, from the 1460s onwards Laurana created what contemporaries considered the ideal princely dwelling.

After Laurana's departure from Urbino in 1472, works were continued by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who was mainly responsible for the façade decoration. The portals and the window sculptures were executed by the Milanese Ambrogio Barocci, who was also the decorator of the interior rooms. In high, plainly stuccoed rooms the richly sculptured doorways, chimneys and friezes created by Barocci, Domenico Rosselli, and their workshops stand out. After the death of Duke Federico (1482), the construction was left partially unfinished. The second floor was added in the first half of the following century by Girolamo Genga.

The Ducal Palace is famous as the setting of the conversations which Baldassare Castiglione represents as having taken place in the Hall of Vigils in 1507 in his Book of the Courtier.

The palace continued in use as a government building into the 20th century, housing municipal archives and offices, and public collections of antique inscriptions and sculpture (the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, see below). Restorations completed in 1985 have reopened the extensive subterranean network to visitors.

Studiolo and twin chapels

The Ducal Palace featured several rooms that reflect Federico's devotion to Classical and humanistic studies and served his daily routine, which included visiting the palace's lararium and reading Greek literature. These learned and explicitly pagan touches were atypical of a medieval palazzo.


A central element in this plan is the studiolo (a small study or cabinet for contemplation), a room measuring just 3.60 x 3.35m and facing away from the city of Urbino and towards the Duke's rural lands. Its beautifully executed intarsia work, surrounding the room's occupant with trompe-l'oeil shelves, benches, and half-open latticework doors displaying symbolic objects representing the Liberal Arts, is the single most famous example of this Italian craft of inlay. The benches hold musical instruments, and the shelves contain representations of books and musical scores, scientific instruments (including an astrolabe and an armillary sphere), study furnishings (including a writing desk and an hourglass), weapons and armor, and various other objects (e.g. parrots in cages and a mazzocchio).

  • Intarsia paneling of the studiolo

  • Astronomical instruments and mazzocchio

  • A mechanical clock

The studiolo also features iconic representations of several persons, both contemporary and historical. On the intarsia panels are depicted statues of Federico in scholarly attire and of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Above the intarsia panels are portraits of great authors by Joos van Wassenhove (with reworking by Pedro Berruguete):

The upper register (shown in the diagram's outside rows and columns) presents Classical and humanistic writers, as opposed to the religious figures (broadly speaking) of the lower register (inside).

Chapel of Absolution and Temple of the Muses

Downstairs from the studiolo are a twinned pair of chapels, one Christian and one pagan. The vestibule leading to them emphasizes their complementarity with this inscribed elegiac couplet:

The Temple of the Muses, which may have been used as the personal studiolo of Federico's son Guidobaldo, originally featured paintings of the Muses as "sober musicians" that are perhaps the work of Giovanni Santi.

Galleria Nazionale delle Marche

The Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (National Gallery of the Marche), housed in the palace, is one of the most important collection of Renaissance art in the world. It includes important works by artists such as Santi, Van Wassenhove (a Last Supper with portraits of the Montefeltro family and the court), Melozzo da Forlì, Raphael, Piero della Francesca (with the famous Flagellation), Paolo Uccello, Timoteo Viti, and other 15th century artists, as well as a late Resurrection by Titian.


  • Luciano Cheles, The Studiolo of Urbino: An Iconographic Investigation (Penn State Press, 1986)
  • Robert Kirkbride, Architecture and Memory. The Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro (Columbia University Press, 2008)

Coordinates: 43°43′24″N 12°38′16″E / 43.723333°N 12.637778°E / 43.723333; 12.637778

Building Activity

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