12 December, 2019
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Deruta belongs to the Club de
I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia

 


In the development of Italian historical villages, it is known that, from simple fortresses on communication channels, they have become commercial intersections, often specialized in particular productions. At that time, the difference between artists and craftsmen was rather fleeting; a judgment on the relevance of some arts – such as painting and sculpture -, rather than on others, would only come into the Sixteenth Century, generating a hierarchy in craftmanship.


But looking at Deruta at its decorations, friezes, and ceramic inserts – often you do not catch the difference between art and crafts. Just take a walk through the streets of that small town to realize how ceramics are pervasive of these contrada, and how art has turned into a craft not because of its inferiority, compared to “noble” disciplines such as painting and sculpture, but for its popularity.

Streets of Technique

The southern part of this city, which oversees Tiber River, is dominated by a star which, stuck in the ground like a meteorite fell from the sky, is depicted with a female figure. Made by the students of the International School of Ceramic Art Romano Ranieri, it ushers via Tiberina, framed by full-coloured prunus, where numerous side streets with evocative names open, witnessing an old tradition, where specialization was such to generate even professional secrets. .

Artwork by the International Ceramics School Romano Ranieri, Deruta

The series of streets intersecting a few meters from the freeway relates to the different phases of ceramic’s production, that characterize Deruta. Via dei Fornaciai (who works at the klin), dei Tornianti (who uses the lathe), dei Modellatori (blow molds) e degli Stampatori (printers), but also dei Pittori (painters) e dei Decoratori (decorators), refer to the processing of the raw material – clay, whom a street is dedicated in the northern part of the town – first kneaded so that air bubbles and the compactness do not cause cracks on the finished product, and then moulded. Depending on the complexity and the features of the product, there will be used the colombino modeling – for cups – plates or molded modelling – mainly for plates – or lathe – for pots, lamps or even plain dishes.

City decorations, Deruta

To Tornianti has been dedicated an entire road because using the lathe – especially the one with pedals meant to be highly qualified: the object had to be created from a single piece of clay, which meant that the artisan had to be able to predict how much of it he had to take to give birth to a certain object with a certain shape and with a certain thickness. The hardest part was to keep the lathe’s rotation speed constant, in order to grant the artisan the time to shape the material, to carve it, to stretch and twist it, to give it balanced and tapered proportions. The diffusion of the electric lathes has make little difference: torniante is a difficult and highly specialized job, as the printer’s one, which must be able to create a chalk mold, single or even multiple, to reproduce a prototype, obviously without breaking the artifact at the time of detachment.

Famous Labels

The little fournace in the kiosk of the Ceramics Museum, Deruta

Keep on walking, via dei Decoratori comes to a city quarter whose streets are dedicated to famous personalities who have written the history of Deruta.  
Via Francesco Briganti is the first: he was notary from Deruta founded in 1898 the Ceramic Museum by donating pieces of his property, but, most of all, he directed the historical-philological research towards the creation of workshops for artisans. At the Municipal Art Gallery of Deruta, however, there are about forty works by another philanthropist, Lione Pascoli, who, passionate about collecting, had succeeded in gathering three hundred works of minor art, including still life, battles and bambocciate. The road dedicated to him intersects with the one named after one of the greatest promoters of the ceramics of the early Twentieth Century: Alpinolo Magnini, to whom is dedicated also the local art school, first donated watercolor drawings and ancient majolica to the Museum, then refurbished the luster-style raffaellesco basing on an ancient recipe. Magnini was also the technical and artistic director of the Anonima Ceramiche Society, the Deruta Maioliche Society and the CIMA – Italian Consortium of Artistic Majolica; however, to admire these buildings, it is necessary to climb along the narrow streets of the oldest hamlet. So, from via Magnini we turn right and cross via Nicolò di Liberatore, better known as L’Alunno because of a mistake made by Vasari: he interpreted the inscription alumnus funginie as a nickname, but it only stated that the painter was born in Foligno. Anyway, the painter Nicolò di Liberatore, famous for his realistic heads, is the only artist belonging to the Umbrian Renaissance to be mentioned by the famous artists’ biographer. Together with his father-in-law, he depicted Madonna dei Consoli in 1458, now kept at the Municipal Art Gallery of Deruta.

St. Francis Church from Ceramics Museum, Deruta

Going further and passing under the old suspended traffic light that characterizes the district called borgo – by the name of the road that cut it in half, via Borgo Garibaldi, framed by trees and by a wall glazed by arabesque decorations and tiles by local artisanson the left there is a majestic staircase: it oversees the entire landscape below, then it squeezes under an arc embellished with decorated dishes and pitchers embedded in the stone.

One of the gateways

Looking up, loquats hang over terraces placed even higher: this is a distinctive feature of Deruta, where buildings’ irregularity and asymmetry matches with the countless levels of urban fabric, sometimes difficult even to guess. 
However, walking between narrow and steep streets, often with a dead end, it is possible to find historic buildings and others with a rather folkloristic appearance: it is the case of the Anonima Maioliche Society aforementioned, featuring an elegant Liberty style entrance that opens between ordinary buildings, but it is affected by the negligence and temperature leaps.

Ancient Furnace’s walls, Deruta

Actually majolica is prone to fractures and detachments once displayed to weather. Decorated front doors and façades dotted with women’s figures lead us to the type of building, the most characteristic one. Among all the furnaces scattered in the urban fabric, certainly the ancient one is a building with picturesque, often grotesque features, composed as it is from recycled ceramic squama. The sloping exterior walls are covered with tiles, plates, lids, or even simple fragments, giving to it the appearance of a burlesque fortress.

Detail of the Ancient Furnace’s exterior walls

It is difficult to look away from the countless fragments, but via El FrateGiacomo Mancini’s nickname, another great painter of cups and dishes based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Sixteenth Century) – is waiting for us. After a short climb, we arrive at the High School Alpinolo Magnini, embellished with a characteristic frieze. Facing it, Piazza dei Consoli, with the stretched shape of an avenue, where Palio della Brocca is awarded every year. The scarlet City Hall and St. Francis Church, restored with the local dark stone, open to a quiet giant that seems to cradle the square, especially in the terminal part, where spaces diminish and squeeze. This junction is particularly beautiful: unlike Central Italy’s typical churches, Deruta’s main religious building has a somewhat stealthily entrance, set in a rather narrow and far street compared to the wide Piazza dei Consoli. This shady road also leads to the placid cloister of the Ceramic Museum, where there is a small kiln and a shady live oak.

Precious Materials

We reluctantly leave the complex’s quiet walls to go downhill; we cross an amazing public garden, a sort of balcony on Deruta where even the benches and the fountain are decorated with the local arabesques. An almost infinite series of staircases allows us to descend through the hamlet’s countless levels, until via Fratelli Maturanzio, a couple of Sixteenth Century artists whose memory is now lost in time. 

Decorated benches, Deruta

At the end of the slope, there is the Church of Madonna delle Piagge, which, after a few hundred meters, leaves space to two significant streets: via Verde Ramina and via della Zaffera. The first, along with the manganese brown, is the colour of archaic ceramics, characterized by geometric, floral or zoo-anthropomorphic motifs; the second one, had been named after the sapphire, that is to say the blue colour that, during cooking, swelled, returning herbal motifs, emblems and fantastic creatures in relief. 
It is important to understand the processing of biscotto’s decoration, that is to say of the object obtained after the first cooking, because at this stage the colours change. After being enamelled and decorated, the piece is cooked again, so that the colours could vetrify and take on their actual shades: green ramina from black becomes pale green, while blue is still the same, even if at high temperatures the cobalt oxide could melt, eliminating the decorum.

A glimpse of Deruta from via El Frate

There are also other kind of decorations, as evidenced by the streets that unwinds in the northern part of Deruta: via del Mosaico (mosaic), often gilded in real gold, via del Riflesso (glare), via dei Lustri (luster) – of which the innovator was the aforementioned Alpinolo Magnini – via del Raku, just to mention overseas ceramic traditions, via dell’Arabesco (arabesque), via del Raffaellesco (Raphael-style) and via dell’Engobbio (engobe), which could be associated to via del Bianchetto (whitening). The latter two are closely related techniques: the whiting is the other name of the half-majolica, and it consists in covering the object with the engobe, a layer of liquid and white clay, then to be decorated or carved. This processing was adopted when biscotto cooking was not used and tin-based enamel was too expensive. The cooking was only done once, after the object had been covered with a thin transparent layer. 
The presence of via dell’Argilla (clay) is relevant: it scrambles towards the still untouched hills that look behind it. It is not difficult to imagine generations of ceramists finding the raw material on the slopes of these uplands, as well as in the alluvial deposits of the great Tiber River that runs a little below.

 

More on Deruta

AboutUmbria keeps on doing its journey to enhance Umbrian outstanding qualities and does so by adding a new piece to the articulated puzzle that we started composing two years ago with the store opened in the Airport of Perugia.

 

Since then, the project has grown and saw on the day of April 11th the achievement of a second important goal, the release of AboutUmbria Magazine, the online magazine that describes Umbria and its unique characteristics. 
But we had another goal in mind to complete this ambitious project, but we believe fundamental, today more than ever, to the re-launch of our region, which needs to be known outside of our borders, which needs instruments to be illustrated not only by highlighting the features already known and representing the cornerstones on which the commonly used communication register is based, but also by clearing the commonplace, going beyond the already mentioned and the already heard, showing much wider realities and potentials and many other possible scenarios. 

We started from here and set a few points.
Umbria is green. This is undeniable. How to ignore the environmental beauty, the sweetness of its hills, the green that remains inside, which sometimes seems capable of reconciling us with the universe? But there is much more, and through colors perhaps, we might be able to narrate it by using unusual color matches or, why not, daring ones.
So we thought to tell Umbria through a color, analyzing it, studying it, and then presenting it through a lens every time coloured differently, so that no aspect would remain behind, so that no soul remains unexpressed. But how about Umbria? We did not have any doubts about this, letting it speak. So we made a full use of images, because it is useless to talk if we cannot show what we are talking about.

But how about Umbria? We did not have any doubts about this, letting it speak. So we made a full use of images, because it is useless to talk if we cannot show what we are talking about. And then no inflates ads, no commercials or slogans from the showcase merchandise. Only great care in research, love for truthfulness of information, attention to details. We tried to present the region’s soul that is amazing in its concreteness, magnificent in its essence.
Thinking about Umbria, comes to mind a beautiful woman who does not like lipstick and blush. A beauty without mystifications, the beauty of tuff and travertine, of Assisi stone and sandstone; an authentic beauty marked by time and yet timeless.
That’s why we did not add any overtone, but we tried to get to the essence; with this intent we chose the contents, selected the photographs, thought of the magazine size and also the paper to use.
We tried to go straight to the heart, that green heart that will become many other colors. BLUE, for example.

You have to see it. Not only because it is «Hermann Nitsch’s largest and most complete exhibition set up in Italy so far» as Italo Tomassoni writes, but because Hermann Nitsch’s OMT Orgien Mysterien Theater (Theater of Orgy and Mysteries) – Color from the Rite, set up at CIAC –  Italian Centre of Contemporary Art in Foligno by Italo Tomassoni and Giuseppe Morra, and available until August 13th, is really stunning.

The exhibition displays 40 works, divided in nine different series made between 1984 and 2010, coming from Hermann Nitsch Museum in Naples, founded in 2008 by Giuseppe Morra, an historian and publisher of his writings since 1974.

Disgust

He wants to disgust us, offend us, because the Viennese performers, of whom Nitsch is still one of the most important members, had always been impressed by his performances since their formation in the 1960s, featuring images and themes inspired by a widespread disenchantment, almost desecrating, against the religious symbols, body functions and the sexual acts. We can cry the scandal out, but that will only confirm the artists’ intention «to provoke the spectator an instinctive sensual excitement .» For that, Nitsch has been arrested several times.

One of the Artist’s desecrating works, displaied at CIAC in Foligno

A Wizard from Northern Fairy Tales

The show is actually lyrical and engaging, set up as a single large openwork; it makes us think of Nitsch as «a magician from Northern fairy tales» writes Tomassoni «an aesthetic Orphism inspired by the Creation’s mystery and by the Art’s unlimited visionary opportunities.»
The Wiener Aktionismus artists, heirs of that Viennese secession and Egon Schiele, saw in the expressive intensity, in the psychological introspection of the action, the only way to communicate their inner discomfort and all the anguish and complexity of human existence.
But I find it decisive, as critics has pointed out over the years, the deep sense of guilt derived from being involved in World War II, which provokes a sense of refusal and the need to freed themselves with every means.
Among the many celebrated installations on display, we mention 18b.malaktion, 1986, Naples, Casa Morra. These are large canvases where red or spotted red color, composed as a cross, is dominated by an action painting that is pure gesture and drama.

18b.malaktion, 1986, Napoli, Casa Morra.

With the scraps, the wrecks of his performances, he created installations such as 130.aktion Wreck Installation, 2010 Nitsch Napoli Museum, large white coats and blood-stained shirts, stretches to carry bodies that become tables or altars, surgical tools such as scalpels or retractors, test tubes and alembics that refer concern to body and its lymph, lumps and paper tissues in perfectly regular lines, suggesting sensations of freshness and purity. Decomposing fruit, proof of an absurd sacrificial event, ritual and formal signs of physical and carnal facts.

Another work displaied in Foligno

Prinzendorf Castle

On the lower floor, inside a some kind of a crypt, you can watch the long video of Prinzendorf’s 1984 action, played in theaters in 2000s.
The castle of Prinzendorf, near Vienna, purchased by the artist in 1971, becomes the headquarter of his das Orgien Mysterien Theater, whose actions follow one another from the Sunday of Pentecost 1973. On July 1984, his 80th long action lasts three days and three whole nights. The tragic nature of the passive suffering on the cross, the symbolic stain of crucified Christ, is carried out in a «spiritualized», «abstract, but equally realistic» way, as Nitsch describes it. And, again: «My theater of orgies and mysteries focus on intense experiences, on the ritual in the sense of shape, creating a festival of existence, a concentrated, conscious and sensual experience of our being.»
Today he continues to carry on, intensifying and charging it with stronger implications, his idea of ​​the Orgien Mysterien Theater, as a preview of his worldwide synthetic project that involves all senses and every human action. In his Statutes he highlights the deep meaning of his art: «The commitment of art is to be the priesthood of a new existential conception […]: to free mankind from its beastily instincts.»
Opening times: Friday 16.00-19.00, Saturday and Sunday 10.30-12.30 – 16.00-19.00
Ticket: € 5,00; reduced-price ticket € 3,00. Free entry: children up to 14 years old, schools and disabled

 

More on Foligno

In its fifteen years of life, the Club I Borghi più Belli d’Italia has been able to preserve, valorise and recover all those realities that were likely to end up caught in the folds of geographical marginality and in economic interests: that is to say the hamlets, architectural pearls of Italian beauty and caretakers of memories tied to a past that has passed synchronized to Earth’s cycles and to the simplicity of a frugal life.

borghi più belli dell'umbria

If our grandparents had abandoned them, attracted by the economic opportunities offered by cities, villages are now a place to rediscover a life completely counterposed to cities’ frenzy and dispersion. But they are not unmovable realities: the initiatives organized by the Club I Borghi Belli d’Italia, which are now followed by those organized by MIBACT, ENIT and ICE, prove their indisputable dynamism in reinventing themselves and in knowing how to meet inhabitants and of the community’s needs.

It is the latter that, recognizing itself in the place’s stylistic features, characterizes it; at the same time, however, it is the village that gives an identity to the community, which is no longer a secondary character, separated by the great cultural flows that animate the cities, but is a real leader in creating a new storytelling.

The Organization

Born from the ribs of ANCI, the Club is made up of complementary compartments dedicated to the development of different areas. There is the Association, nationally recognized, which includes 250 of the best Italian tourist villages and the 21 hamlets safeguarded by UNESCO. Then, there is the Ecce Italia Consortium, which gathers the best companies of typical agro-food and handicraft products, placed, of course, in the village; a tour operator – Borghi Italia Tour Network – promoter of international relevance routes, and the company Borghi Servizi & Ambiente, whose main aim is to realize works and services needed to improve the environment, the organization structure and the territory’s resources.
The Club is now a recognized entity, not only as a res tipica of the Peninsula, but also as a fundamental component of Les plus beaux villages de la Terre, a transnational organization that includes villages in Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Belgium, Romania, Korea and Canada.

Regional Variations

With twenty-six certified villages on two hundred and seventy national ones, Umbria is the region with the highest proportion of associated municipalities, counting one in four.
No surprise, if we think about the region’s conformation, where villages have become centers of high-quality agro-food production and specialized handmade crafts. They are also equipped to accommodate companies belonging to the tertiary sector, if they want to produce in a quiet and harmonious place.
In order to enhance these unique characteristics, in February 2016 the Association of I Borghi più Belli d’Italia in Umbria, the territorial variation of the national club, was founded in Spello. The goal, as President Antonio Luna states, is to become a Tourist Planning Center to promote Umbrian villages’ attractiveness and hospitality services, integrating agri-food, innovation and tourism sectors.
All of this with the approval of ANCI Umbria, which houses its headquarters, the provinces of Perugia and Terni, which provide the Press Office, the TGR Rai 3 of Umbria, which has presented one by one the twenty-six associated villages, the Regional UNIPLI, partner in the organization of historical events, and the Department of Economics of the University of Perugia, who signed a protocol for the research and development of the hamlets.
The password is an acronym that could only be UMBRIA: Unicity, Mysticism, Hamlets (borghi), Relationship, Identity, Environment (Ambiente), just to find out its identifying elements.

Achievements and Purposes

On the horizon, then, there are purposes with evocative names: a landscaping economy project, an economy for villages in the advanced tertiary, a cataloguing work of one hundred identity festivals in Umbrian villages and a prominent presence at the Rural Tourism Show, organized in Bastia Umbra on October 6th-8th, 2017.
Some initiatives come easily, if we think of the results achieved. Since 2015, new holiday packages have been developed, marketed by Borghi Italia Tour Network tour operator, in order to show St. Francis mystical Umbria, St. Valentine’s romantic one, the Etruscan territory and the Middle and Upper Tiber Valley. These are routes that unwind not only among the hamlets, but also among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among the archaeological and religious sites, as well as places remarkable for their beautiful landscape and historical richness. The same routes were then promoted at EXPO 2015, through the thirteen representatives present.
The conferences were not lacking, as they are useful to discover not only the Association’s work, but also the characteristics of the villages themselves, which are crucial in defining the landscape in turn. Significant was the management of the event, Borghi, Viaggio Italiano – Giornata dedicate all’Umbria (Hamlets, An Italian Trip – Umbria’s Day), held on May 10th, 2017 at Terme di Diocleziano, under the aegis of eighteen regions led by Emilia Romagna and MIBACT to celebrate 2017, recognized by Minister Franceschini as «the year of the villages».
Finally, the Association created the national event called The Romantic Night of Italian Villages, that sees Umbria in its first place thanks to its twenty-three participant municipalities. The romantic night will be an opportunity to admire the boroughs hug by a unique atmosphere, animated by cultural and entertainment events.

Who knows what the great biographer Giorgio Vasari would have written about the art of Giovan Battista Salvi (1609 – 1685), called Sassoferrato. The question arises by visiting the exhibition at the Tesori d’Arte Gallery, inside the medieval Abbey of St. Peter in Perugia: Sassoferrato. From Louvre to St. Peter. The reunited collection. open until October 1st, 2017.

An interesting itinerary allows the visitor to discover the painter’s skills, acquired through the example of previuos artists, without omitting epithets and depictions that critics gave to him.
Probably Vasari would have defined him a good academic painter, or perhaps he’d have remarked a lack of creativity. Without any doubt today is taking place an important revaluation of the artist: another exhibition dedicated to his grafic skills have been set up in Sassoferato, the discrict where the painter was born.
Thanks to the collaboration between public institutions and private collectors, the exhibition in Perugia combines pieces coming from italian and international loans: as the title underlines, the biggest thanks goes to the french museum for the temporary concession of the Immaculate Conception, painted originally for the Benedectine Abbey of Saint Peter.

Sassoferrato, Saint Apollonia

The itinerary guides the visitors by partition walls and changing direction corners, while the intense red color of the panels confers a solemn and celebratory atmosphere. Paintings are under spotlights. Watching at the long corridor expository walls, you will understand how the lesson of XV and XVI Centuries predecessors is the foundation for Salvi’s compositions and contents. Some great masters works had flanked Sassoferrato’s paintings, following one another in constant comparison. Often accused by the critic to be only a formal copier, «Sassoferrato doesn’t believe in the evolution of art»: those are the words of Vittorio Sgarbi, one of the exhibit curators.[1]

 

In Sassoferrato’s art the inspiration from popular models contributes to the definition of a personal artistic growth and style.
His reactionary attitude takes him close to the formal purity of Perugino’s style: Giovan Battista Salvi elaborated, since the beginning of his career, a plain tone, a pious and devonational reverence, easy to find in saints’ figures.
Young ladies with fine oval visages embody deferential saints, fixed by the painter in static poses: their simple and academic lineaments, soft shapes and firm gazes, contribute to a contemplative and prayerful appearence.
Among the various paintings of saints realized by Sassoferrato there are two representations of Saint Apollonia. The saint holds in the hand the pincers with the extracted tooth, symbol of her martyrium, in the same position painted already by Timoteo Viti, in his XV century version of the subject. Sassoferato represents Saint Apollonia with a kind of mute and still expression, as he would remind us the sad fate she encountered.

Tintoretto, The Penitent Magdalene

A beautiful piece representing The penitent Magdalene is borrowed from the Musei Capitolini, painted in 1598 by Domenico Robusti, son of Jacopo Robusti called Tintoretto. The enchanting young woman shines with brilliant light touches: glints on her amber curly hair unveil the powerful Venetian treatment of light, as appears also from the fascinating contrast between the moonlight on the background and the divine ray beautifying the sensuous Redeemed.
In his own depiction of the saint, Giovan Battista Salvi recalls the formal composition of Domenico Tintoretto, avoiding however that languorous and romantic tone, in favor of a misurated and quite manner.

Above: Sassoferrato, Hope with two Angels. Below: Faith with two Angels

Continuing on the path, the eye is captured by three big canvas, decreasing in sizes, all copies of The Deposition by Raphael: the third one is realized by our painter. Hanging up on the red wall, the same scene is repeated in slow motion, as one would stand at the mirror of time, watching the art remembering herself.
The exercise of copyng by Raphael is not ended: the vibrant colours of the Deposition are softened then by two little paintings represented the Hope and the Faith with two little angels, taken from the same altarpiece commissioned to Raphael by Baglioni family of Perugia.
Traditionalist and academic, Sassoferrato realized different versions of the Madonna del Giglio, displaying his adherence to XIV century language.
An intimate sweetness characterizes his candied virgins, sometimes portrayed in contained ecstasy, some others praying silently. Always the same graceful features, distant in space and time.
The culmination of those features takes form in the celestial representation of the Immaculate Conception: the Virgin in glory sourrended by smiling cherubs, floats on a cloud, ending the itineray through the art of Sassoferrrato.

 

The exhibition releases the artist, contextualizing his style in a continuum of meaningful comparisons.
It is dedicated to those people who want to immerse themeselves in a silent and reflexing atmosphere, discovering the treasures exposed at the Gallery. Visiting the exhibition with an attitude of formal observance and quitness, as Sassoferrato’s characters, will pay the best tribute to the artist.

Sassoferrato, Immacoulate Conception

More on Perugia

 


[1] http://www.ilgiornale.it/news/sassoferrato-ovvero-larte-essere-noioso-e-sublime-1379228.html

«It was the year 800 and on the hills separating Città di Castello from Umbertide were settled the people called Arienati who, according to a book written by Lucantonio Canizi in 1626, were living in the Upper Tiber Valley at the time, divided in six castles.»

History

With these words an old article begins the history of Montone;[1] while Mario Tabarrini wrote that the «original Montone would have been destroyed by Goths and that it was rebuilt only around 1000»[2]. We know for sure that the first document illustrating Montone as castrum with a castaldo (a steward) – subdivided into two small villages with a parish church, whose properties were placed between the estates of Marquis del Colle (later called di Monte S. Maria) and the ones of the Benedictine Monastery of Camporeggiano – dates back to 1121.

 

Andrea Fortebraccio, noto come Braccio da Montone (Perugia, 1 luglio 1368 – L’Aquila, 5 giugno 1424), foto Wikipedia

On January 1200, the two brothers Fortebraccio and Oddone, Leonardo’s sons, applied for the citizenship in Perugia, ceding their properties right to the municipality and so becoming part of the town nobility, and taking home in the district of Porta S. Angelo. Also Montone was included in Porta S. Angelo countryside, but the signature of this agreement by the town consuls caused the revolt of Olivi family’s faction, opponent of Fortebracci’s, supported by Città di Castello. The subsequent defeat of people from Città di Castello forced Montone’s inhabitants, as the other defeated castles, to take the palio (the city prize) to Sant’Ercolano. The submission was reaffirmed in 1216 together «with the obligation to always bear, in peace as in wartime, the same destiny of Perugia».[3]
From that moment on – and for the next two centuries- Montone lingered tied to Perugia, although desired by Città di Castello, until Perugia subdued Città di Castello too.
1368 was a landmark for Montone, because on July 1st was born Andrea Braccio da Montone, the greatest of all Umbrian condottieri (some historians say that he was born precisely in Montone, some others in Perugia). In 1392 he fought side by side with the aristocratic families of Perugia against Raspanti‘s faction, but the latter prevailed and banished from Perugia all the defeated opponents, so that Braccio took refuge in Montone. From there, in 1394 he tried to occupy Fratta (today Umbertide) in order to prevail Raspanti to take it, but he fell into an ambush and took captive. Biordo Michelotti, Raspanti’s leader, freed him but demanded Montone as a reward, therefore the «adventure of Fratta required Braccio’s honour and his family’s feud».[4]
Later, Braccio left Montone to serve Florence. After Biordo Michelotti’s death the exiles tried to return to Perugia, so Braccio, in alliance with Bartolomeo degli Oddi called il Miccia, together with a squad tried to seize Perugia, but the town ruled itself to the Duke of Milan as an attempt to defend itself. Later, Braccio served Alberico da Barbiano, who was fighting people from Bologna, then King of Naples, Ladislao. In August 28th, 1414, the antipope Giovanni XXIII granted Braccio and his descendants the perpetual dominion over Montone. In 1416, Braccio assaults Perugia and, after a gory fight, got a crushing victory at Sant’Egidio, so on July 19th he made a triumphal entry into Perugia, where he was praised as leader. Later, he conquered Todi, Terni, Narni, Orvieto, Montefeltro and Urbino.
Braccio Fortebracci died for battle wounds after he fought for L’Aquila in 1424. With his death the pope reoccupied the lands conquered by Braccio and in 1478 Montone became the completing part of the Stato della Chiesa: its walls were destroyed as well as family Fortebracci’s dwelling “which was one of the most beautiful and sumptuous of Italy»[5]. «At Braccio’s death […] the village ceased to be one of the most important in the Italian Medieval history and the its name occurred far less in the chronicles of the time»[6]. Nonetheless, the history of Montone went on and from 1518 to 1640 in the county (promoted to a marquisate in 1607) it was witnessed the presence of family Vitelli from Città di Castello, to whom pope Leone X had given that county as a reward for the aid received in gaining the Duchy of Urbino. The last marquis was Chiappino Vitelli, whose death meant for Montone the subjection to the Church of Rome. After Napoleon, Montone remained a free municipality, while during the Kingdom of Italy it became part of Umbertide‘s district.

St. Francis Church

St. Francis Church, photo by Enrico Mezzasoma

The construction of the St. Francis Church dates back to the first decade of the Fourteenth Century, but recent researches by Maria Rita Silvestrelli have produced new results about the history of the Franciscan settlement, which now is documented since 1268.[7] The church is located within the walls of the town, in the place named Castelvecchio, one of the six castles at the entrance of Carpina and Tiber Valley. «Thus, while on the hill called il Monte, dominated Fortebracci and Olivi’s mansions, symbol of war and power, on the other hill, where there was an oratory dedicated to St. Ubaldo since ancient times, Minori Conventuali built their church as an emblem of peace and charity»[8].
The church, whose architect is unknown, has the typical body of religious buildings of the Ordini mendicanti: simple and linear shapes, a central single nave with polygonal apse, truss roof.

St. Francis Church Interior, courtesy of Comune di Montone

The remains of the oldest frescoes, dated on to the second half of the Fourteenth Century, suggest that since its construction the church has been subjected to a wide decorative intervention, nevertheless the most important ones would be achieved the following century when it became the church of Fortebracci Family, who enriched it with altars, furnishings and paintings. St. Francis‘s Life and Last Judgement scenes are made by Antonio Alberti (from Ferrara), called Braccios painter, between 1423 and 1424. The altar in the middle of the left wall was built as an ex voto for the birth of Bernardino, Carlo Fortebracci‘s son and Braccio’s grandson. Bernardino, as you can see on the memorial plaque in the bottom, commissioned to Bartolomeo Caporali (from Perugia) a fresco to complete the altar desired by his father. Indeed Margherita Malatesta, Carlo’s wife, commissioned to Bartolomeo Caporali a gonfalon. In the early years of Sixteenth century the church was embellished with beautiful carved wooden doors by Bencivenni da Mercatello. During the French occupation the complex suffered serious damage and a fire destroyed the extensive archive of the church-convent, which lost of the most part of the documents stored there, apart from all the contents and the frescoes.
Today, the church is an integral part of the museum complex that consists in the City Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum, besides St. Francis Church. Among the most important works in the City Art Gallery, praiseworthy is the Deposizione, a wooden group coming from the old parish church of San Gregorio Magno out of the city walls, the Madonna della Misericordia painted by Bartolomeo Caporali, Fortebracci’s family trees and Annunciazione by the Signorelli Art School. The Ethnographic Museum Il Tamburo parlante was set up on the purpose to collect and sistematically exhibit the objects from Africa that the anthropologist Enrico Castelli collected during his journeys.

The Holy Thorn

The Holy Thorn, courtesy of Comune di Montone

Enclosed in a precious silver reliquary, in the past it was kept in the church of San Francesco, while now it is conserved at the collegiate church of Santa Maria Assunta. Many books mention it, but the most detailed one is undoubtedly Lettera istorico-genealogica della famiglia Fortebracci da Montone written by Giovanni Vincenzo Giobbi Fortebracci, who tells how «living count Carlo, since he felt a great attachment to his own country, he wanted to award it by giving a valuable gift, and in 1473 he sent to Montone one of the thorn which crowned Our Lord Jesus Christ, and he positioned it in the church of San Francesco Minori Conventuali, where today it is still kept with remarkable consideration and veneration. It is absolutely reasonable to believe that it is the thorn that, more than the others, pierced Christ’s head, and this is supported by a lot of facts, such as being completely covered by his precious blood, two very fine hairs, that seem to be plaited, blood-soaked, overcoming the top of the thorn, and you can see their radicle at the bottom. But what is terrific and marvellous above all, every Good Friday on the hour of his Passion, the Thorn becomes lush again, the Blood dissolves, and you can see small aureate white flowers appear on both sides together, blue and green with some blooms that appear and disappear; as if that precious blood would boil and the Thorn wouldn’t have been dry for thousands of years, but as if it would be picked just now, at this time, from a verdant living thorn thicket. Count Carlo, as Generale de’ Venetiani, received this wonderful Relic by the archpriest of villa di Tugnano, county of Verona, and he sent it to Montone together with its authentication, which I have seen many times as it is preserved in a vellum inside the wardrobe of the Sacrestia de’ Minori Conventuali»[9]. Two centuries later, Angelo Ascani attests that the vellum «now is impossible to find, but this doesn’t detract from the veracity of the transfer to Montone of such a precious relic» adding «let’s leave as they are the legendary flourishing of the wonders happened after its arrival at Montone […] which is a figment of the popular imagination typical of the Seventeenth Century or so»[10]. Moreover, he harks back to Annali of Montone that report the feasts started in 1597 for the ostension of the Holy Thorn, while the positioning of the relic inside the silver and fine chiseled reliquary dates back to 1635, as recorded by a parochial manuscript, and it was established to move the feast from Good Friday to Easter Monday ever since.[11]
On April 1703, a letter arrives from Rome to the Vice Governor of Montone: «the traditional celebration held there during the second Easter day for the Ostension of the Holy Thorn has attracted a wide audience. So, to prevent any serious disorder, You will order the Captain deputy, as usual, to guard the Gate with twenty-five men and make everyone enters give any kind of weapon.» The historical re-enactment of the Donation of the Holy Thorn was born out of an idea of the association of Pro Loco Montonese in 1961. At the beginning, the re-enactment was tied to the ostension of the Holy Thorn, with the arrival of Count Carlo Fortebracci at the square bringing the relic as a gift to the people of Montone, but in the years that followed the feast has been enriched particularly in the part of the pageant. Also the three Rioni of Montone, Porta del Borgo, Porta del Monte and Porta del Verziere started to be present in the pageant with their banners and couples of nobles. To the Seventies of the Twentieth Century dates back the organization of Palio dei Rioni, which is awarded after a challenge between the archers.

For further information about the historical re-enactment see: here

 

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[1] Una finestra sull’Umbria. Montone, Spoleto, Panetto & Petrelli, 1968, p. 3.
[2] M. TABARRINI, Montone, in M. TABARRINI, L’Umbria si racconta, v. E-O, p. 418.
[3] P. PELLINI, Dell’historia di Perugia, Venezia, Giovanni Giacomo Hertz, 1664, v. 1, p. 238.
[4] A. ASCANI, Montone. La patria di Braccio Fortebracci, Città di Castello, GESP, 1992, p. 56.
[5] P. PELLINI, Dell’historia di Perugia, Venezia, Giovanni Giacomo Hertz, 1664, v. 2, p. 769.
[6] P. PELLINI, Una finestra sull’Umbria. Montone, Spoleto, Panetto & Petrelli, 1968, p. 8.
[7] P. PELLINI, M. R. SILVESTRELLI, Appunti sulla storia e larchitettura della chiesa di San Francesco, in G. SAPORI, Museo comunale di San Francesco a Montone, Perugia, Electa, 1997, p. 23.
[8] A. ASCANI, Montone. La patria di Braccio Fortebracci, Città di Castello, GESP, 1992, p. 250.
[9] G.V. GIOBBI FORTEBRACCI, Lettera istorico-genealogica della famiglia Fortebracci da Montone, Bologna, Giacomo Monti, 1689, pp. 84-85.
[10] A. ASCANI, Montone. La patria di Braccio Fortebracci, Città di Castello, GESP, 1992, p. 263.
[11] Notizia riferita da A. ASCANI, cit., p. 264.