In Federico’s library, the luxurious exterior encasing typical of the manuscripts that belonged to him drew attention even before the volumes were opened; this embellishment also found expression in the most external component of each individual manuscript: the binding. This also forms part of the political and cultural project that characterizes Federico’s library, making it a magnificent display of the power possessed by the duke. Like the library, even the single volume, even when it is closed, has a paradigmatic value; the preciousness of the binding exalts the book in its property as an object.
The representation of books is not infrequent in the decorative apparatus of the Palace. It has been observed that the book is among the emblematic elements associated with the portrait of the duke described in Ritratto di Federico da Montefeltro e del figlio Guidobaldo, said “Doppio ritratto”, though the attribution of this has been debated (Pedro Berruguete or Justus van Ghent); it is datable to the years 1476-1477, and once it was in the Studiolo or in the library (Marchi, Pedro Berruguete, Federico da Montefeltro con il figlio Guidubaldo, pp. 120-121). Federico, warlord and a wise prince dedicated to culture, is depicted absorbed in reading a manuscript volume with rich binding, and is placed next to the symbols of political and military power: the throne on which he is seated, the armor that surrounds him, the fur and the collar of the Ermine, with the garter below the knee recall the honors which he was awarded, the sword tied to life and the helmet placed on the ground. The value of the volume is certainly symbolic. There is a fascinating hypothesis to identify it with the manuscript that contains the Moralia of Gregory the Great, currently under the shelfmark Urb. lat. 96, based on the matching descriptions of the bindings presented by the Indice vecchio and on the basis of the dimensions of the volume (Simonetta, Double Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, pp. 102-109, in particular p. 106; see Urb. lat. 1761, f. 7r: «Codex ornatissimus coopertus serico rubro et cornibus et seraturis argenteis»; edited in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. LXVI, nr. 59).
Urb. lat. 96, ff. 1v-2r - Urb. lat. 1761, f. 7r
Giovanni Santi (c. 1440-1494), father of Raphael, in his poem La vita e le gesta di Federico di Montefeltro, duca di Urbino, which has provided a source for a good knowledge of the Urbino library, defined as «sacred and holy college», describes the works contained in that collection as «covered and adorned with a wondrous mantle» and such ornaments which he hyperbolically affirms that he is not able to describe («the ornaments of which [books] I could not / write in part, not that entirely», original text: Santi, La vita e le gesta di Federico di Montefeltro, II, pp. 420-421).
In addition, Baldassarre Castiglione (1478-1529) celebrating the cultural splendor of the Urbino court in his Cortegiano, praises the lord of Urbino and his library, where «with great expense he assembled a noble and great treasury of Greek, Latin and Hebrew books, all of which he decorated with gold and silver, esteeming that this was the supreme excellency of his great palace» (original text: La seconda redazione del “Cortegiano” di Baldassarre Castiglione, p. 6; see also Urb. lat. 1767, f. 13v, sec. XVII).
Unfortunately, at present the Urbinati manuscripts possess only a small portion of their original binding from the time of Federico, which has been lost for the most part. Accordingly one may catch a glimpse of some of their original splendor only through the information offered by catalogs, such as the precious Indice vecchio, or through literary sources (on the use of inventories for the study of lost bindings see Federici, Inventari e documenti, pp. 147-163).
Among the literary sources, Vespasiano da Bisticci plays a prominent role; in his Vite he refers abundantly to the richness of the bindings, citing not only the precious metals that could be used to decorate them, but also fabrics and colors. He also draws attention to the value of the binding itself for Library Science, as it would later play an important role in identifying the various sections in which the library was structured:
He had an edition [= manuscript book] of the Bible made in two most beautiful volumes, illustrated in the finest possible manner and bound in gold brocade with rich silver fittings [Urb. lat. 1-2]. It was given this rich form as the chief of all writings [...] The Duke, having completed this noble work at the great cost of thirty thousand ducats, beside the many other excellent provisions that he made, determined to give every writer a worthy finish by binding his work in scarlet and silver. Beginning with the Bible, as the chief, he had it covered with gold brocade, and then he bound in scarlet and silver the Greek and Latin doctors and philosophers, the histories, the books on medicine and the modern doctors, a rich and magnificent sight (Vespasiano, Lives, pp. 103, 104).
Urb. lat. 1, ff. 1v-2r
Urb. lat. 2, ff. 1v-2r
The most precious bindings, characterized by silver locks, corner-pieces and bosses, also had the function of distinguishing the first book that began the sequence of works of an author considered relevant and were therefore useful for the collection of volumes, which did not have any shelfmark under Federico (De Marinis, La legatura artistica, pp. 79-84; Peruzzi, La formazione della biblioteca, pp. 33-34; Ead., «Lectissima politissimaque volumina», p. 352).
The Indice vecchio offers a comparison with respect to the presentation of Vespasian: it always presents a concise description of the binding, often only in reference to the color of the skin (rubro, purpureo, viridi, croceo, nigro, albo, azurro), and provides further details only in the case of richer bindings, such as that of the Bibbia Urbinate [Urb. lat. 1-2], which unfortunately has not been passed down to us, «Aureo serico cooperta [sic] et cornibus et seraturis argenteis ornata» (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 1r). It is indeed clear that, if one goes beyond the celebratory tone of the sources, not all the volumes were adorned with gold and silver.
Regarding the covers of the manuscript, De Marinis had already pointed out that “the colors we see today do not always correspond to those indicated in the Indice vecchio. For some, the explanation is easy: the effect of discoloration of the tanning of hides that were originally brown; green has rarely resisted the passing of time, and can only be recognized in the flaps folded inside the cover boards, under folds that defended them from the light. For others, the discrepancy raises the suspicion that those volumes might have been re-bound at the time of Guidubaldo, for reasons that escape us. For example, the Indice vecchio describes the splendid Campano (in our list, n. 951B [Urb. lat. 326]), quite simply, «in rubro», while in fact, it was robed with «Moroccan brown, with rich golden decoration and with the ducal coat of arms ducale of the Montefeltro family, illuminated in a round panel at the center of the cover boards» (original text: De Marinis, La legatura artistica, p. 83).
Of the 656 Latin manuscripts described in the Indice vecchio, about seventy were bound in fabric (but only four Greeks and no Hebrew manuscripts): in silk, gold and silver brocade, velvet, furnished with corner-pieces and silver clasps (see Urb. lat. 18, described in the Indice vecchio on f. 1v of Urb. lat. 1761, published in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. LX, nr. 16: «opertum serico viridi et munitum cornibus et seraturis argenteis». Today the precious metal refinements and the tenons of the clasps have disappeared from the green silk cover), the straps of which are sometimes still wrapped in fabrics themselves (see Urb. lat. 326 and 328).
Urb. lat. 18
Most of the bindings, however, are in leather (Adorisio – Federici, Per una storia della biblioteca dei Duchi d’Urbino, p. 9 e Aspetti tipologici delle legature feltresche, p. 53; Quilici, Legature di corte italiane, pp. 252-253; Macchi - Macchi, Atlante della legatura italiana, p. 240); the Index does not provide information on the decoration of the covers, which can however be found in the manuscripts that survive (about forty are recorded in De Marinis, La legatura artistica, pp. 83-88, not all of which are part of the Latin Urbino collection; see also Adorisio – Federici, Aspetti tipologici delle legature feltresche, pp. 54-59 e Hobson, Two Italian Renaissance Bookbindings, pp. 1-4). Examples of original bindings are offered by Urb. lat. 326, 328, 419, 427, of which an analysis is proposed.
Urb. lat. 427 - Urb. lat. 1761, f. 54r
It is interesting to note that the bindings may have specific characteristics depending on the place where the manuscript was made. For manuscripts of Florentine origin like Urb. lat. 328 the original bindings is typical of that style, whereas bindings of manuscripts from the Urbino region have their own characteristics, as the result of a combination of styles (see Urb. lat. 326, 419 e 427). A characteristic that can also be found in the miniatures made by the masters of the scriptorium of Federico - which make them «unquestionably different from any other miniatures found elsewhere. The reader observing the plates will see the different use of threads, the original gothic frames with arches, the curved frame made up of overlapping wedges» (original text: De Marinis, La legatura artistica, p. 82; see also Macchi - Macchi, Atlante della legatura italiana, pp. 240-243; Quilici, Legature di corte italiane, p. 253; Hobson, Two Italian Renaissance Bookbindings, p. 1-4). In fact, it seems that at the court of Urbino, parallel to the activity of copyists and artists, there was also an active workshop of bookbinders, «probably in the room adjacent and identical to that of the library» (original text: De Marinis, La legatura artistica, p. 81). A series of objects relative to this activity cataloged in the Indice vecchio, together with furniture and furnishings that were present in the library, seems to confirm its existence: quinternions of paper, pieces of parchment, gold leaf, clasps and corner-pieces (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 126r-v: «Quinterni de Charta rasa mezani», «Quinterni picoli, Cavretti Rasi», «Capretti non Rasi», Cavretti rinquadrati», «Fetta quaedam Aurea longitudinis Fere quatuor Palmarum quae superfuit Evangelistarii ligaturis», «Azulli de octone da Antiphonarii per tre volumi», «Azulli de octone da altri libri zoe quelli de sotto tra piccoli mezani et grandi», «Cantoni de libri de octone Duzinali per libri»).
Urb. lat. 1761, f. 126r-v
Also worth mentioning are two original Urbino bindings, now kept in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano: these regards the only known original registry of the Urbino chancery, and contains copies of the Privileges of the Montefeltro family (ASV, Arm. LX, 21). There is also a calligraphic copy of it (ASV, AA. Arm. E. 123, described in the Indice vecchio, which thus attests his presence in Federico’s library, see Urb. lat. 1761, f. 62r, published in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. CXIII, nr. 426). These are the only known bindings that show the use of original tools definitely made in Urbino. In fact, they present Federico’s heraldic motif of little flames or tongues of fire, which also appear in the emblem called “quartered tongues of fire”, and Federico’s FDE monogram. In both manuscripts the tool was used consisting of a rectangle with two flames on a background of raised dots, which, repeated multiple times, forms a large frame for both cover boards of the manuscript AA. Arm. E. 123; in the other binding (Arm. LX, 21) the tool with the tongues of fire, twice repeated in such a way as to form four flames, alternates with another tool on a background of raised dots that shows the Gothic letters FDE (and not FD as has been believed up until now; about that, see the quartered tongues of fire and Critelli, A proposito delle fiammelle inquartate). The two constituent elements of one of Federico’s heraldic badges, the tongues of fire associated with the monogram indicating Federicus, even if not in quartered, are therefore both present in the frame that decorates the binding (see Michelini Tocci, I due manoscritti urbinati, pp. 206-257, in particular, pp. 213-214, plates 5 and 9).
Most of the bindings were removed or damaged during the invasion of the duchy of Montefeltro by the troops of Cesare Borgia in 1502, when the collection was transferred to the fortress of Forlì. Even if it was then retrieved by Guidubaldo in 1504, the collection had already been separated from the precious bindings and had lost 13 manuscripts (De Marinis, La legatura artistica, pp. 80-81; Peruzzi, La biblioteca di Federico da Montefeltro, pp. 302-304; Ead., «Lectissima politissimaque volumina», p. 353 and n. 95).
The Indice vecchio bears the traces of these plunderings. The precious Urb. lat. 350, for example, is described in this way together with his luxurious binding: «Virgilii Maronis Mantuani Poetarum Latinorum Principis Opera. videlicet Bucolica. Georgica. Aeneidos. Moretum. Copas. Dirae. Culex. Priapeia et Alii nonnulli versus eiusdem. Codex ornatissimus in Serico Viridi cum Cornibus et Seraturis argenteis In Viridi»; in the margin it was noted that the binding was removed during the raids operated by Valentinus: «spoliatus serica veste viridi per Valentinum indutus fuit per d. ducem guidonem)» (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 70v; published in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. CXX, nr. 492).
In another case, for Urb. lat. 151, the same type of annotation was dubiously put in the margin, next to the description («Sixti IIII Pontificis Maximi De Sanguine Christi Liber. Idem de potentia Dei. Idem de Futuris Contingentibus quae quidem opera Cardinalis tituli S. Petri ad Vincula existens Composuit»): «spoliatus de serico a Valentino et indutus corio?» (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 30v; published in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. LXXXII, nr. 184).
Some manuscripts which went missing under these circumstances were later found in other collections, such as the manuscript that today bears the shelfmark Barb. lat. 4295, to which there is a note corresponding to a description in the Indice vecchio : «Raptus a Valenti(ni)anis parvulus liber vulgaris» (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 63r; published in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. CXIII, nr. 434). The manuscript, which bears the heraldic treatise of Giovanni de Bado Aureo and Francesco de le Fosse, has a splendid binding with two medallions containing other portraits of Federico, which are the same as the ones represented on a medal made in 1478 by Gianfrancesco Enzola (Hernard, Gianfrancesco Enzola, pp. 10-12). The original has been lost, but a reproduction has been engraved on two leather bands preserved in Urb. lat. 1418: on the front board (and on the recto of the medal) the bust of Federico is depicted – now at an elderly age – turned to the left encircled by legend FEDERICUS DVX VRBINI: MONTIS FERETRIQ(UE) COMES: REGIUS GENERALIS CAPITANEUS: AC SANCTE RO(MANAE) EC(CLESIAE) CONFALONERIUS; on the back board (and on the verso of the medal) the duke is depicted on horseback, with armor, and heads to the left in the company of foot soldiers, with Mars and Victory lead in front, with the inscription: CAEDERE DAT MAVORS HOSTEM: VICTORIA FAMA MCCCCLXXVIII. JO. FR. PARMENSIS OPUS (De Marinis, La legatura artistica, p. 88 nr. 978; Hill, Notes on Italian medals, pp. 200-202; Id., A corpus of Italian medals of the Renaissance before Cellini, I-II, London 1930: I, p. 73 nr. 295; II, tav. 47).
Another manuscript that belonged to Federico’s library is the splendid manuscript containing the Triumphs of Petrarch, now preserved in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, ms. Vitr. 22-1, identified by nr.  of the Indice vecchio: «Francisci Petrarcae poetae Elegantissimi atque disertissimi Cantilenae et Triumphi. Codex ornatissimus Cum picturis. Multo munitus Argento et Artificiosissime Ligatus. In Rubro». The note written in the margin relates that it was missing from the time of Valentinus: «abest e tempore Valentini et dixit do. Elisabet ducissa urbini intellexisse esse Venetiis apud quemdam patricium» (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 77r; published in Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, p. CXXVII). This manuscript also still has the original binding, significantly similar to that of Urb. lat. 326.