THEMATIC HOLIDAYS -
In 1452 Brother Jacopo – the warden of Montefalco’s Franciscan convent – commissioned the Florentine painter Benozzo Gozzoli to decorate the apse of the Church of San Francesco with a cycle of frescoes depicting episodes from the life of St Francis. Divided into three orders, the frescoes display the strong influence of those painted by Giotto for the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, particularly in scenes such as the ones depicting the driving out of the demons from Arezzo or the dream of Innocent III. Benozzo Gozzoli had worked with Beato Angelico on his decorations for the Duomo of Orvieto and went on to enjoy considerable favour in Umbria. Examples of his work still survive in Assisi, Foligno and Narni, where the Pinacoteca contains a particularly fine Annunciation. Besides his works for San Francesco, Benozzo Gozzoli completed a number of commissions in Montefalco, also for the Church of San Fortunato.
Abandoned by the friars in 1863, the Church of San Francesco today houses the Museo Civico di Montefalco, on three levels that include the former church, the Pinacoteca (with a collection of paintings and frescoes by local artists) and the crypt containing archaeological finds from various periods.
In Spoleto visitors can enjoy the final work of another great Florentine master, Filippo Lippi. Acting on the advice of Cosimo de’ Medici, in 1467 the Opera del Duomo di Spoleto commissioned the ageing Filippo to decorate the apse of the city’s Duomo with episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary (in the drum: Annunciation, Transit and Nativity; along the lateral walls: the Crowning of the Virgin). The cycle was left unfinished by Lippi, who died in 1469. The Nativity was in fact completed by his assistants, who included Fra Diamante and Pier Matteo d’Amelia.
Towards the end of the 15th century the Cortona-born painter Luca Signorelli was summoned to decorate the St Brizio Chapel of the Duomo of Orvieto. The decoration of the chapel had begun fifty years previously with the vaulted ceiling, painted by Beato Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli. Signorelli’s masterpiece frescoes are large scale depictions of episodes from the Apocalypse: the Sermon of the Antichrist, the End of the World and the Resurrection of the Flesh, alongside representations of the Last Judgement and Hell. The sheer plasticity of the bodies painted in the Resurrection scene have led a number of historians to suppose that Michelangelo must have seen Signorelli’s paintings before he began work on the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
More or less at the same time, Pietro Perugino had returned to Perugia to work on a commission from the Collegio del Cambio for the Sala delle Udienze, one of the state rooms of the powerful money changing guild’s town headquarters that underwent large scale decoration between 1491 and 1500. In this cycle of frescoes Perugino masterfully combines images from Antiquity with Christian elements, such as in his Triumph of the Four Cardinal Virtues and the Allegories of the Three Theolotical Virtues. On the decorations of the room’s left had wall, the artist has even included a self-portrait.
In 1501 Bernardino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio, began working in Spello for Troilo Baglioni on the decorations of the family chapel (known also as the Cappella Bella) in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The Pergugia-born painter adorned the lateral walls of the chapel with the Annunciation, while the Nativity and Christ Among the Doctors of the Church, as well as the depictions of the four Sibyls, are considered among the finest paintings ever to have graced the great master’s brush.
Museums open to the public:
Montefalco: Museo Civico di San Francesco
Spoleto: Pinacoteca Comunale
Orvieto: Museo Claudio Faina
Spello: Pinacoteca Civica
Perugia: Collegio del Cambio
Perugia: Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria
Umbria...Cuore verde d’Italia. Umbria Percorsi d'arte, Agenzia di Promozione turistica dell'Umbria, Perugia, pg. 60, with thanks.
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