Music at the court of Federico da Montefeltro

For its thirteenth year, the International Course in 2022 will be dedicated to Music at the court of Federico da Montefeltro on the anniversary 600 years after his birth [7 June 1422, Gubbio]. The future Duke of Urbino will be remembered for being the prince who, inspired by the Muses, excelled in all the arts, from the military ones to the much more refined: letters, philosophy and music. He was also patron of the most important artists of his time, including Piero della Francesca, Giovanni Santi, Pisanello and Giusto di Gand, all of whom were invited to decorate his palaces.

As an illegitimate son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro, he was sent to study first in Venice and then in Mantua, where from 1434 to 1436 was a pupil of Vittorino da Feltre at the famous school of Cà Zoiosa. Here he received an education from grammarians, musicians, philosophers, dance and riding masters who were paid so that none of the inclinations and talents of his students were neglected. Federico’s musical training was based on the treatises of Boethius and Augustine, that is, on a three-tiered, cosmological-mathematical vision: Musica mundana [Interrelationship of all things in the universe], Musica humana [Interrelationship of human society and body-soul relation of individual]and Musica instrumentalis [Interrelationship of numbers in audible music]. This musical education was not exclusively theoretical but also included the study of singing and playing the lyre. Vittorino himself, according to the description of Francesco Prendilacqua, was a musician and skilled singer who accompanied himself to the lira da braccio.
The summa of Federico’s humanistic vision remains etched in the inlays of his two studioli. In addition to illustrating his heraldic devices, these paneled rooms leave us images of the instruments that were used at the court, as well as a few musical pieces representing the performed repertoire. These works are J’ay prins amoursBella gerit and the ballata on a text by Leonardo GiustinianO rosa bella. The latter’s inlay has been lost, but a concordance can be found in the manuscript linked to Frederico’ s musical environment, MS Urbinate latino 1411, conserved at the Vatican Library. In this source we find two versions of the same text set to music, one by Johannes Ciconia the other by John Dunstable. The manuscript was part of the Duke’s collection and it contains ballades, ballate and rondeaux by international composers Gilles Binchois, Johannes Ciconia, Guillaume Du Fay, John Dunstable. The repertoire shows a predominance of Franco – Burgundian songs which became very popular at the Italian courts in the 15th c., including some of Federico’s allies; he had diplomatic exchanges with the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent and with the Aragonese court in Naples, where he was admitted to the order of the Ermine by Ferdinand of Aragon in 1474.

Dance also played a central role at the Montefeltro court. The theorist and dance teacher of Federico da Montefeltro was Guglielmo Ebreo, a Jew who later converted to Christianity, changing his name to Giovanni Ambrosio. His De practice seu arte tripudii vulgare opusculum is one of the first dance treatises of the 15th century.
In sum, the repertory performed and analysed during the masterclasses, workshops and classes will mainly be taken from the manuscripts Urbinate Latino 1411, Montecassino 871 and Florence 229, in addition to the dances that are described in the chronicles of the Court feasts.


Nicoletta Guidobaldi – La musica di Federico: immagini e suoni alla corte di Urbino L.S. Olschki, 1995

James Haar – The Vatican Manuscript Urb.Lat 1411: Un undervalued source
Manoscritti di polifonia nel Quattrocento europeo. Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi (Trento-Castello del Buonconsiglio, 18-19 ottobre 2002)

Carlo Vitali – Musica e musicisti alla corte di Federico III da Montefeltro Il Flauto dolce, No. 9 (giugno 1983)