This could be a very long blog post. I will limit it to a very short subject.
There was a time, when I was first introduced to Medieval Art, probably in high school. I was impressed by most, and some seemed almost stencil-like. As if there was a formula of neck length, head shape, and lip formation. A lot of the portraits looked like they were all family members. And most of the royals did intermarry. Very few actually painted the truth. And when they did, I remembered them.
Federico Montefeltro was one that I remember. Not his name, nor the name of the artist, I remember how odd he looked in that hat. And when I saw his wife, I just had to laugh. Two very homely people had found each other.
Time passed, I was now teaching art appreciation at the college level. I still made sure to present the two images, but this time I mentioned the artists name, Piero della Francesca, 1415-1492. The students looked at the images that were in the textbook, but there was no back story about the people, just their names. Wanting to be better informed, since I was making fun of their image, I finally did some research.
Federico was Duke of Urbino from 1474-1482 (Lord of Urbino from 1444). Urbino was a small duchy that was given to the Papal States by Pepin the Short, Charlemagne’s father. By the 1200s it had become connected to the House of Montefeltro, becoming famous under Federico’s reign. Later, it was also ruled by Caesar Borgia, and even the Medici’s. In general, Urbino fell into the camp that favored the Holy Roman Emperor over the Pope, after the Montefeltros left, it swung over to the Papacy.
During Federicos reign his court was the model of what a court should be. It attracted the thinkers, the artists, and the writers of the time. The only product that Urbino exported was their military. When Federico committed his troops to a side, the opponent sued for peace. For years Urbino never lost, so in the end, they no longer had to fight. Several times the opponents had tried to offer more money for Federico to switch sides. He never did, and his reputation increased. Eventually, the sons and daughters of European royalty came to study at his court.
I came to respect Federico, even if he looked a little odd. Then, I learned that he had lost his right eye in a jousting match. He not only lost his eye, but much of the right side of his face. When Francesca painted his portrait, that was the reason for the stark profile.
I felt a little ashamed of my ignorance.
Then I read about the bridge of Federico’s nose. I had made fun of that as well. It seems that he had a typical Classic Roman nose, even after his jousting accident. But with only one eye, during battle he had difficulty responding quickly to attacks coming from the right. Federico had his surgeons remove the bone and flesh bridge, so that his left eye could see better to the right.
I felt even more shame.
The likelihood is that there are hundreds, or thousands, of half-truths about individuals in the present, or in the past, that falsely justifies our “judgement”. I know this now, because I’m old.
(The hat is still a trip.)