Federico da Montefeltro was born in 1422 to a small-time noble family that ruled over an insignificant square of the chess-board that was then central
Italy. Yet within sixty years he had become "the light of Italy" and the paradigm of Renaissance man, as skilled in letters as in arms.
His portrait, together with his young son, Guidobaldo, by the Spanish painter Pedro Berruguete in Urbino's Ducal Palace neatly portrays this duality of
scholar and warrior - studiously reading a weighty manuscript, he keeps his helmet by his side. As in all portraits of the Duke, including Piero della Francesca's famous painting in the Uffizi (below), we
only see his left profile; a swordblow earlier in his life had cost him his right eye and the bridge of his nose.
He made his money as one of the most successful condottiere, or hired generals, of his time. Always fighting
on short-term contracts and strictly for cash on the nail, he displayed the timeless Italian ability of never taking sides - he managed once to fight for Florence against
the Pope only to later take up the Papal banner against the Florentines.
His fortune made, he turned to the arts as enthusiastically as he had to war and settled down to create his shining court. Almost all the great names of
the Quattrocento passed through his palace, and his library was reckoned amongst the largest in Europe.
On his death in 1482, his sickly son, Guidobaldo, managed to keep alive the splendour of the court with
the help of his emancipated wife Elisabetta Gonzaga. Baldesar Castiglione wrote his famous Book of the Courtier, the classic account of the Renaissance ideal, as a member of Guidobaldo and Elisabetta's retinue.
On his death in 1508, the Dukedom passed to the Della Rovere family and Urbino's decline began; the light was
finally extinguished in 1631 when the last Duke handed the Duchy to the Papal States - its palace stripped of its treasures, Urbino sank into unbroken torpor.