The Ducal Library at Casteldurante

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Around 1600, when Francesco Maria II della Rovere, last Duke of Urbino, decided to make Casteldurante his principal residence, most of his collection of manuscripts and books were still to be found in his libraries in the ducal palaces of Urbino and Pesaro. This arrangement must have seemed highly inconvenient to him, since both towns, but especially Pesaro, were a long horse-ride away from Casteldurante.

A few years earlier, in the 1590s, Francesco Maria had begun to create a small library in the Franciscan convent of San Giovanni Battista in the Barco of Casteldurante, where he had a private apartment. It had been his intention to move a portion of his printed books from Pesaro to the library in the convent, but when he was told that once the books were there, he would no longer be allowed to take them out as he pleased, he abruptly changed his mind. [1]

In order to be able to read and study his books where and when he wanted to, Francesco Maria decided to build another library for himself at his palace in Casteldurante. Unlike the libraries in Urbino and Pesaro, the one in Casteldurante is not located inside the palace. Perhaps there was not enough space in the palace, now that so many of his court lived in Casteldurante; perhaps Francesco Maria II just wanted as much privacy as possible. Whatever the reason, the library of Casteldurante was located in a separate building, on the edge of the garden, across from his apartments in the palace, but linked to the palace by a corridor. Even if it was not as far away from the hustle and bustle of the court as the Barco convent library was, the Duke's new library did have doors that he could lock securely behind him whenever he wanted to read his books in peace.

On 28 November 1607 the cornerstone for the new library was laid, as Francesco Maria recorded in his diary: Si pose la prima pietra nei fondamenti della libraria di Casteldurante. There are drawings for the corridor between the library and the palace, and there is at least one contemporary document relating to the construction work of the library. [2] This document records the amounts of money spent from November 1607, when the cornerstone was laid, to 1609, the date written on the document. A note at the bottom of the list of expenditures makes it clear that the amount of money disbursed was greater than that written on the list, but since there was a certain amount of supplies left over, the amount spent was in fact correctly noted ('La spesa è più di questo ma vi è dela robba avanzata che il netto restarà questo').

Nearly 2500 scudi went to the bricklayers for constructing the walls and the roof, while the preliminary work—digging of foundations and removal of older walls—had cost 600. Only 279 scudi were paid to the workmen for the uncovered corridor, probably because it rested on the old town walls and did not, therefore, require foundations or other major construction. The cost of planks of wood for ceilings, doors and windows amounted to 850 scudi. [3] By contrast the amount spent for bookshelves and desks was minor, only 116 scudi. Another 80 was spent to paint the shelves and some ironwork.

When the Duke began building the library, his former architect Muzio Oddi was in prison in Pesaro, having been arrested in 1606 on the Duke's orders. [4] The man who replaced Oddi as ducal architect was Pietro Vanni. Although Vanni is mentioned in the documents as responsible for the Casteldurante library, it is highly probably that Francesco Maria II, an amateur architect, also contributed to the design.

What did Francesco Maria have in mind as a prototype for his library? As mentioned above, at Casteldurante Francesco Maria could build on an open site, without too many restrictions. He (or his architect) could design a library to suit his requirements. By 1607, a number of important libraries had been built in Italy, which Francesco Maria must have known, either personally or from descriptions or prints. The earliest is Michelangelo's library for the Medici at S.Lorenzo in Florence, built between 1523 and 1571. Sansovino's Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, begun 1536, was completed by Scamozzi in 1581-83. Domenico Fontana's project for the Vatican Library, commissioned by Sixtus V, was carried out between 1587-88. And the Ambrosiana, in Milan, was designed in 1603-09, precisely the years when Francesco Maria was working on his library at Casteldurante. All these libraries consisted of long, rectangular rooms; and all except the S.Lorenzo library were outfitted with bookshelves or presses. Probably any of them could have been the Duke's source of inspiration. What makes the Francesco Maria's library at Casteldurante so interesting is that it was a private library, modelled on larger institutional ones.

But there is one other library (which remained on paper) that must be mentioned here because it is linked to the Casteldurante library in time (it is dated 1609), place (duchy of Urbino), and patron (Francesco Maria). I am referring to the library that Muzio Oddi drew in his 'Gheribizzi,' a long, narrow structure divided into five rooms, four for printed books, arranged according to Humanities, Law, Philosopy, and Theology, the fifth room for manuscripts. [5] Oddi designed it for the ducal palace of Urbino, but might it not also reflect his idea for the library at Casteldurante? After all, if Oddi had not been sitting in prison but still employed by the Duke in 1607, it is more than likely that he would have been the architect of Francesco Maria's library.

1. See S. Eiche, Il Barco Ducale di Casteldurante, Urbino 2003, pp.26-28.

2. Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Ducato di Urbino, Cl.I, Fa.4, c.303, c.310v.

3. In the 1530s the wood needed by the Dukes of Urbino for building was imported from Venice. If they also imported from Venice at the beginning of the 17th century, the cost must have included shipping and customs charges, which would help to explain the great expense.

4. See S. Eiche, Muzio Oddi Architetto del Duca d’Urbino, in I Gheribizzi di Muzio Oddi, ed. S. Eiche, Urbino 2005, p.12.

5. I Gheribizzi, cit., pp.34-36.

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This page last updated: July 11, 2009.