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The Duke of Urbino’s Studiolo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the highlights of a recent visit to New York was seeing the Studiolo from the Ducal Palace at Gubbio that was dismantled then reassembled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This masterpiece of Renaissance marquetry (circa 1478-82) was intended as a study providing its patron, Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino (below) with a retreat where he could display his wealth and learning and entertain guests. Then, as now, marquetry reflects the owner’s personality whose interests in this case included mathematics, music and literature as well as emblems of personal significance such as the ostrich with a spearhead in its beak symbolising victory in the face of adversity.

It is a tour de force of optical illusion with latticework cabinet doors that appear to be ajar and shadows cast by the legs of benches showing off the marquetry artist’s skilled use of linear perspective. Even when you know the bench seat is not really lifted you can’t resist a closer look!

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The marquetry artist is believed to have been Giuliano da Maiano (1432-1490). A fitting tribute to his work is that it is regarded today as one of the most important works of marquetry to have survived over 500 years and that it tells us so much about the life of this powerful 15th-century patron.

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