Duke and Duchess of Urbino

Well during almost four days of being cooped up at home, unable to go anywhere with the snow, I had no excuse but to work! But even with the heater on and the studio freezing, I decided I had to face an idea for a print I have had in my mind for the past few months. It was now or never!



I have always loved Piero della Francesca’s double portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. I can clearly remember the first time I saw it in the Uffizi Gallery in 1982. (Yikes, almost 36 years ago!)

Since then I have discovered quite a bit about the sitters. The Duke is facing left because he had lost his right eye in a jousting tournament. Not only that, he had a piece of his nose removed in order to compensate for this loss, able to see to the right without the obstruction of the bridge of his nose. There is also a view that he may have been a hunchback. It is thought that the portrait of his wife was done after her death at 26, which might be the reason for her pallid appearance, or it could be simply due to the fashion of the day. Quite the horror story, but I still love it.

Well, back to what I was working on. Taking the landscape in background of the portraits as a starting point I placed it within the outlines of the Duke and Duchess. In the sky I used a French ultramarine, (the closest I could get to the lapis blue of the diptych), and it was quite an experience using such a vivid colour.
When I proofed it first using my usual paper, Fabriano avorio, I was a bit disappointed as everything, even that blue, looked strangely dull.

So I decided to try a white German etch, then a Rives grey, and then reluctantly I broke out and tried out a discontinued Somerset grey paper. I have to add here that this Somerset paper is like hen’s teeth. I bought it almost thirty years ago with Jackie Stanley and it is the most beautiful paper I have ever printed on. Sadly it is no longer made, and any other grey papers, even those made by Somerset, don’t come close. Sod’s law, the new print looked best on it and so my paper stash has been depleted! I have never been so careful printing, double checking at every point so I wouldn’t spoil a proof….that paper is so precious!