Soldier, scholar, promoter of Humanist studies, and patron of the arts, the beloved ruler of Urbino was an outstanding Renaissance figure. In this full-length portrait—a landmark in the history of European painting—the duke’s many-faceted character is asserted in what at first appears to be an informal view in his library (he was a great bibliophile). Over his armor he wears a ceremonial mantle with the collar and insignia of the Order of the Ermine and, below his knee, the Order of the Garter (granted by Edward IV of England). Seated on the ducal throne, he reads from Gregory the Great. The helmet and baton refer to his role as commander of the papal troops, his pearl-encrusted ducal cap is on the shelf. His son holds a scepter asserting dynastic succession.
The book dealer and biographer Vespasiano da Bisticci reported: "Since [Federigo] could not find in Italy painters to his taste, he sent as far afield as Flanders to find a worthy master and brought him to Urbino . . . ; there [he] portrayed his lordship from life in a work that lacks only breath." The portrait appears to be by a Spanish painter documented in Urbino who had mastered Netherlandish technique and Italian geometric principles.