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Piero della Francesca, Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino

Painting in central Italy

Video transcript

we're in the Uffizi looking at two portraits that were once joined as a diptych so they would have been connected by a hinge this is the Duke and Duchess of Urbino Frederico da montefeltro and Battista Sforza now she had just died and this was a commemorative portrait this is a way that he could remember his wife and we think that it was actually painted by Piero della Francesca possibly from a death mask that had been made of her look at how dressed up she is they're both very formal it reminds me of the fact that we're so used to photographs being taken of us from the time we're very little it's true this was a very privileged thing and only the extremely wealthy could have an image that could outlast them I'm also reminded that women actually used to pluck their foreheads because it was considered to be especially beautiful to have a very high forehead you often see that in northern painting and it's important to remember that Federico da Montefeltro actually brought northern painters that is Flemish painters down to his court and in fact Piera who's an Italian painter seems to have borrowed that northern interest perhaps not only in the high forehead but also in the great intricacy and specificity of the landscape and we have this wonderful atmospheric perspective one of the other characteristics that I think is so interesting here is the very strict profile which both figures are rendered and the formality that you were talking about comes through because of the profile this is based on acquainted from ancient Rome which by the way the humanists of the Montreux federal court and other humanist courts at this time we're actively collecting and if you think about a rendering of Caesar or even on modern coinage you generally have a perfect profile and you see that here the one interesting detail is that the portraits are almost always facing right in here the Duke is facing his wife facing left actually we know that he had suffered wounds on his right side of his face he was missing an eye it's Ryan part of his nose so that may have been the other reason why we only see the left side of his face but there is that formality and power that comes from the profile pose but also that bird's-eye view of the landscape through the figures tower over the landscape so there really is symbolism in this painting and there's actually symbolism outside of this painting as well you had mentioned this was a diptych and when this painting was closed you would actually only see the exterior and the exteriors are painted as well let's grab a look so there's a lot of symbolism on the outside of this painting it's cover as you could say you have two triumphal chariots which is an image that actually comes from ancient Rome as well and on both of them we can see the people that are portrayed on the inside of the painting right on the back of Battista Sports's portrait we see her born in a triumphal chariot surrounded by figures who represent her virtues and the same with the Duke also below that we have these inscriptions in Latin now that classical inscription refers specifically to the virtues that are represented on those triumphal chariots and one example of that can be seen on the Dukes chariot which shows facing us sitting but full-frontal personification of justice and you can see she's actually holding the scales of justice in her hand as well as a sword on the female portrait the cart is being drawn not by horses but by unicorns it's really a fanciful landscape that they're in as well there is this real sense of imagination and an attempt to invent a kind of iconography that in Nobles the figures represented and we have that typical Piero della Francesca sense of geometry and formality that I think complements the portraits themselves