The venerable mother

You see how the eternal students of the Venerable Mother Men exalted in learning and in genius Fall forward, suppliantly with bared head And bended knee, before [the face of their parent]. With the help of Justice, reverend Piety prevails And none regrets having submitted to his foster mother.

This gold lettering runs along the top of the Studiolo paneling. Who is the Venerable Mother and who are the women to whom this very important man goes and kneels in front of bare headed? The venerable mother happens to be Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. She is the mother of all the liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music).

The Gubbio Studiolo is one of the best kept secrets of the Metropolitan museum. This gorgeous inlayed wood panel room often escapes the attention of visitors, who don't dare take the extra turn overwhelmed by the monumental and solemn beauty of the recently outstandingly renovated medieval art wing. It was most likely inspired from Jan Van Eyck's St. Jerome in his Studiolo, part of Lorenzo de' Medici's Collection.

The space serves as a time traveling machine. When I tried to imagine how it was like to be in that room on a summer in 1477, I noticed that the average visitor spent no more than one to two minutes in this room. They are hardly looking at the amazing trompe l'oeil panels. And at the most, an occasion "Wow" when they actually came closer and watch the minutely and obsessively illusionistic details of the panels.

One can gaze upon the room to implore elaborate inlay wood of objects that looked so real that one could reach and touch them. Shelves, books, open doors, musical and scientific instruments, weapons and pieces of armor are all arranged casually and disorderly fashion. These were the objects that befitted humanist soldier Federico when he needed solitude and contemplation.

The renaissance was a time of creativity and change in many areas, political, social, economic, and cultural. Perhaps, most important, however, were the changes in the way people viewed themselves ad their world. Renaissance thinkers explored the richness and variety of human experience in the here and now. New emphasis was placed on individual achievement. The renaissance Ideal became a person with talent in many fields.

At the heart of the Italian renaissance was an intellectual movement known as humanism. Based on the study of classical culture, Greek and Roman, humanism focused on worldly subject rather than on the religious issues that had occupied medieval thinkers. Humanists believed that education should stimulate the individual's creative powers. The goal of humanism was to create well-rounded individuals and encourage people to achieve all they could in life.

Humanists stressed the importance of the individual. Though, the relationship between humanism and religion is always filled with conflict. It also promoted a greater balance between intellect and religious faith.

Accordingly Federico da Montefeltro commissioned the da Maiano brothers, who ran the leading intarsia workshop in Florence, to create a trompe l'oeil version of an ideal studiolo. Intarsia is the art of inlaying woods to create a pattern or an image. The da Maianos used different woods to create their design, and they would use special techniques, like singeing the edges to produce the illusion of three-dimensionality. Using recently-developed perspectival practices, the da Maianos used the windows that actually existed in the room as the perceived light source within their intarsia design, so the shadows cast were rational to the eye. The intarsia work depicts a study lined with latticed cabinets, many of which open to reveal symbols of Federico's erudition, military prowess, virtue and intelligence.

We can see all the components of the ideal Renaissance man. There is an emphasis on mathematics and engineering, so there are several tools of measurement: an hourglass that measured an equal hour, and so on, as well as an armillary sphere, a classic astronomical and geometrical device used to measure the stars but also earth and military artifacts such as towers and moats, depicting the Ptolemaic universe. The studiolo contains many musical instruments in various cabinets, both as emblems of mathematical truth in music and as symbols of Federico's patronage of music and musicians.

There lays a book with a golden clasp and a horse on its cover depicting Federico's' strength of logical reasoning and mental acuity as much as military action.

There's a book with an open page in one of the panels which has a passage from Virgil, Aeneid written on it. It talks about the fatal combat between Turnur and Pallas, the Arcadian warrior fighting on the Trojan side. Pallad dies and virgil comments" Lifetimes are brief and not to be regained, for all mankind. But by their deeds to make their fame last; that is labor for the brave." This becomes Federico's motto after his death. In fact, the coin hanging right about the page is the symbol of his son Guidobaldo, as that panel was finished last after Federico's Death.

Now one might wonder how did the Studiolo get to the Met.

After the death of the last duke of Rubino in 1631, the Montefeltro and Della Rovere Dutchie was the vault to the church and steadily declined to the point that all its treasures were seized or sold. The famous library of illuminad manuscripts, the crown for Federico's humanist reputation, was forcibly transferred to the Vatican library. Whereas the Gubbio Studiolo was sold to roman Prince Phillipo Massimo Lancellotti and it was installed in his Villa in frascati, south of Rome in mid 1870's.

The grandchildren of Prince Lancellotti sold the panels to Adolph Loewi and in mid January 1938, the crates containing the panels, the letter frieze, and the two part ceiling were shipped from Rome to venice. Eventually these panels were shipped to New York to Lowie and placed in the museum. It took 26 years to install the Gubbio Studiolo in the MET and another 20 years to restore it.

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