Tuesday 14 July We had a lazy start this morning following an amazing Tuscan buffet dinner at our Hotel (Hotel Etrusco) in Arezzo. The Tuscan style food was seriously seductive and as always Tuscan rosso is a nice drop. Once we finally took off in the Mercedes Benz we were much more confident and the satNav is now also making much more sense for us. We continued the hunt for Piero della Francesca paintings heading first to the tiny village of Monterchi where the quite famous “Madonna del Porto” (a pregnant and very serious Mary supported by two identical angels ) used to sit in the tiny parish church. The church is now closed and the painting has its own impressive dedicated museum and presentation on the art of fresco painting in general together with an excellent movie in English which turned out to be a helpful picture of C15th Italy politically as well as artistically.
Monterchi is my vision of the true Tuscany…golden and green and productive fields, a farmer working alone with traditional machinery making hay, rivers, mountains, hilltop homes, quiet apart from cicadas, sun beating down…we had to come back once more…it weaves a spell that makes a permanent impact. (on me anyway!)
From there we journeyed to Sansepolcro, della Francesca’s birthplace (nearby in mediaeval Borgo). Here in the Museo Civico they have several Francesca paintings including a triptych altarpiece the centre piece of which (Jesus’ baptism by John) is in the National Gallery London. The major work here is the resurrection of Christ of which we could only view half! because of a restoration process going on. We arrived in the middle of a very lively private discussion (though we could hear it all in Italian) between the artists involved in the restoration as to how far to proceed. As with the other Mary painting in the Museo Civica della Francesca painted in his own portrait into the Resurrection scene (in this case one of the sleeping disciples.) Sansepolcro has at least two very impressive basilicas. A massive early Romanesque cathedral with typically huge pillars and a very simple basilica in honour of St Francis.
Here our Piero della Francesca pilgrimage finishes until London! After a shared and very delicious pizza in Sansepolcro we travelled south again to the hilltop town of Cortona made very famous by the books of Frances May starting with “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Cortona is a very well to do place with many upmarket homes and a huge tourist community no doubt much influenced by May’s books. We drove up to the gate of the old town but did not venture in although I am sure there would be much to see.
I was keen to move on to Montepulciano to revisit the amazing Renaissance church of San Biago which sits outside the old town walls high on its own patch overlooking a vast countryside which seems to last forever. We were last in Montepulciano with the Andrzejewskis and the Sheumacks some years ago and we had driven over from San Gimignano and had not enough time to have a close look at this church which is the cover plate for many books on Tuscan landscape. It is a majestic, beautifully formed building. It is a perfect example of Ruskin’s view that five things only matter in architecture ( form, proportion, beauty, curvature and colour). (in his preface to “The Two Paths”) Our photo does not do this brilliant Renaissance architecture justice. It is place of immense peace, beauty and faith. I was very glad to spend time in the church and Ann will be pleased not to hear about it again!