Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro and his Son by Pedro Berruguete

Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro by Pedro Berruguette (1476)

My Daily Art Display today is a double portrait entitled Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro and his Son.  The artist who painted this work was Pedro Berruguete.  He was a Spanish Renaissance painter who was born around 1450 in Paredes de Nava, a town close to Valladolid.   He went to Italy in 1473 and it was whilst there that he received his early artistic training.  He began working for the Federico de Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino.  Montefeltro was one of the most sought-after and most feared condottieri (mercenary captain) of that time.  He was an excellent commander and an expert in military technology and the art of warfare.    He was a successful warrior who was rarely defeated in battle.  This was a very lucrative trade and with the money he amassed he became a great patron of the arts. 

Montefeltro’s land, the Duchy of Urbino, was a small and a somewhat insignificant territory sandwiched between Romagna and the Marche region close to the Adriatic Sea.  To counteract the insignificance of his duchy he would invite the leading artists and intellectuals from different areas to come to his palace.  Around 1480 he summoned Joos van Gent, the Netherlandish painter, to come and decorate the library and study, in his magnificent palace with allegories of the liberal arts and portraits of Biblical and pagan thinkers.  It is believed that Pedro Berruguete helped in this commission.  His library was ranked as one of the best in fifteenth century Europe housing studies in geography, history, poetry and theology and included many works in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.  As well as the books, his library and his study, which was specially designed for intellectual contemplation and the reception room for important guests, housed musical and scientific instruments and coats of armour.

Montefeltro commissioned Berruguete to paint the portrait of him and his young son Guidobaldo.  Looking at the portrait we see Montefeltro seated before a lectern with his young son, Guidobaldo, standing on his right hand side, resting his arm on his father’s thigh.  The portrait is a left hand profile of the duke, which was what he preferred as he had lost his right eye in a jousting accident.  The portrait, and the way in which Berguette portrays Montefeltro to us, is as a man of many talents.   The Duke sits upright reading a manuscript which has been identified by art historian, Marcello Simonetta, as being Saint Gregory’s Commentary on the Book of Job.   He is dressed in an ermine-bordered cloak which is topped by the collar of the Golden Fleece.  I am sure Berruguete has captured the look the Duke wanted portrayed – that of a well-read man of great intelligence.  He would also have wanted to be portrayed as an international diplomat and this is probably the reason for the inclusion of the pearl-studded tiara which is on top of the lectern, and which was a gift from the Sultan of Constantinople.

However besides wanting to be just shown as an intellectual, Montefeltro wanted to remind viewers that he was a military man and that this is probably why he resorted to wearing his armour underneath his robes for the portrait.  His sword and baton of command are shown at his side and his helmet is placed by his feet in the foreground.   If you look closely at his left leg you will see a ribbon tied just below the knee.  This is the Order of the Garter which the Duke of Urbino received from King Edward IV of England.

Frederico’s son Guidobaldo who was heir to the Duchy is seen standing besides him.  There is a look of complete innocence in the young child’s face and although he symbolically holds the baton of command in his right hand, one senses that for him it is just another toy.  The large string of pearls around his neck symbolise his and his father’s wealth and standing.

It is an interesting portrait in the way the artist and sitter have decided on how the Duke should pose and what inanimate objects should be included in the work so as to convey all the messages the sitter wanted revealing.