The National Gallery of the Marche was officially established by Royal Decree on 7 March 1912. From that time on it became an independent entity from the Institute of Fine Arts, and one where the custodian would take over the Ducal Palace and the art works it contained, and therefore, the full task of its preservation.
The main problem of the Gallery at its beginning was the paucity of the collections, due to the fact that the palace had been stripped first after the death of Federico di Montelfetro in 1482 and then after the death of the last male heir of the Della Rovere family (1631), when the whole estate (Duchy, lands and palaces) was devolved to the Papal State. Due to the lack of its own collection, the initial works on show at the Gallery came from institutes that had been suppressed when implementing the L. Valerio Decree of 1861. The story of the Gallery, as well as of the collections is closely tied to the restoration of the palace and all additions and displays have coincided with the recovery of areas that had been previously inaccessible. With the official inauguration in May 1913, the collections were first arranged under the direction of Lionello Venturi. During this period, the detached frescoes attributed to Antonio da Ferrara and taken from the Paltroni Chapel were brought to the Gallery, together with the banner depicting the Blessed Giacomo della Marca, attributed by Venturi to Carlo Crivelli (and both now attributed to his brother Vittore) and two works purchased by the Ministry of Public Instruction: a Madonna with Child by Giovanni Santi and a St Francis by Federico Barocci.
The size of the collections increased a good deal under the direction of Luigi Serra in the period 1915 to 1933, obtained with the deposit of great art works including the “Flagellation” and the “Madonna of Senigallia” by Piero della Francesca, paintings by Giovanni Santi and Timoteo Viti, the Standard of Signorelli, etc. Serra’s direction was very important in the Gallery’s history since as well as the sections dedicated to chronological order of paintings and of the mediaeval and modern museum, there was a section with photographs of the works once found in the palace. In 1927, the state recognised the importance of the Gallery by sending one of Raphael’s paintings to Urbino, the “Portrait of a Gentlewoman” or “Muta”. Under the direction of Pacchioni, the Barberini Gallery in Rome returned 14 of the canvases depicting the Illustrious Men, originally placed in the Duke’s Study. The other 14 are in Paris, displayed in the Louvre. It is important to remember that a new boost was given to safeguarding and capitalising on the palace and the Gallery from 1939, the year in which the Superintendence for Galleries was founded (later the Superintendence for Historical and Artistic Heritage), which as well as safeguarding the artistic heritage of the Marche region, also played an important role in the museum aspect.
In 1939, Pasquale Rotondi was appointed Superintendent to the Galleries and Works of Art in the Marche, and thanks to him we have the first study into the history of the Ducal Palace, also carried out using surveys, all essential in enabling research into the history in order to find out the secrets of the architectural and pictorial spaces. A significant find from this period was the cycle of paintings by Giovanni Boccati in the Jole’s Apartments. The fireplace fixtures were also studied in this period, allowing us to understand their movement within the different rooms in the palace.
Other important directors of the Gallery have included Pietro Zampetti, Giuseppe Marchini, Pietro Torriti, Italo Faldi (1973-75), the period in which the masterpieces, “The Flagellation”, “La Muta” and the “Madonna of Senigallia” were stolen and then recovered under the directorship of Dante Bernini (1975-1978). These directors were followed by Paolo dal Poggetto, from 1979 to 2004, Lorenza Mochi Onori, Aldo Cicinelli, Vittoria Garibaldi, and Maria Rosaria Valazzi.
With Ministerial Decree 27 November 2014 of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism, the National Gallery of the Marche, earlier under the dependency of the Superintendency the Historical, Artistic and Ethno-anthropological Heritage for the Marche became a museum in its own right with a new director, Peter Aufreiter, instated on 1 December 2015.
As well as the Gallery, the Ducal Palace is home to the Archaeological and Stone Museum on the ground floor. This particular museum originates from the collections of epigraphs brought together in Urbino by Fabretti and exhibited on the walls of the upper galleries on the first floor at the wishes of Cardinal Stoppani in 1756, then removed and transferred by the Superintendent, P.Rotondi to the ground floor in 1944, before finally moving to its current home.