Cognoscenti 122: Keeping their secrets in Urbino Palazzo Ducale

straining to imagine the key door in Palazzo Ducale Urbino

Deep inside Federigo di Montefeltro’s palace, in that extraordinarily condensed, triangular, liminal world created by turning away from the rectilinear Renaissance calm, for its balconies to face the road to Rome, lie all the secrets of that duke’s cosmos.  

The studiolo, the double chapels to the muses and to god, these are well known. But that which might hold the best key to this amazing late 15th century world, is a pair of doors of beautifully made intarsia, every panel as slightly different as phases of the moon, and each constructed with the most precise and intentional geometry – this is no mere decoration.

Today, while all admire the brilliant perspective projections and the technical mastery of inlaid wood, images of instruments (Francesco di Giorgio?) or squirrels (Botticelli?), these doors are virtually invisible and, as far as I could see last week, without any caption.

Their ‘pictorial’ side – with caged birds and a chiming clock (above left) – is displayed, but the enigmatic, coded side which might help unlock that world for us, is barely visible and only by squeezing a camera round and photographing them in a mirror.

35 years ago, when we could touch such things, I remember an ILAUD student being able to make precise measured drawings and then enthral us with his arcane geometrical attempt to unravel their secrets.


29 September 2017 

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