Monday, May 30, 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 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,

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

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; 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 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