The Library of Francesco Maria II at Casteldurante

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The Dukes of Urbino, from Federigo da Montefeltro to the last Duke Francesco Maria II della Rovere, accumulated books and manuscripts with a passion. They not only assembled libraries that were considered outstanding in their day, but also built rooms especially for housing them. Federigo da Montefeltro kept his collection of manuscripts (he disdained printed books) in a room on the ground floor next to the entrance of the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino. Francesco Maria II, who was probably the most dedicated bibliophile of all the dukes, constructed very large rooms for his collection of printed books at Pesaro and Casteldurante (modern Urbania).

Some time before 1627, the German architect Joseph Furttenbach toured Italy, visiting also the Duchy of Urbino. Among the sites that he saw in Pesaro was the library built by Francesco Maria II in 1587. Located on the top floor of the left wing of the Palazzo Ducale, it measured 150 x 25 piedi pesaresi and was 18 piedi high (52.5 x 8.75 x 5.3 metres). When Furttenbach reached Casteldurante he was granted an audience with the Duke but evidently was not shown the palace, for his only comment was ‘The palace of His Highness is a large building.’ Furttenbach did, however, see the Duke’s hunting park, the Barco, which he described at some length. In the Barco stood the Franciscan church and convent dedicated to S.Giovanni Battista, where thirty years earlier Francesco Maria II had built a small house for his private use, attached to the convent. Initially the Duke intended to bring a part of his library to the convent, but he promptly changed his mind when he discovered that, according to the terms of a bull issued by Sixtus V, he would no longer be able to take his books out of the convent to read wherever he pleased. Annoyed at the inflexible attitude of the convent superiors, he decided to build another library for himself at his town palace.

In his autograph diary, Francesco Maria recorded under the date 28 November 1607: ‘The first stone was laid in the foundations of the library of Casteldurante.’ Pietro Vanni, who was his court architect at the time, is mentioned in the documents as the designer of the library, although it is probable that the Duke, an amateur architect, had definite ideas of his own that Vanni will have had to take into consideration.

Unlike the libraries in the palaces at Urbino and Pesaro, the one at Casteldurante was not inside the palace but in a separate structure (destroyed), built especially for that purpose. Although we do not know for certain why Francesco Maria chose to locate the library in a separate building, one reason could have been that space inside the palace had become restricted ever since, around 1600, he had made Casteldurante his principal residence. In any case, the idea of a place to which he could withdraw from the tedium of court ritual and lock the door securely behind him will have appealed enormously to the increasingly solitary Duke.

The Palazzo Ducale, overlooking the River Metauro, is a sprawling complex, with most of the ducal apartments along the east side, and a spacious open area, which was formerly a large garden and is now a municipal parking lot, occupying nearly the same amount of space to the west. Across the garden from the ducal apartments, linked to the palace by way of a corridor resting on older town walls, stood the two-storey structure that, on the upper level, contained the spacious library and two small rooms.

The builders – Stefano Ciccolini, Gabriele Mambrini and Donnino Bartolini – worked quickly, so that, on 5 June 1609, just over eighteen months after laying the foundation stone, Francesco Maria was able to note in his diary: ‘My books started to arrive from Pesaro to be put in this library of Casteldurante.’ According to a document of 1609, approximately 5000 scudi had been spent by that time on the construction of the library and the corridor. Over half the amount had gone to the ‘bricklayers for the walls and roof’ and to the ‘bricklayers of Pesaro for the open corridor.’

The façades of the library building, like those of the rest of the Palazzo Ducale and of the other structures built for Francesco Maria II – his house at the Barco convent, the villa on Monteberticchio – appear not to have had any exterior decoration whatsoever. The only element that interrupted and softened the bare expanses of wall were espaliers (of roses?), as can be seen on the plans drawn by Giuseppe Tosi in 1756. Similar espaliers grew along the palace walls, across the garden from the library.

The room that contained the library was nearly as spacious as the Sala Grande in the Palazzo Ducale of Casteldurante, though not as large as the library in Pesaro. Measuring about 20 by 10 metres, it was lit by seven windows in each of the long walls, which overlooked the palace garden on one side and the Porta di Sopra on the other. Desks, described in the document of 1609 as banchetti, were placed in the room, and along the walls ran large bookcases. They are believed to have been designed by another of Francesco Maria’s architects, the scenographer Niccolò Sabbatini.

In his testament of 1628, Francesco Maria II declared his intention of leaving his library, including the building, not to the Franciscans of the Barco convent but rather to the Chierici Regolari Minori, known as the Caracciolini, who had established themselves at the church of the SS. Crocifisso on the outskirts of Casteldurante in 1619: ‘To the Clerici Minori Regulari of Casteldurante he leaves and concedes the entire library of printed books that he has in Casteldurante, together with the room, the shelves, and the place where they are, including the two small rooms above next to the entrance, and the stairs in order to reach the library … giving them the power so that after his death, by their own authority and for themselves, they can take possession, with the obligation however to promptly send, at the heir’s expense, all the manuscripts and drawings to the library of Urbino.’

The Caracciolini did not have an easy time defending their claims. Lorenzo Poltri, who on behalf of the Medici inspected the properties inherited by Francesco Maria’s granddaughter Vittoria della Rovere, reported in October 1635: ‘…then we went to see the library, which is built against the garden of the palace, and surrounding the garden there is a wall on one side, which is built adjacent to the piazza, as well as many private houses, all of which have windows overlooking the garden, and opposite this wall and the houses is a corridor, which leads from the palace to the abovesaid library, the door of which is now locked. Along the other side of the garden is one of the best apartments in the palace, and since the Padri were going to take everything that was next to the library and garden, it was checked against the division that Sig. Docci made, and it does correspond, but the best is going to be taken by those Padri.’

The final blow to the library was dealt by Pope Alexander VII, who fully ignored the terms of Francesco Maria II’s testament and took steps to haul the library of the former Dukes of Urbino to Rome. In 1657 the manuscripts, which Francesco Maria II had willed to the Compagnia della Grotta of Urbino, left Urbino to be followed in 1667 by the printed books from Urbania (its name was changed from Casteldurante to Urbania in 1636). Some 500 books on theology and philosophy were, however, allowed to remain in Urbania; and the building housing the last Duke’s library did not disappear until 1952. Today the only tangible reminder of Francesco Maria’s library are the crumbling remains of the old town walls that provided the support for the corridor linking the Palazzo Ducale to the library.

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This page last updated: May 2, 2007.