Battista Sforza died of pneumonia as a result of complications after childbirth.
She embodied the qualities of a court lady and consort – she was an obedient wife and an exceptionally adept co-ruler. With her ninth and final pregnancy, she produced a son – Guidobaldo, the heir to Urbino.
Sforza’s fame was underscored by a myth created after her death highlighting the significance of her son’s delivery and the ‘divine’ nature of the conception.
Under immense pressure to produce the preferred offspring – Sforza joined her husband Federico da Montefeltro on many battlefields to ensure that she could become pregnant.
Shortly after their wedding – when Montefeltro was fulfilling his role as condottiere (mercenary solider) – the pregnant countess personally led her troops to successfully defend the stronghold of Uffogliano from her husband’s most hated enemy, Sigismondo Malatesta.
With Guidobaldo’s birth, Sforza fulfilled all of her wifely duties. The commemoration of her accomplishments both in the domestic and political spheres was of great importance to Montefeltro in terms of its propagandist value.
The Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza (1472-74) by Piero della Francesca was created in her honour. The representation of the rule of this court as one of harmony and balance was hugely beneficial to the House of Montefeltro.
Establishing the political fortitude of the family, this image emphasises the role that Sforza played in ensuring that this balance was maintained – each element carefully chosen to promote the impression of an ideal court.
On the obverse side, the profiled portraits of Montefeltro and Sforza are depicted before a detailed landscape. The Countess of Urbino, represented as a faultless court lady magnificently dressed in contemporary costume is adorned with her most precious jewels, her hair is in an elaborate style, with fashionable small facial features and a high forehead.
In comparison, Montefeltro wears a simple and austere red costume. The profile portrait was synonymous with power and prestige. The alignment of the facial features of the sitters and their positioning to face one another reinforced the perception of their unified rule – amplified by the use of complementary colours.
The reverse of the diptych celebrates the ideal roles of the ruler and consort. The theme of unity prevails with the use of the continuous landscape, and the Latin inscriptions proclaiming the sitters’ virtues.
Both figures are seated on a triumphal cart, used in ancient Rome by victorious generals. Montefeltro wears his armour while Sforza is dressed in modest costume, both are accompanied by female personifications of virtue.
Sforza’s chariot is drawn by two unicorns – these symbols of chastity emphasise the purity of the deceased and the Montefeltro lineage.
One of the figures accompanying Sforza holds a pelican tearing at its own breast. In contemporary thought, the bird was believed to nourish its young with blood, referring here to Sforza’s self-sacrifice and her willingness to die in order to produce her son.
Battista Sforza: consort, mother and muse.
Piero della Francesca, Diptypch of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza obverse (detail), 1465 – 72
Piero della Francesca, Diptypch of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza obverse, 1465 – 72
Piero della Francesca, Diptypch of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza reverse, 1465 – 72