portraits of Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro

(1472; Florence, Uffizi)
   Piero della Francesca portrayed Battista Sforza posthumously on the year of her death from childbirth. This work may have been hinged together with its companion portrait of Battista's husband, Federico da Montefeltro. In both, the figures are shown in profile with fertile landscapes behind them, suggestive of their vast domain. On the verso of each portrait is a triumphal procession, inspired by the triumphs described by Petrarch in his writings. Battista sits on a chariot pulled by a unicorn, symbol of chastity and fidelity. Allegorical representations of Chastity, Modesty, Charity, and Faith accompany her to indicate that these are her character traits. Federico is being crowned by Fortune and accompanied by Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance, again references to his qualities. The paintings were inspired by ancient Roman medals where a portrait in profile is included on the front and a narrative on the verso. As such, they speak of the duke and duchess' position of power and desire for remembrance. An inscription below each portrait lauds them further. While Federico is hailed a great ruler, Battista is honored through her husband's accomplishments, this in spite of the fact that she herself ruled Urbino during her husband's absences. In portrait pairs where husband and wife are depicted, the male usually takes the dexter side. In this case, it is Battista who takes that position. The reason is that Federico was disfigured by the stroke of a sword while participating in a tournament. His nose was broken and he lost his right eye. After that, he was usually portrayed from the left side.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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  • Francesca, Piero della — (c. 1406 1492)    Italian painter born in Borgo San Sepolcro in the Tuscan region to a family of leather merchants. Piero della Francesca was not only an artist but also a mathematician, geometrician, and theorist. He authored two treatises, one… …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

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