Small Italian city in the Marches, a region of east-central Italy. Founded under the Roman republic, in the 12th century Urbino came under the control of the Montefeltro dynasty, who originally ruled as imperial vicars and later as vicars for the papacy. The popes claimed overlordship of the city but during the early 14th century ex-erted so little control that the city became a virtually independent state. The head of the dynasty, Count Antonio, had been deposed by the papal legate in 1369 but in 1375 returned as signore (lord) of the city under an agreement to share power with the citizens. In general, the council directed routine internal affairs but the prince controlled foreign policy, extended his rule over neighboring regions, and de-veloped an effective mercenary army. By the 1380s the papacy had recognized this arrangement and legalized Antonio's rule by again recognizing him as papal vicar.
   Under Count Guidantonio (ruled 1404-1443), the ruler became one of the most important Italian condottieri, hiring himself and his army out to other Italian cities that needed effective military forces. After the aberrant reign of Oddantonio, who was assassinated during his second year in retribution for oppressive actions, his illegitimate half-brother Federico (1444-1482) succeeded to the throne and re-sumed his father's successful career as a condottiere. In 1474 Pope Sixtus IV rewarded Federico's military service by granting him the title duke of Urbino. Under Federico and his son Guidobaldo (1482-1508), Urbino reached its peak as a small but formidable Ital-ian power and a center of Renaissance culture. The Montefeltro line became extinct with Guidobaldo's death, and rule over the city passed into the hands of Francesco Maria della Rovere, nephew of Pope Julius II, who persuaded Guidobaldo to adopt the nephew as his heir.
   During the 16th century, caught up in the great-power rivalries and ruled by the della Rovere family, which transferred the seat of gov-ernment to Pesaro, Urbino declined in importance. Previously, the Montefeltro court was a significant center of patronage for artists and writers, and at its peak, a lively intellectual life developed around the person of the duchess, Elisabetta Gonzaga, since Duke Guidobaldo himself was a lifelong invalid. The intellectual life of this circle is re-flected in the influential Book of the Courtier by one of its members, Count Baldassare Castiglione. The greatest figure in the artistic his-tory of the city is the painter Raphael, who was born there and ini-tially trained there by his father, a painter at the Montefeltro court.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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