National Gallery of the Marche


July 5, 2022

The National Gallery of the Marche is an Italian state museum located in the Ducal Palace of Urbino. Its collections derive largely from works collected in the nineteenth century from churches and convents in the Marche region; relatively few are the works of the ducal collections, which have been lost over the centuries. The most famous section is linked to the Urbino Renaissance, with two works by Piero della Francesca and others by the artists of the court of Federico da Montefeltro, as well as an important nucleus of works from the early sixteenth century, including works by Raphael, and the seventeenth century, with the works of Federico Barocci. On the top floor there is a conspicuous collection of ceramics; in some rooms on the ground floor there is also the Urbino Archaeological Museum, especially rich in ancient epigraphs. It is owned by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, which since 2014 has counted it among the museum institutes with special autonomy.


Palazzo Ducale was defined in the Renaissance as one of the most beautiful princely palaces in Italy. Built largely at the time of Federico da Montefeltro, with the supervision of various architects including Luciano Laurana and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, it was often described as one of the most extraordinary princely palaces in Italy, with an unparalleled and endless library collections of paintings, sculptures (ancient and modern), bronzes, silverware, tapestries, painted leather, inlaid furniture.


Over the centuries, however, it underwent various looting. The first was performed by Cesare Borgia, who after having conquered the duchy militarily (1502) dispersed part of the collections, including the famous sleeping Cupid by Michelangelo, which ended up in Mantua before being definitively lost. The second and more extensive took place in 1631, at the time of the devolution of the Duchy to the Papal State. This agreement did not provide for the transfer to the pontiff of movable things, which became the extraordinary dowry of Vittoria della Rovere, her last descendant, to her husband Ferdinando II de 'Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Thus ended in Florence the jewels, sculptures, gems and paintings, many of which are still the pride of Florentine museums such as the Raphaeles, the fourteen Titians (including the Venus of Urbino), or the double portrait of the Dukes of Urbino by Piero della Francesca. Other less valuable objects, such as furniture or ceramics, were instead sold on the public square. A third, less legitimate, spoliation was carried out by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, the first papal legate, who detached the cycle of illustrious men from the study and the Apollo and the Muses of Giovanni Santi and Timoteo Viti from the chapel of the same name. A fourth and final spoliation, also illegitimate, took place in 1657 by Pope Alexander VII, who brought the hundreds of illuminated volumes from the library of Federico da Montefeltro into the Apostolic Library. In the meantime, the corami, that is the paintings of him that decorated most of the walls in the rooms, had also been destroyed. Finally, during the French occupation in the Napoleonic period, 14 of the portraits of the cycle of illustrious men were exported to France and are now in the Louvre Museum. They constitute today the most conspicuous nucleus of the works of art of the Napoleonic thefts.

Extensions of collections

Today of the original nucleus of decorations of the ancient furniture of the building only the Alcova of Frederick remains, found in the deposits of the building and rebuilt, some tapestries and fourteen, out of twenty-eight, illustrious men of the study, recovered in the twentieth century, as well as the Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro with Pedro Berruguete's son Guidobaldo. The wall paintings of the Wedding Hall, covered with whitewashing, were also rediscovered. The extraordinary stone decorations and, due to particularly fortunate circumstances, many of the lig doors are also safe and unaltered.