Gubbio’s Piazza Grande, a gigantic platform supported by walls and arcades, offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. From the square one can for instance see the churches of San Giovanni Battista and San Francesco in the lower part of town, and the Duomo higher up the slope of Monte Ingino. Located on the Piazza Grande are two palazzos from the fourteenth century. While the Palazzo Pretorio is plain and simple, the Palazzo dei Consoli is truly superb. The palace of the consuls houses several museums, all of which can be visited on a single ticket, which makes a visit to the Palazzo dei Consoli excellent value for money. There is the Museo Civico with the Iguvine Tables and an interesting ceramics section, the picture gallery (Pinacoteca Comunale), and an archaeological museum.
Construction of the palazzo started in 1332. It was probably completed some ten years later, because in 1342 the artist Guido Palmerucci was hired to execute a series of frescoes for the interior of the building. As is demonstrated by the name of the palazzo, it was intended to be used by the consuls, the local magistrates of Gubbio. Above the entrance is an architrave which features the coats of arms of Gubbio, the Papal States and Robert of Anjou, nicknamed the Wise, who was King of Naples from 1309 until 1343. One may wonder why he was included. The answer is that Gubbio was a Guelph city for most of the Middle Ages, which means that it supported the Pope against the Holy Roman Emperor. King Robert was the principal champion of the Guelph cause, which explains his prominent place above the entrance of the Palazzo dei Consoli.
Upon entering the building, we find ourselves in the huge Sala del’Arengo where in the Middle Ages the meetings of the popular assembly were held. If we look to the left, we see a large fresco of a Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ubaldus of Gubbio (ca. 1084-1160), the patron saint of the town. The painter is unknown, but it is not inconceivable that he was the same Guido Palmerucci who was active at the palazzo in 1342. The museum itself is not so sure and attributes the work to an anonymous painter from Gubbio from the fourth decade of the fourteenth century.
Another interesting fresco in the Palazzo is known as the Maestà dei Consoli, which was painted around 1350. It used to be attributed to Guido Palmerucci, but it is now assumed that the maker was actually Mello da Gubbio, a follower of the Lorenzetti brothers of Siena (see Gubbio: Palazzo Ducale & Gubbio in Giotto’s age). The fresco used to be part of the chapel of the Palazzo. It features the Madonna and Child, as well as four male saints and a kneeling donor. The donor has been identified as Giovanni di Cantuccio Gabrielli. He was a usurper who took control of Gubbio in a coup d’état staged in 1350 and was de facto ruler of the city until 1354. The four male saints of the fresco are Donatus of Arezzo, Cyriacus, Largus and Smaragdus. They were chosen because Giovanni executed his coup on 7 and 8 August, which happen to be the feast days of these saints.
Among the highlights in the picture gallery is a late fifteenth century triptych attributed to Orlando Merlini (died 1510). The museum describes him as a ‘minor painter from Perugia’ and ‘a wandering, irregular, discontinuous painter’. The painting, which is slightly damaged, features a Madonna and Child in the centre, flanked by two saints. The one on the left is probably Saint Ubaldus again, the one on the right Saint Dominicus. The saints on the lateral panels are Saint Roch, protector against plague (note the piece of bread in his hand and the dog at his feet), and Saint Sebastian, his body pierced with arrows.
Also in the picture gallery is a processional banner or gonfalon painted by Sinibaldo Ibi (ca. 1475-after 1548; see Gubbio: The Duomo). The banner can be dated to 1503 and features Saint Ubaldus, who is labelled PATER VBALDE. He is holding a book with the text SACERDOS ET PONTIFEX, ET VIRTVTVM OPIFEX, PASTOR BONE IN POPVLO, ORA PRO NOBIS DOMINVM (see the image above).
The most famous objects in the museum and therefore its most prized processions are obviously the Iguvine Tables, seven bronze tablets containing some 4.300 words in Ancient Umbrian, written in the Etruscan and Latin script. I will dedicate a separate post to Gubbio in the Roman era and will discuss the Tables in more detail there. The final object to be discussed in this post is therefore the tipario, the seal of the commune of Gubbio. As was stated above, Gubbio was a Guelph city. The seal therefore features Saints Peter and Paul, to demonstrate the close connection of the town with the Papacy (probably not with the city of Rome, as the popes were residing in Avignon at the time). The two saints guard the battlements of the town, while the boulders in the background represent Monte Ingino.
Important sources for this post were my Dorling Kindersley and Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB) travel guides, as well as the Key to Umbria website. The information panels in the Palazzo dei Consoli provided valuable additional information.