Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Arezzo Art

In the Santa Maria della Pieve, Pietro Lorenzetti's 14th century polyptych

In an arcade, a copy of the 5th century BCE Etruscan chimaera that is Arezzo's emblem; 
I am now given to wondering what Missoula's emblem is? I think it must be the flying pig 
seen on Rockin' Rudy's t-shirts; I hope so 

Not all art in Arezzo is medieval or Renaissance; there is much contemporary 
work of interest; above is a massive sculpture scene done by Sara Bolzano and 
Nicola Zamboni, two Bolognese artists

Up closer

But the big draw in this town, as it would be in any town, is 
Piero della Francesa's Legend of the True Cross, on a dozen 
or so large panels in the chancel; you have to pay extra to 
get in the chancel, and the paintings are relatively high up,
but you are very close; time limit in the chancel is 30 minuti

There is of course a no pix policy in the chancel; and of course we had to snap a 
few; we have been reading about and hearing about this cycle for some time

A bit more; the legend itself, as Medieval Christians imagined it, is nearly as 
interesting as the 15th century representation; the wood for the True Cross, 
you see, grew from a tree that grew from a seed planted in the mouth of Adam 
when he was buried; Abel--no--Cain, had run back to the Garden of Eden to 
collect three such seeds...three, not two, not four, but three, from the...you 
guessed it...Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil...

And a bit more; well, it's a long and actually interesting 
legend, more about how works the religious mind and 
organization than anything else, and involving 
Constantine, the Queen of Sheba, Solomon, a Jew, and, 
of course, Constantine's mom, St. Helen; and quite a few 
miracles and revelations, along the way, none of which 
are scriptural; much of it from The Golden Legend
anyhow, Francesca's fresco cycle is on the web in 
several places, most notably www.wga.hu/tours/arezzo/

In the San Domenico church, Cimabue's memorable 
crucifix; in Franciscan churches of the era, these were 
always over-sized, hung right over the altar, and tilted
--in your face--toward the onlooker

I couldn't resist this martyrdom scene, but at least in part because 
it is of the very famous painted/glazed sculpture idiom whose 
name I  unfortunately can not remember just at the moment
[Luca della Robbia]

Proof that Italians have been talking with their hands at least since the 1300s

And, finally, in the Duomo, in a corner almost buried behind 
some bishop's grandiose tomb, Francesca's serene Magdalen

After straining to see the Magdalen, I had just turned to Vicki 
and commented that this was the darkest cathedral we had 
ever been in, yet with so much to see...and, then, near the exit
door, I saw it, the Divine Illumination Machine [DIM]; we 
have seen these throughout Italy; pop in a half-euro and the 
scultpure/painting/whatever you want to see gets a minute of 
two of decent light; I always position myself for the photo opp 
and then say to Vicki, by the machine with coin,  in stage 
whisper, "Let there be light"; in the Arezzo Duomo, the
DIM costs a whopping (so to speak) 2 euros; but it lights up 
the entire nave, including the beautiful ceiling... 


And thus; some of the best color I have ever seen in a church; best 2 euros thus 
far spent on holy ground...

Sunday, May 29, 2011


We drove on to Arezzo, another hill town, famous for its continuing wealth as well as its great medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. What attracted us in particular was Piero della Francesca's 15th century Legend of the Holy Cross, one of the greatest of Italian frescoes (which is saying something), but there was plenty more to see. Arezzo is a bit off the usual tourist circuit. Despite abundant facilities, parking, a free camper-stop two blocks from the wall, excellent signage all over, we saw rather few tourists, no tour buses nor tour bus groups, and liked Arezzo so well we stayed two days and nights. I'll divide my posts between the city and its architecture and its art.
Among the abundant facilities and amenities, a
succession of scala mobili, escalators, takes
you from the parking lot up to the old city, in
the shade, too

The very large mostly 13th-15th century duomo, to which
we'll return for some art and illumination

The Francesca church, 13th century, not the
first church we have or will see with an
unfinished west facade; they built from the
chancel back through the nave, and typically
got to the facade last, often when funds had
given out or tastes had changed

Inside the Francesca, another vast but austere
Gothic church; we'll return in the next post for a
look at the frescoes that occupy most all of the

Santa Maria della Pieva, 13th-15th century,
one view of the Romanesque facade and huge

East side of Santa Maria della Pieve, which
fronts onto the Grande Piazza

And the Grande Piazza

The facade and campanile again; the latter with 40 bays

Interior; another huge church

Arezzo's public library, a beautiful old Renaissance palazzo
bearing the Medici coat of arms as well as many others

Next door, Petrach's house, where they're
doing some remodeling

House of Vasari, painter, architect, writer, Renaissance Man,
whose 1530 Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors,
and Architects makes him, some say, the first art historian

Interior of San Domenico, another 13th century Gothic
church, very austere, but home of Cimabue's Crucifix

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Cortona is the hill town made famous, well, somewhat famous, in Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. We had both read the book--a very decent exercise in creative non-fiction--and seen the movie, which bore only the least passing similarity to the book. Anyhow, from Assisi we drove up to Cortona, passing from beautiful Umbria to beautiful Tuscany, hoping to take in some of the extolled Tuscan sun, atmosphere, ambience, etc. Alas, the parking situation at Cortona is dreadful. There were a dozen or more spaces alloted for campers, but nearly all were filled with tiny little local sedans. Even the bus parking lot was grid-locked. There really wasn't anything in Cortona on our must-see list, so we drove down the hill a bit, parked at a turn-out, and I hiked back up to see the one thing of interest, namely, the Etruscan gates. Probably not worth the hike.

Downtown Cortona from uptown

Tuscan countryside, and a finger of Lake Trasimeno

Gridlock; and the car parking was worse

The Etruscan Gates

My sentiment exactly; we drove on to Arezzo

Perugia Street Scene

We noticed the camera crew as we were leaving the piazza

The director giving everyone instructions

Leading man and lady (checking in with her a; "get me
out of here!")gent)

A little more costume and make-up attention

All set

Wait, no, something needs fixing here

OK, now we're set...lights, action, camera...



We needed a day or two off from hard-core sightseeing, Perugia affords a free camper-stop, so we decided to go there for a couple nights to rest and regroup. Perugia is the capital of Umbria, and we probably didn't do it justice as tourists. Maybe next time.
Under the big shade tree at the camper-stop

Perugia is a major chocolate center and we were parked just
below the Etruscan ChocoHotel

Practically the whole lobby is a showroom of all things
chocolate; well, maybe not all things, but many things you'd
not imagine in chocolate

Including a tub of chocolate ore; and, not pictured, chocolate

We did take a bus to the up-town to see the piazza (reputedly
one of the best in Italy); above, one of the older buildings now
housing several museums (which we skipped)

The piazza and duomo

The griffin is Perugia's emblem, the lion is the Guelph's (or
possibly the Ghibelline's; I forget)

The Fontana Maggiore, in the piazza

Very popular with pigeons

Interior of the duomo

In one of the odder religious representations I
have seen, Jesus looks on from his window
high on the duomo

Cat housing; on the street near a residence in Perugia; but not
on the residence