Passions & Places

Francesco di Giorgio Martini

Francesco di Giorgio Martini

Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Siena,1439-Siena, 29 novembre 1501) is probably one of the most remarkable artists in the Senese artistic panorama of mid 1400. He was a painter, an architect, an engineer. As an architect he planned fortresses, and brick palaces. He was a refined designer, his drawings were elegant. He was called to Loreto as a consultant because the dome was on the verge of collapse (1500). Since 1477 he lived in Urbino at the court of the Dukes of Montefeltro. 

There he worked as a military architect. In Marche in fact Martini has left its masterpieces of military architecture: magnificent wall fortifications. They were as useful as weapons. Martini conception of urban defence is that the city is like a human body. The head is represented by the fortress that has the task of guarantying safety to all the peasants.

Francesco di Giorgio in 1481, on account of Federico II di Urbino built the Cagli fortress.  It was then destroyed by the son of the duke, Guidobaldo in 1502. He did so to avoid that Cesare Borgia, Duke Valentino, took possession of it. Of that imposing fortress only the main tower is left and with it just a few drains all around that remind of the ancient elliptic plant.

Rocca Ubaldinesca di Sassocorvaro is instead preserved in all its splendour. It was designed and built with a vessel shaped plant in just two years (1476-1478). It embodies both the strength of a military building ( the turtle shaped plant is evidence of it) and the elegance of a noble house (the wonderful main yard and the roof loggia). Martini in this fortress experimented the round shape, following his theory that this particular outline made attacks with bombs less effective. A thick net of dark galleries cut the fortress through. They were easy and fast passages that allowed quick communications between the sentries in case of attack.

The fortress of Moldavio  was commissioned by Giovanni della Rovere. Martini worked on it from 1488 to 1501 year of his death. It is still unfinished. It is anyway remarkable the donjon built on polygonal basis. It is ornate all around with the characteristic dregs and battlements. Together with the other towers it offers an outlook much different from the fortresses built since then. The builders would in fact contrast bombing attacks with huge walls, in this case instead the empty spaces played the part of reducing the possibility of damages to the building.

Francesco di Giorgio in 1474 restored the stronghold of Sant’Agata Feltria that had been built throughout the twelfth and the fifteenth century. The mysterious fortress Fregoso dominates the underneath town form the top of a slope. It has a rough and ready outlook, a polygonal plant and angular towers to strengthen the structure.

San Leo fortress has even been mentioned by Dante in the sixth ‘canto’ of his ‘Divina Commedia’. It is magnificent. It seems to have melted with the rock it is built on. It is of ancient origins. Martini restored it completely in 1475 and turned it into an imposing means of defence. It is still characterized by a classic elegance though.

The fortress of the Malatesta in Montecerignone was almost certainly restored by Francesco di Giorgio. It is thought though that also Leon Battista Alberti in earlier times (second half of the fifteenth century) had had a part in renovating the stronghold. Martini enriched its medieval structure with elements that expressed at full in the meantime both the architectonic strength of the building and the sobriety that had always characterized the architect style.

The fortress in Fossombrone was a defence both for the village beyond and for the Metaurus Valley. At the time of the Malatesta, the stronghold had a squared shape. Francesco di Giorgio in 1470 made it a complex and articulated fortified building, by adding the impressive ‘caput carenato’. It is the only example in all the duchy of Montefeltro. Of all this structure just the sidewalls still stand, together with the donjon and three towers. The fortress in Frontone due to several restorations throughout the century has assumed the form of a vessel with a remarkable prow. Its triangular strut reminds of the fortress of San Leo. This is why Martini is supposed to have strengthened the defensive system of this castle as well.

Martini has not only shown his wits in the engines of war, but also in machinery for production purposes. They were in fact effective realizations of an ingenious and modern conception of technique.

2005 Liberation Ventures Ltd.


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