PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
(b. 1416, Borgo San Sepolcro, d. 1492, Borgo San Sepolcro)

Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro

1465-66
Tempera on panel, 47 x 33 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The Montefeltro family in Urbino was Piero's most generous patron towards 1465. The diptich with the portraits of Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro can be dated at the beginning of this period. In these two relatively small panels Piero attempts a very difficult compositional construction, that had never been attempted before. Behind the profile portrait of the two rulers, which is iconographically related to the heraldic tradition of medallion portraits, the artist adds an extraordinary landscape that extends so far that its boundaries are lost in the misty distance. Yet the relationship between the landscape and the portraits in the foreground is very close, also in meaning: for the portraits, with the imposing hieratic profiles, dominate the painting just as the power of the rulers portrayed dominates over the expanse of their territories. The daringness of the composition lies in this sudden switch between such distant perspective planes.

Piero's ability in rendering volumes is accompanied by his attention to detail. Through his use of light, he gives us a miniaturistic description of Sforza's jewels, of the wrinkles, moles and blemishes on Federico's olive-coloured skin.