FEDERICO'S COLLECTION: DEVELOPMENT AND FEATURES
The library of Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482) - first count (from 1444), then duke (from 1474) of Urbino -, consisted of about 900 manuscripts: 656 were Latin, 168 Greek, 82 Hebrew, as the ancient inventory known as the Indice vecchio attests.
It was primarily an establishment of Federico, but it also included family manuscripts, which are believed not to have exceeded one hundred (see Il Dante Urbinate, p. 21; Michelini Tocci, La formazione della biblioteca, p. 9). Urb. lat. 1171 is an example of these, a brief Petrarchan sylloge owned by Antonio da Montefeltro (1348-1404), which on f. 111r and f. 140r have the relative possessory note: “Iste liber est magnifici domini comitis Antonij Comitis Montisferetri.”
Another testimony is offered by Urb. lat. 642, which contains the works of Virgil, and which on f. 2r has the quarterly coat of arms also used by Federico, but whose blue bands have the letters O A, which indicate that the manuscript belonged to Oddantonio da Montefeltro (1427-1444; see Marucchi, Stemmi di possessori, p. 75 nr. 97 e tav. IV,2).
Urb. lat. 642, f. 2r
Under Federico the collection grew considerably, fueled also by presents and antique acquisitions, but mainly by direct patronage; his alter ego Ottaviano Ubaldini della Carda (1423-1498) and his second wife Battista Sforza (1446-1472) played an important role in the development of the collection, as their interests certainly influenced the choice of some of the types of texts acquired (cfr. Michelini Tocci, Federico di Montefeltro e Ottaviano Ubaldini della Carda, pp. 297-344; Peruzzi, La Biblioteca di Federico, pp. 275-278, 292-295). It is therefore for the most part made up of manuscripts from the fifteenth century, de luxe manuscripts, in refined parchment, often large-sized (in folio), with a spacious mise-en-page, in which the text is arranged uniformly and elegantly within the page with wide margins. The decorative apparatus is almost always extraordinarily rich and constantly embellished by the heraldic elements of Montefeltro – coats of arms, decorations, and badges – adopted by Federico throughout his life; the original bindings also bear witness to a further aspect of the sumptuousness that characterized the collection.
Urb. lat. 326, binding - Urb. lat. 264, f. 1r
The combination of these components is aimed at enhancing the figure of the possessor, in a sort of pompous manifestation of the political/military power achieved and in a self-celebration of the qualities of a learned prince. The references to the symbols of the family name of Montefeltro are indeed always present on the incipit pages of the manuscripts as a sign of belonging, and are often recalled in subsequent places, along decorative friezes or even inside initials. In some cases, the lord of Urbino himself becomes a character represented within the rich decorative framework that embellishes the manuscripts.
Urb. lat. 491, f. IIv
The library had a fundamental role in the construction of the public image of Federico, who sought to present himself as a victorious ruler, but also as a patron and lover of the arts.