Cars, satnavs and art in Arezzo!

Installation entitled

Installation entitled “The Towers of Love” by Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr, born 1961 in the Basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy.

frescoes by Piero della Francesca in Basilica di San Francisco in Arezzo Italy. The frescoes surround the high altar.

frescoes by Piero della Francesca in Basilica di San Francisco in Arezzo Italy. The frescoes surround the high altar.

Fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca in the Duomo Arezzo Italy.

Fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca in the Duomo Arezzo Italy.

We began early this morning with the wonderful news that Dave, Nina, Jemilla and Bede were safely back home thanks to many prayers, East Asia airlines and persistence at the Denpasar airport plus some fantastic help with Dave’s car from Chris and Martin Woolley. Thanks guys and welcome back to Oz (and work/kinda/school!) to Dave and Nina, Jemilla and Bede.

Our next fight was with our Garmin SatNav which I, by error, had persuaded to talk to us in Italian! A phone call to Garmin UK steered us back to “British English” which strangely is much easier for us to understand. The SatNav still seems to prefer hotels and other genres to real addresses but so far has actually managed to get us places and home again although the first time we were so intent on looking at the machine and me trying to learn how to drive a Mercedes Benz (very small) car on the wrong side of the road that we went straight past our hotel and had to drive around the block.

The Mercedes Benz is actually fun to drive and is so quiet idling I think it has actually stopped which is not the case; the hardest part I find with all European driving is not the right hand side of the road but having the indicator lever on the left which is so counter-intuitive for me.

We spent the afternoon after a bex and a lie down following the Piero della Francesca trail around Arezzo. Piero was born in San Sepolcro just north of Arezzo and as well as an artist was a serious mathematician. He painted at Urbino, Ferrara and for the Pope in Rome but there his paintings were later painted over by Raphael by order of a later pope. After Rome he returned to his local area here in East Tuscany and painted an exceptional Mary Magdalene in the Duomo of Arezzo, a beautiful Gothic cathedral with some wonderful modern ecclesiastical furniture in the sanctuary.  His major work was a remarkable series of frescoes for the high altar for the Church of St Francesco in Arezzo which combine Biblical events with some doubtful historical and ecclesiastical historical guesses. These centre on the Empress Helena’s supposed discovery of Christ’s true cross while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The cross she finds has many adventures and some of the scenes are quite comical.

Piero della Francesca paints with a joyful humour and happiness which shows on the faces of his subjects. Vasari, the Renaissance painter and historian of art,  who was also born in Arezzo and whose house is a tourist attraction here,  is rather sparing in his praise of Piero concluding “he has justifiably acquired the reputation of being the leading geometrician of his day”. (i.e. as a painter he makes a good mathematician!) This was in 1568. I think it is fair to say that in the C20th and C21st centuries, Piero della Francesca is the main reason many Art students  and tourists come to Arezzo! (and only then, like me, find out that Vasari was born here!)

I am sounding as if the Basilica di San Francesco is just a fee attracting gallery but it is also a serious place of worship and religious discussion.  Currently the display also holds a presentation of Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr, born 1961, and he works out of Alexandria. He has presented a collection of mixed glass “towers” with various quasi – religious symbols which ring a bell with folk from many faiths.  He states that his goal in presenting these symbols in the midst of a significant place of Christian devotion, is to give people of every faith and none, freedom to explore. They certainly made an impact on me! The whole basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo raises the question of religious history and “Christian mythology”. At first sight, it might seem that the faithful by looking at some of these frescoes

Ann in front of the tower of the Palazzo Communale Arezzo.

Ann in front of the tower of the Palazzo Communale Arezzo.

Basilica de San Francesco in Arezzo with a suspended cross in front of the altar which is surrounded by frescoes painted by Piero della Francesca

Basilica de San Francesco in Arezzo with a suspended cross in front of the altar which is surrounded by frescoes painted by Piero della Francesca

could confuse the two but looking at the totality of the chapels in the church (some of which bare witness to deep Christian maturity, courage and martydom as well as the direct faithful presentation of Christian orthodoxy I think we can give Renaissance viewers the benefit of the doubt and the ability to distinguish between “the things that matter about Christian faith” and the stories which have accrued but which don’t carry the same authority.  I can hear some of my critics saying “Richard has lost the plot” but anyone who has read Chaucer or Langland carefully will be aware that Christians in the late Middle Ages could well see the difference between the pardoner and the summoner vs the faithful and dutiful parson.

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