Anonymous Ideal City


National Gallery of the Marche




2394 x 677 mm


Landscape Painting

historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The work represents a large and deserted square of an ideal city in a timeless atmosphere. The still image pictures the perfect synthesis of the Renaissance ideal of harmony, proportion and symmetry through rigorous, luminous, and razor-sharp perspective view with a building on the central square that dominates the scene. The building can be interpreted as an imperial mausoleum or a baptistery, perhaps inspired by the baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence and San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome. The door is slightly open, as if towards Paradise, and this has been interpreted as an allusion to the City of God by Saint Augustine. The building could also represent a study for the funeral temple of Federico Da Montefeltro, which was planned to be built in Palazzo Ducale, in the Pasquino courtyard but it was actually never built. Two wings of buildings form the scenic backdrop to the square, whose perfect appearance is underlined by the geometric design that decorates the pavement and two wells with an octagonal staircase that are placed symmetrically which mark the presence of the buildings in the foreground. The side buildings are also painted in perfect order. In the foreground, you can recognize the typical Renaissance palaces of central Italy, decorated with polychrome marble tiles with arcades and roof terraces, while in the background, you can see lower medieval buildings. There’s also a church and a landscape with hills. The time seems still, and the square is empty. There are no people or other living beings, except for two turtledoves on the cornice of the first building on the right and some plants that decorate the balconies and windows of the buildings, thus suggesting that there is a human presence to take care of them. The purpose and destination of the work are not clear to this day. It could be a study of central perspective with architectural buildings, or a project for the ideal city based on the model of architectures by Leon Battista Alberti, based on geometric, mathematical, and perspective principles, or a study for a scenography for furniture decoration, such as a wooden backrest or a chest. The mystery continues with the author of the work. Over time, scholars have proposed various names (see The Ideal City by Alessandro Marchi, 2012). Piero Della Francesca, for its still and thin atmosphere that dominates the silent square. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli and Fra Carnevale but also Leon Battista Alberti, Giuliano Da Sangallo, and Francesco Di Giorgio Martini. Among the most accredited names were also Luciano Laurana, architect and sculptor who partially worked on the construction of the Ducal palace of Urbino, and Donato Bramante. The buildings recall the classical elements of the Montefeltro family palace, and the artistic and cultural climate of the Duchy between the 1440s’ and 1480s’, in which art, science, painting and architecture were all closely related. Nel 2009 Luciano Bellosi, che ha definito l’opera “metafisica” per la sua pittoricità “sospesa”, ha riproposto una attribuzione al Bramante maturo, certamente coerente con i principi espressi in quegli anni dalla pittura di Piero della Francesca. Specific analyzes and studies on the painting have shown that during the preparation the author has engraved a very precise and detailed geometric design with various tools and that some parts have been modified, for example, the floor and the yellow building on the right, where the artist changed the size and extension of the arches. This suggests a long and thoughtful execution of the work, a result of complex calculations and reorganization, which probably also involved an architect in addition to the painter, or somebody who had skills in both fields. As for the dating, the critics agree that the work represents the culture and context of the Montefeltro court, and for this reason the dating varies between 1470 and the following decades, between 1480 and 1490. The work is likely linked to two other very similar imaginary city squares preserved at the Bode Museum in Berlin and in Baltimore (Walters Art Gallery). The American painting is probably the work with perspective architecture mentioned in the inventory of Della Rovere in 1582. The author of both works is unknown. The painting of the National Gallery of Marche, which was located in the Monastery of Santa Chiara in Urbino, was probably commissioned for Duke Federico da Montefeltro. It was placed there perhaps by his daughter Elisabetta, who retired to the convent after the death of her husband in 1482 and who may have brought the work with her. Michelangelo Dolci saw the work there in 1775 and assumed Donato Bramante as its author. During the suppression of monasteries, religious organizations and institutes following the unification of Italy (1861), the painting was transferred to the Institute of Fine Arts in Urbino, which became the National Gallery of the Marche at the beginning of the 20th century.

Artist Details

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Anonymous Artist

Collection Details

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National Gallery of the Marche