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Sailing to Urbino

William Butler Yeats was not talking about literally sailing to a literal Byzantium in his famous poem, and I know that Urbino is a mountain fastness, not a port.  Even so, sailing to Urbino is necessary, and it does not matter how you do it—only that you do.  One way to approach Urbino is through the mediation of June Osborne (lecturer, author, art historian, and former research assistant to Ernst Gombrich, the greatest art historian of all time), who has written the first book on Urbino in English.

My own approach to Urbino, as I remember from some four decades ago, was different and accidental.  I was reading poetry, and I wanted to understand both the letter and the spirit of what I was reading.

And Guidobaldo, when he made

That grammar school of courtesies

Where wit and beauty learned their trade

Upon Urbino’s windy hill,

Had sent no runners to and fro

That he might learn the shepherds’ will.

These lines, and others from the poem “To a Wealthy Man who promised a Second Subscription to the Dublin Municipal Gallery if it were proved the People wanted Pictures,” were inspired by the Italian Renaissance in general and Castiglione’s...

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