By Alexis Culotta

Livia della Rovere was born 16 December 1585 in Pesaro. A member of the famed della Rovere House, Livia would also be the last to hold the title of  Duchess of Urbino (1599-1631) and resultantly a member of one of the most artistically rich households of the sixteenth century. 

The daughter of Ippolito della Rovere and Isabella Vitelli, Livia was sent as a young girl to the local Benedictine convent of Santa Maddalena following the death of their mother in 1598. She was plucked from the convent the following year, however, by her father who had negotiated for her marriage to Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino and unhappy divorcé (his earlier union to Lucrezia d’Este had been a tumultuous one and was terminated in 1598 only due to Lucrezia’s death). Livia’s relationship with the duke was similar strained, however Livia’s ability to produce a male heir – Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, born in 1605 – lightened this tension. 

Federico eventually married into the Medici family, however the prosperous future this union heralded was dashed when he died suddenly two years later in 1623, and it was his death that not only further strained Livia’s relationship with her family but also signaled the Duchy of Urbino’s demise. In 1631 Pope Urban VIII initiated the annexation of the Duchy, and Livia spent the final decade of her life in relative seclusion. She died on 6 July 1641 and was buried with two of her sisters at the monastery of Corpus Domini in Pesaro. She passed her estate to her granddaughter Vittoria della Rovere, who became the inheritor of the massive family art collection that included works such as Piero della Francesca’s Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza (1472). Many of these works, as well as those left behind in the Ducal palace like the 28-painting series Uomini Illusustri that originally lined the walls of the Duke’s studiolo, were eventually dispersed into different collections.  

Further reading: 

Gino Benzoni, “Livia della Rovere, duchessa di Urbino.” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani,  65 (2005). 

Federico Barocci (?), Portrait of Livia della Rovere the Duchess of Urbino, late 16th-early 17th century. Museo Civico Filangieri, Naples. 

Federico Barocci, Francesco Maria II della Rovere, 1572. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. 

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