Monday, July 28, 2008

The faces and injuries of Federico da Montefeltro

Another fascinating aspect of Federico da Montefeltro (see the post here for more) is that he has one of the most memorable faces of the middle ages (perhaps, arguably, in all art) with a hook nose and left profile that is unique.

Right: A detail from his portrait, which has him together with his young son, Guidobaldo, is by the Spanish painter Pedro Berruguete in Urbino's Ducal Palace. A reader, a Duke, a man of war, and a man of God. Yet (we are assured) only ever seen in left profile. The full frame of this painting is seen below; sadly the colour is not as rich as in the gallery brochure's detail image.

His profile was unique, we learn, because he lost an eye, and had the bridge of his nose destroyed in a jousting accident; and most accounts say we only have left-hand portraits of the man, but this is not quite true.

The reverse of the famous diptych with his wife shows his 'triumph' with him riding towards his wife, and seen from the right.

The front is, perhaps the most famous portrait we have of him, and is that famous profile:

Fascinatingly, this reconstruction by Roberto Sambonet appears after a brief internet search, showing (literally) another side to a famous face.

Roberto Sambonet, Federico da Montefeltro, manifesto per la Pinacoteca di Brera, 1977

There are many others; and like other motifs, once you are looking, his face appears everywhere, even in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum:

And another aspect came to light as I was researching this article. It appears that even when the patient is safely dead 500 or more years, physicians can't help but investigate. Two New York authors, Anthony V D'Antoni and Stephanie L Terzulli, have come up with the theory that he suffered from 'Hyperkyphosis', a curvature of the spine.

Their paper, Federico di Montefeltro's hyperkyphosis: a visual-historical case report, uses two of Piero della Francesca's paintings (below) featuring Frederico to discuss this possibility.

Madonna of the Egg (1472) by Piero della Francesca. Pinacoteca of the Brera Academy, Milan, Italy. In this painting, the 50-year-old Duke is genuflecting and is again depicted in a left lateral view.

"Based on the available evidence, the Duke's thoracic hyperkyphosis could have been caused by repetitive trauma to the spine due to numerous hours on horseback with heavy armor. The role that osteoporosis played in the development of the hyperkyphosis is unclear, as is whether the Duke had the convexity during childhood. The hyperkyphosis as a stylistic variant by Piero della Francesca is unlikely."

The Duke and Duchess of Urbino (1465) by Piero della Francesca. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy. The left panel is a portrait of Battista Sforza in a right lateral view. She faces her husband, Federico di Montefeltro, who is depicted in a left lateral view. The Duke was 43 years old when this diptych was painted. Notice the missing nasal bridge [5], moles on the cheek, and the skin folds on his jaw due to a facial skin disease that he had as a young man [13]. In addition, observe his prominent thoracic hyperkyphosis with the apex of the convexity roughly at the level of the T6–7 vertebrae. Battista, in contrast, does not have this anomaly.

Portraiture is a very challenging art. Finding more than a representation of the subject is the demand taken on by the portrait painter. But here it would be nice to know as much of the Duke's thoughts as we do of his ravaged physique.


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