Piero’s almond-shaped eyes gazed down
at mine, and we shared an instant
recognition, but of what? It was a
moment of mystery and promise.
Who are you, and what will you come
to mean to me?
How many trips to Italy start that way?
It was 1962 when I first encountered this great love in the Stirling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts. Piero della Francesca, the great Renaissance painter, invited me to travel Italy on an unforgettable trip that lasted for forty-five years. I would like to share that adventure with you, a journey along the Piero della Francesca Trail. In my book The Piero Affair…with sidetrips you will find a view of Italy not often discussed in the guide books as you go back and forth between ancient Tuscan churches and little known , uncrowded destinations of today.
Come on. Let’s go!
The PdF Trail, for me, starts in San Sepolcro, Piero’s birthplace. In the Museo Civico you will see two of his masterpieces…the Madonna Misericordia and The Resurrection. From there you will journey to Urbino, Perugia, Monterchi and finally Arezzo to see his masterpiece in the Church of San Francesco.
In between these rendevous you will find the wonders of Florence, the Tuscan seacoast at Populonia, Etruscan ruins at Roselle, Castles at Brolio, Meleto and Volpaia, wonderful wineries and fabulous food at Monsanto and Coltibuono, a village butcher shop at Greve, Renaissance festivals and local markets, a ravished village from World War 2, jazz concerts in small cellars, and everywhere the amazing Italian people who remember and love the Americanos!
The Piero Trail begins in Sansepolcro, his birthplace.
Aldous Huxley called The Resurrection, “ the most beautiful painting ever painted.” It contains the Piero eyes that one finds in all of his faces. Since artists are well known for including their own likeness in their works, I assume these are Piero’s eyes…the ones with the message for me. Sit for a time before this work, for it contains much that is typical of Piero’s work, expressions at the heart of a love affair. Soft color caresses you, the texture tantalizes you, the simple forms seduce you.
The affair deepens.
The second stop on the PdF Trail is in Monterchi, a small village that was Piero’s mother’s birthplace. Here is the work that is the most important to me, The Madonna del Parto. Twice the sole remaining structure following earthquakes, it was finally housed in its own quake-protected building. You enter a small dark room and she faces you. Two angels part the curtain and tell you. “Ta da! She is here.” One of only three Marys painted as pregnant her strong figure takes your breath away. The shimmering glow of creation fills the space. And then, again there are the eyes. Cast down, they still manage to engage the viewer and they speak.
I cannot tear myself away. I am definitely hooked.
From Monterchi, journey to Perugia. Grab some of the delicious chocolate for which the city is famous, but only after you have visited another beautiful Madonna,. This one is crowned by one of the most heavenly Annunciations that I have ever seen. This is such a perfect example of Piero’s sense of receding space…the geometry he pioneered in the fifteenth century. It is from Piero that such artists as Michelangelo learned perspective. The arched hallway recedes into the actual wall, and draws me down the loggia into further involvement.
Journey on to Urbino over the most precipitous guardrail-free road in Italy. Just a preparation for Urbino’s streets that go straight up, and of course the museo is at the top. Here are two Piero’s. One, Flagellation, is noted as his “most mysterious.” There are many interpretations of the meaning of this painting with its confounding perspective and mysterious religious allegory.
One explanation is that the two men on the right each lost an adored son whom they likened to Christ (notice the similar stance.) The two stories are definitely connected through the continuing floor pattern and the architecture behind the man in the black hat. Notice how the conversation is carried on by the eyes.
A little mystery is good for any romance.
Your final stop on the Trail is in Arezzo in the church of San Francesco to see the huge fresco The Legend of the True Cross. This work is considered by many to be Piero’s masterpiece. It tells the story of the apple tree planted in the dead Adam’s mouth that grows into the cross upon which Christ is crucified. Two Queens intervene in the travails of the cross, and it is the source of victory on at least one battlefield. My favorite panel is The meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This work glows with an unearthly beauty. Being the feminist that I am, I like the fact that even though Sheba is bowing, she makes it obvious she is not “lowering.” It is said that Piero painted some of the strongest women in art history. I like strong!
Well, in case you feel you have finished a course in Italian art I’ll give you an A (Forgot to tell you, I am a professor). Not to worry, there is so much fun to be found in the side trips we take between trysts with Piero. I leave it to you to follow him in more depth, and learn his secret message in the final chapter of my book.
Arezzo is just twenty minutes from the house where we stay in a hill-top Tuscan village called Pergine.We do a lot of cooking there. My family loves to cook, and when we are not eating the delicious Tuscan cuisine in some trattoria or other, we are cooking at home. Or perhaps we are taking cooking lessons from Andrea at Coltibuono, who taught me to make vegetable soup the professional way, with the “r” rrrrolling. We love wandering the small 11th century stone village where we have become friends with Marta, Marina and Francesco, Giulio, Irena and Eduardo . We visit the small church, mini pharmacy, two bars, the butcher, and green grocer.
From Pergine we journey out every day to brave the world of Italian roadways and drivers and seek out new, unknown places where sometimes we are the only people. On these side trips you will unearth the joy of Tuscan wines, especially Chianti and Brunello. We spend a lot of time discovering good wine. It is a very important part of traveling in Italy. There is a great little farm at the foot of our hill, Migliarina. We buy our table wine from them. We take a large bottle, dama, that holds five liters, and they fill it up with a gasoline type hose and nozzle. We also purchase their olive oil, some of the best in Tuscany, and very good grappa.
We buy our vegetables fresh every day from Marta. Italian vegetables are exquisite. We get our eggs, meats, cheese (the local sheep cheese,pecorino is to die for) from the butcher. But we do not ignore the gigantic super market in town, the Iper Coop, for they have the best gelateria in the area.
Rainy days we sit and read, catch up on our email and cook, take a stroll when it is not showering and enjoy la dolce vita.
So I have told you where to find the Piero Trail. To find Pergine and Fracassini, our rental home,visit www.tuscany-villas.it ›
To order the book The Piero Affair…with side trips visit www.camusart.com click on books.
When you are through with the book, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if you fell in love too! Ciao!
Images are from The Piero Affair…with side trips, with permissions from Museo Civico, San Sepolcro, IT and Art Resources, New York, NY. Copyright.