After our visit to the Duomo of Gubbio, we spotted a poster about an interesting exhibition in the former Ducal Palace opposite the cathedral. The title of the exhibition was “Gubbio al tempo di Giotto. Tesori d’arte nella terra di Oderisi”, which translates as “Gubbio in the era of Giotto. Artistic treasures in the country of Oderisi”. The painter Giotto (ca. 1266-1337) needs no introduction of course. Oderisi, on the other hand, probably does. His full name is usually given as Oderisi da Gubbio (ca. 1240-1299). He was an excellent illuminator and miniaturist, but his fame rests mostly on the fact that he is mentioned in Canto XI of Dante’s Purgatory. In fact, it is Oderisi who, after being recognised by Dante, speaks the famous words that “In painting Cimabue thought he held the field, but now it’s Giotto has the cry, so that the other’s fame is dimmed”.
The exhibition was held simultaneously at three locations in Gubbio: the Palazzo Ducale, the Palazzo dei Consoli and the Diocesan museum next to the Duomo. It featured some 80 works of art from the end of the thirteenth century to the first half of the fourteenth century. This was a golden age of painting and sculpture in Gubbio, then an independent commune.
The Palazzo Ducale itself was not a product of this golden age. When Gubbio was an independent city state, the Palazzo della Guardia stood here, the seat of the local government. At the end of the fourteenth century, the town became part of the territories of Urbino, which was then ruled by Antonio II da Montefeltro (1363-1404). It was Antonio’s grandson Federico III da Montefeltro who was responsible for construction of the Palazzo Ducale in 1476. He had the old Palazzo della Guardia remodelled and created a large courtyard in front of it, which explains why there is no proper square in front of the Duomo of Gubbio. The hegemony of the Counts and Dukes of Urbino over Gubbio ended only in 1631, when the town became part of the Papal States. The palazzo became state property in 1957.
The Palazzo Ducale is now exclusively used for temporary exhibitions, so the art I discuss in this post probably cannot be found there any longer. Nevertheless, the exhibition about Gubbio in Giotto’s age was very interesting and painted a vivid image of an era during which the arts flourished in this charming Umbrian town. One artist whose work was featured prominently was the painter that is called the Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara. As his name indicates, he painted frescoes for the church of Santa Chiara in Assisi. The frescoes in the lower part of the right apse in the church of San Francesco in Gubbio are usually attributed to him as well. He is often, yet tentatively identified as Palmerino di Guido. Virtually nothing is known about his life, but there is a fair chance that he was one of Giotto’s assistants when the latter decorated the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. The painter Guido or Guiduccio Palmerucci may have been his son, but even this cannot be established with certainty.
The Palazzo Ducale had two interesting works on display that are attributed to the Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara. One was a triptych from the convent next to the Santa Chiara in Assisi (see the image above). It features a Crucifixion scene with the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and a kneeling donor in the centre. On the side panels are Saints Clara and Agnes of Assisi (left) and Saints Rufinus and Agnes of Rome (right). Rufinus, martyred in 238, is considered the first bishop of Assisi (see Assisi: San Rufino), while Saint Agnes can easily be recognised by the lamb she is holding in her arms. The second work of art was a much larger polyptych from in the Palazzo dei Consoli, which features a Madonna and Child and a dozen saints (see the image below).
Another painter who was well represented at the exhibition was Mello da Gubbio, who was active between the second and third quarter of the fourteenth century. On display were a crucifix from the Duomo in Pergola (a town in the Marche), a polyptych from Mamiano di Traversetolo (in the Province of Parma) and a particularly good Madonna in Maestà or Madonna and Child with angels from Gubbio’s own Diocesan museum. This panel had previously been attributed to the aforementioned Guido Palmerucci, until it was discovered that Mello da Gubbio had actually signed it. Mello’s work was influenced by that of Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti from Siena, which is why the exhibition also included Pietro Lorenzetti’s Maestà di Cortona from the Museo diocesano in Cortona, Tuscany.