Federico da Montefeltro
(1422-1482), Duke of Urbino, was an outstanding military leader of his time and served both the papacy and Lorenzo de’Medici as a mercenary. He lost his right eye and part of his nose in a tournament, and so was always portrayed from the left. A true Renaissance figure, he was not only a professional soldier , but a learned statesman, wise diplomat and ruler, a patron of arts, who made his court at Urbino a center of education, science and the arts. He deplored the printing of books, and so assembled one of the biggest libraries of handwritten manuscripts in Europe.
In 1457, after the death of his first wife, Frederico married the thirteen-year-old Battista Sforza (1444-1472), thus establishing an important connection with the powerful Sforza family. Battista gave birth to seven daughters and one son, Guidubaldo da Montefeltro (1472-1508), and died in his childbirth.
Most art historians think that her portrait by Piero della Francesca was created posthumously.
Piero della Francesca intended these two portraits as a folding diptych, The Duke and the Duchess facing one another. The background shows the city of Urbino and surrounding countryside.
The reverse side of the diptych shows both Frederico and Battista riding in a sort of Roman triumph. "The black-clad Virtue Caritas, who is sitting on Battista's carriage and whose symbol is a pelican, which she is holding in her hand, can also be interpreted as a reference to the death of a young woman. Tradition, which liked to identify the bird with Christ, had it that the pelican tore its breast open with its beak in order to feed its young with its own blood. This self-sacrifice has its parallels in the life of the Duchess, as she died giving birth to her son." (p. 273 in The Art of the Italian Renaissance. Edited by Rolf Toman. Könemann. 1995).
See: Piero della Francesca. Diptych Portraits of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and His Wife, Batista Sforza. Recomended reading: Federico Da Montefeltro & Sigismondo Malatesta: The Eagle and the Elephant (Studies in Italian Culture--Literature in History ; Vol. 20)
by Maria Grazia Pernis, Laurie Schneider Adams. Peter Lang Publishing, 1997