The Library of a 'Humanist Prince' Federico da Montefeltro and His Manuscripts [by M.G. Critelli]


The manuscripts selected for this pathway essentially outline the profile of the collection of Federico da Montefeltro, not only from the textual point of view, but also from an artistic point of view. This profile has thus far been illustrated by sketching an interpretative outline that can be offered as a premise. In light of the present research, however, these figurative sketches ought to be considered somewhat subject to modification. In fact, they concern three different periods in the formation of Federico’s library: a first period, which includes the massive acquisition of Florentine manuscripts, stretches until the mid-seventies of the fifteenth century, and is aligned with the workshop of Vespasiano da Bisticci. This production was surpassed by the arrival of the maestros from Padua and Ferrara, who introduce a different figurative language after 1474, the year that Federico was conferred with the title of duke. The arrival was related to the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478, in which Federico perhaps played some role. Federico’s involvement in the conspiracy led to a decline in his relations with Lorenzo the Magnificent, one of his most important interlocutors for the acquisition of manuscripts. The third period involves the birth and development of the so-called scriptorium di Urbino, which gives rise to an artistic expression composed of many different contributions and has an extremely varied profile, as will be discussed later. So as to understand more effectively some of the proposals from the critics presented in the individual descriptions that accompany the manuscripts, we saw the need to offer the reader a concise, but hopefully thorough picture of such alternations of course. These represent actual novelties in some cases, which have emerged from studies conducted in recent years.

The library of Federico, more than other contemporary collections, can be considered a summa of the book illustration of the fifteenth century. It not only reflects the tastes and needs - even of self-legitimization - of the patron (or of the person representing him in the task of book acquisitions), but offers a cross-section of what in those decades becomes, from time to time, à la page in the production of the illuminated book.