*Urbino. City in central Italy that was the center of the duchy of Urbino, in whose court Castiglione’s dialogues are set. The duchy is a small state whose court is among the most splendid in central Italy during the period in which the dialogues are set. The Montefeltro family had ruled the city and its hinterland since 1374. Urbino’s small size and isolated location meant that its dukes derived at least part of their income from mercenary military service. The famous portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, father of the last Montefeltro duke, in which he sits in his simple study reading a large book while dressed in armor, sums up the family’s combination of the martial with the humanistic. Both his court and Castiglione’s participants reflect this dual ethic, one not unusual at similar courts of its time.
When Federico died his young son was but ten years old, thus unable to sign contracts for military service, and proved to be sickly. Castiglione sets the conversation in 1507, the year before the young duke’s untimely death. Thus, the last Montefeltro duke was still alive, though absent, and his court in decline. Early on, Castiglione touches on the theme of nostalgia for better days. The air in the mid-fifteenth century palace is rarefied, demanding both the expectation and provision of courtesy and fine manners. The group is essentially discussing who it is that belongs in their very select company. The isolation of the court from the surrounding world allows for the idealism on which the conversation is built and ensures that few practicalities intrude...
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