12 November, 2019
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«He was disciple of Angelico Friar John, rightly loved by him, and by those who knew him and considered him a man of great talent and a very skilled painter in representing animals, perspectives, landscapes and ornaments» . (Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani da Cimabue, insino a’ tempi nostri)

 Few are the biographical data about the Florentine Benozzo di Lese di Sandro, better known as Benozzo Gozzoli. Close collaborator of Beato Angelico, indeed his partner, he loved to reproduce his master bloodless expressive dolls, without exceeding him, without going beyond the border. Anyway, in his first works he was able to reach an admirable balance between the firmness of forms in full light and disarming white light.

 

The Annunciation at the Pinacoteca of Narni

A Huge Signed Painting

These characters are perfectly recognizable in the Umbrian works made by the painter. Not only in the cycle of the stories of the life of Saint Francis, frescoed in the homonymous church of Montefalco, but also in the Annunciation of the Virgin, an altarpiece found in Narni and still preserved in the Picture Galley of the town.
The work is a great tempera on a table, 117 cm wide and 142 high; its attribution is certain, as it is signed by the painter himself who, along the lower edge of the brocade curtain behind the Virgin, engraved in capital letters «OPV[S] BENOTI[I] DE FLORENTI[A]». This is not the only inscription but another one is on the mantel of the Virgin: «AV[E] REGINA».
The characters of the altarpiece, the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, are in a portico, of which there are two pillars. The Virgin, with her hands crossed on her chest, is kneeling on a small stool, tracing the model of the Angelico in the third cell of the convent of San Marco in Florence. In the upper part, the rays of light are still partially visible, probably originally completed by the figure, now lost, of the Eternal or the Dove of the Holy Spirit that lit up the scene from above. The refinement of the work is reflected in the care and elegance of the details, such as in the highlights of the fingernails of the characters, the realism of the double keys and the refined inlay decoration of the wooden box behind Maria.

Damages and Restorations

The work is very damaged and has undergone several restoration interventions (1901, 1933, 1947, 1952, 1988, 2002). The author’s signature was already visible before the 1988 intervention, although this is the date that has always been accepted for the discovery of the inscription, actually, already in 1959, Castellani could see it. In any case, perhaps  between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, due to the bad state of conservation, it was no longer easily readable, so much so that the Guardabassi attributed the table to Pierantonio Mezzastris, while Eroli considered it more generically of «Umbrian  School».
To attribute it to Benozzo Gozzoli was Pératé in 1907 which dated it to 1450-1452. The attribution to Gozzoli was also accepted by Gnoli, who subsequently placed the painting around 1449, considering it «the most ancient work of the Florentine master». Even today the painting is dated around 1449, at an early stage of the Florentine master’s stay in Umbria which extended over a period of five years. In 1449 the painter is documented in Orvieto, a city not too far from Narni, which at the time represented an important center of the Papal State, not too far from Rome.
As for the location, Guardabassi, at the end of the nineteenth century, places it in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, today San Domenico, and writes: «II Chapel. The entrance was architected at the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty of the lines correspond to ornamental sculptures. Indoor. Left Wall: Tempered table – the Annunciation; work of the Mezzasti[1]». From Eroli, on the other hand, we know that in 1898 the work was no longer there: «The second chapel was stripped of its ornaments, as well as the paintings that embellished it (…) I do not forget a small table, which I saw here set on the right wall of the altar, having in itself the Annunciation, which I have no doubt in attributing to the Umbrian school; but the worms have done damage, and will soon perish, if the Town Hall, which today has custody, does not cure it and heals it».

A Client's Matter

If the attribution of the work is certain, the commission is uncertain. The proximity of Narni to Orvieto has revealed  the probable link with a work depicting the Annunciation, which had been requested to Benozzo by a «domina Gianna Gregorii» and which had remained incomplete due to the insolvency of the client. Benozzo then tried to give the painting to the members of the Opera of the Cathedral of Orvieto, offering  them to complete the work begun at his expense. The members accepted the offer declaring themselves willing to bear the cost of the colors, provided that the emblem of Donna Gianna was replaced with that of the Fabbrica del Duomo. Of this painting, however, neither the fate nor the execution technique is known, but it is not excluded that the work was the one arrived in an unknown way to Narni.
Another hypothesis is that Benozzo had got in touch with the Dominican friars of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Narni through Angelico’s intermediation. Actually, various iconographic elements, combined with the original location within the Dominican church, lead to a more narnese commissioning.

Symbols

Some apparently decorative details, actually, have a strongly symbolic function; if we accept the Narnese commissioning, they can provide important clues not only on the client itself, but also on the destination of the work. The decorative motif of the carpet at the feet of Mary is of particular importance, it consists of a bevy of black dogs, placed all around the Madonna, almost deployed in her defense. It is probable that an allusion to the Friar Preachers should be seen according to a word play based on their Latin name. The Dominicanes,  followers of Domenico, considered themselves Lord’s Dogs, in Latin Domini canes, as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy, in particular for their function as inquisitors of heresies. Another element that reinforces this thesis is given by the color of the dogs, black with a white outline. These are the same colors of the dress worn by the friars of the Order of Preachers. Moreover, as already mentioned, Benozzo got in touch with the Dominicans thanks to his long fellowship with Beato Angelico and with this monastic order he remained always bound by doing many works for it in different cities. Another element in favor of the Narnese client is the floral decoration on the pillars of the arcade that divides the Archangel Gabriel from the Annunziata. The leaves are clearly ivy leaves, depicted in both the stylized heart and naturalistic shapes. The heart-shaped version of these is distinctive of the House of the Eroli and are present in the coat of arms of the noble family of Narni that in this historical period enriched the city churches with many works of art. Therefore, what looked like just a decoration probably represents a precise reference to the client and is placed significantly at the center of the work. It is very probable that the client was the cardinal Berardo Eroli who, given his close relations with some of the greatest exponents of the political and religious world of the time (Niccolò V, the Medici in Florence, Sant’Antonino Pierozzi, for example,  might have come into contact with the Florentine artist and entrusted him with  his work.

 


[1] M. Guardabassi, Indice-guida dei monumenti pagani e cristiani riguardanti l’istoria e l’arte esistenti nella provincia dell’Umbria, p. 134, Perugia, G. Boncompagni,1872

 


City Museum is located in via Aurelio Saffi, 1 – Narni (TR)

Opening time:

April-June

from Tuesday to Sunday, holidays and pre-holidays 10.30am – 1.00pm/3.30pm – 6.00pm closed

on Mondays

September

every day 10.30am – 1.00pm/3.30pm – 6.00pm

October-March

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, holidays and pre-holydays 10.30am – 1.00pm/3.00pm – 5.30pm

Closed  on 25th December.  On 1st January  afternoon time only.

Telephone: 0039 0744 717117

E-mail: narni@sistemamuseo.it

 


Bibliography:

G. Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori et scultori italiani, da Cimabue a’ tempi nostri, Firenze, per i tipi di Lorenzo Torrentino, 1550

E. Lunghi, Benozzo Gozzoli a Montefalco, Assisi, Editrice Minerva, 2010

A. Novelli, L. Vignoli, L’arte a Narni tra Medioevo e Illuminismo, Perugia, Era Nuova, 2004

B. Toscano, G. Capitelli, Benozzo Gozzoli allievo a Roma, maestro in Umbria, Silvana Editoriale, 2002

U. Gnoli, L’arte umbra alla Mostra di Perugia, p.32, Bergamo, Istituto italiano d’arti grafiche, 1908

M. Guardabassi, Indice-guida dei monumenti pagani e cristiani riguardanti l’istoria e l’arte esistenti nella provincia dell’Umbria, Perugia, G. Boncompagni,1872

G. Eroli, Descrizione delle chiese di Narni e suoi dintorni: le più importanti rispetto all’antichità e alle belle arti, Narni, Tipografia Petrignani, 1898

Diane Cole Ahl, Benozzo Gozzoli , Cinisello Balsamo, Silvana Editoriale, 1997

«The purpose of a referee is to be part of the show and not to be remembered».

Fabrizio Saltalippi, 55-year-old from Perugia. He spent 39 years to referee the volleyball matches. He only has three months left until the retirement, but in his palmarès there are 500 matches in Serie A, 180 international matches, three European Championships and two World Championships. An authentic Umbrian excellence of this sport.

 

Fabrizio Saltalippi

What is your link with Umbria?

It is a very strong bond. I was born and raised in Perugia, and I still live there. Although I have been working out of my region for twenty years, both in Italy and abroad, I have never thought about leaving this city. I would not move from Perugia for any reason.

Last August, you were nominated to referee the inaugural match of the European Volleyball Championship in Poland: how do you face – psychologically and physically – such an event?

This match was important for two reasons: the first because it was the inaugural match of an European Championship, so it had a high-level media impact; the secondo ne, was the fact that Poland had the “brilliant” idea of ​​playing it – to beat the attendance record – in the Warsaw football stadium, in front of an audience of 65 thousand spectators. Such an environment, of course, puts pressure, so our training is very important and helps to maintain concentration and manage anxiety. During the game you feel responsible for what happens and hope that everything goes in the best way. On that occasion everything went smoothly, even though Poland lost 3-0 against Serbia. I remember that the first minutes were a bit ‘difficult, then began the routine and the game has turned into a normal routine match.

You are a veteran of these events, during three European Championships and two World Cup Championships you represented Italy: what do you think when you enter the field during these events?

I have never felt the stress and the tension before a match, but only the desire to take the field and the pleasure of having fun and entertaining. The task of the referee is to be part of the show, to give the opportunity to the public to enjoy a good game, all without being noticed. If a referee, at the end of the match, is not remembered, it means he that did a great job.

When you take off your uniform you take a break or you usually think about some eventual mistake or decisions taken during a match?

As soon as YOU take off your uniform there is a drop in tension and you get rid of adrenalina, but you do not stop thinking about the match. I usually have a critical revision of it. Regarding the fact of watching the video of the match, I focus mainly on situations challenged in the field because, if I made a mistake I need to realize it a sit helps to grow and to avoid repeating them, while, if my decision was correct, it is a personal gratification, and it helps a lot too.

The volleyball in Umbria, especially in Perugia, is getting good results, and it has many supporters, can we consider it an excellence of the territory?

Volleyball is definitely an excellence, just think of everything that Sirio Perugia has won in the past or what Sir Safety Umbria Volley is now doing. However, it is necessary to strengthen the minor series, starting from the foundations.

Such as the youth sectors?

Exactly This is essential. Young people are attracted, unfortunately distracted by football. Once a boy who was over one metre and eighty centimetres tall played volleyball, but now he can also play football. This sport is affected.

A suggestion to a young man who would like to start a referee career…

Loving this sport, almost more than a player, beyond the goals that can be achieved. Having passion, enthusiasm and the desire to become part of the game itself. The referee is not a detached entity, is part of the game and the show in all respects.

How would you describe Umbria in three words?

Green, unique, splendid.

The first thing that comes to your mind thinking of this region…

The architectural beauties. When I am abroad and people ask me where I live, I realize that few people know Umbria, so I explain that it is the land of the Etruscans, a civilization more ancient than the Roman one, I hope to intrigue them…

The English painter Graham Dean creates «beautiful models, athletes, crazy bondage enthusiasts, identical twins, people with skin imperfections» using their bodies as «vehicles of expression»[1]. Through his stunning and innovative watercolours, he narrates emotions, ideas and memories, playing with colour contrasts and multiple layers. Looking at his reds, we can easily imagine the brightness of India, but we can barely imagine that he could be inspired also by Umbria.

 

It was 1992 when Graham Dean, born in Birkenhead, Merseyside, came to Italy to spend six months at the British School in Rome. He won a prestigious art award – the Senior Abbey Award in Painting – and he had the possibility to live for a while in the residential institution of the British School and to visit Rome and the cities nearby. From that moment on, Italy got under his skin.
During his many visits out of Rome, Graham went to the well-known town of Assisi and then, on his way back, he stopped in a village near lake Trasimeno.
«I didn’t know anything about Umbria and I was taken aback by the lake and its surroundings, wondering why that place was such a secret. Why didn’t more people know about this place?» states Graham. «Back in Rome, I vowed that one day I would return to buy a house and, if possible, a studio».

 

 

It was just the beginning: Graham Dean, who has made a lot of solo exhibitions all over the world, got struck by Umbria’s and now, he owns a studio-house between Migliano and San Vito, about 15 minutes out of Marsciano. He visits the house, surrounded by fields and the river Fersinone, about five or six times a year.
«I work on projects in the studio or on ideas. I found an enormous time to think and reflect. I have found, over the fifteen years I own the house in Migliano, that is the only one environment where I can completely relax in. There is an atmosphere that is difficult to describe unless you experience it, but everyone who visits says the same thing. I’m trying not to view through rose tinted glasses, as I know it can be economically harder for people to make a good living, especially for the young».
As a painter of the human body, Graham Dean has found that he’s slowing turning his attention towards the idea of landscape and the sense of other that he and his friends experience at the house. He feels like Umbria is a new territory for him to explore.

What would it be his next step? He would like to put on a large showing of his work in Umbria and he’s still waiting to be asked! Even though a number of younger painters wanted to show him, the authorities didn’t, so it slowly came to a halt. But who knows? We bet that sooner o later you will see Graham Dean’s large paintings in one of the Umbrian museums.

 


Sources:     www.grahamdean.com

 

[1] Adapted from an article by Galerie Maubert, Paris. September 2011, in http://grahamdean.com/about/

«The mountains are silent masters that make silent disciples», wrote Goethe. Inflexible masters who evoke the mysteries and torments of silence in the soul of those who listen to them. Ancestral places where earth and sky unite, where verticality merges with mass, with the heaviness of the earth. Stone cathedrals and memories where the caducity of the land enlenìvens in contact with heaven.

Pian di Chiavano

 

The Altopiano di Chiavano is nothing more than the rock bridge that still preserves the relationship between earth and sky, the stage of an ancient amphitheater whose audiences are lost among the mosaics of clouds.
It is as if a painter’s brush had lingered on this part of the Valnerina by drawing the skyline of countries and countryside in which the human being promptly crept in. But never nature has lent itself docile to the intervention of man: small funds taken from the mountain, improvised pastures and uneven tracts that, losing themselves in the heart of the plateau, seem to remind those who observe them that here Nature always manifests itself according to Leopardi’s ideal: mother and stepmother, double face of the same coin. Modeled by the human labors to assume an almost human profile, the countryside appears composed, almost asleep, in a vortex of pastel colors and shadow games, in a chromatic progress much more similar to the landscapes of ancient Scotland than to the typical hilly environment of Umbria.

Natural scenographies

In times of ruinous loss of cultural identity, the Chiavano Plateau jealously preserves dusty reminiscences of a still alive folk tradition, which resists stoically with the disappearance of its earliest treasurers. A popular tradition considered as the summary of many lives, capable of mysteriously interpenetrating the meaning of things, even the most common. Near the junction point of the ancient Roman road system rises Coronella, a town that owes its name to the marble column used by the Romans as a reference in the construction of any road system[1]. A ghost town, which appears and disappears behind trees grown in abandoned gardens; a country that lives only on the 15th of August, the day when the church shutters are reopened, on a feast that is as simple as it is felt. The mystery of faith that lives again in improvised processions, in sacred kiosks that indicate the path to follow to the shepherd and the flock by the mountain route, in those climbs that are above all life experiences.
On the scenic backdrop of these peaks, the shadows of the empty and silent dwellings, unarmed in front of the inexorable passing of time, are projected. But it is precisely this silence that leaves space for introspection, a silence that is empty of words, but not emotions. Yet there are plenty of silences and catching the differences is not easy. Some are atrocious: silences of death and chilling loneliness, while others are desired, long awaited or surprisingly unexpected. Eloquent silences in which the principle of non-contradiction also fails. Silences in which fear and courage converge, tears and smiles, questions and answers, coincidentia oppositorum.

 

The relationship between man and earth

Stormy peaks, but for what they evoke in the soul of those who scrutinize them. And then, the best attitude to be implemented is the one of attention, the one of stopping to contemplate. Because we are not always able to immediately understand the hidden message behind the silence of nature. Ancient figures, almost sinister, inhabit this silent plateau. Gnarled hands and faces dug by sweat, a bitter sweat that finds its reason in the generous fruits of the earth. People used to the tiring mountain life, which rejects the easy idols of so-called progress. And it is in those gnarled hands that the most intimate meaning of this morbid attachment to the earth is to be sought, of this strong devotion to fatigue and work, which is ennobled, but which makes man similar to the beasts. Yet it seems that between the peasants and nature there is an almost mystical relationship, able to break the link with the sacred and mix with the profane to merge as a single stream in the vast ocean of popular tradition. A complex territory that not even its oldest inhabitant knows deep down, a cauldron of traditions, culture and stories whose origins seem to be lost in the mists of time.
A land that exudes popular wisdom, in which the ghosts and memories of a distant past are superimposed, but never forgotten. A glorious past, which has its roots in the splendor of ancient Rome and in the countryside surrounding the small village of Villa San Silvestro, a village of just twenty souls became famous for the presence of a Roman temple probably dedicated to Hercules. The genesis of the hero to whom the temple is dedicated, the result of the carnal union between the terrestrial Alcmena and Jupiter, seems to further strengthen the relationship between this earth and the sky, between matter and the celestial, between what is human and the divine. On the podium of the Roman temple stands the church of the village, in the point where, in a not too distant past, votive choirs were raised aimed at the deities of the Roman pantheon, in a place where a deep fear of the divine dwells.
And it is precisely from Chiavano that begins our journey, from the terrace overlooking this wild land whose children, both in the great deeds and in those daily, have managed to express a value and a passion in some cases almost heroic, that only those who live one step from heaven he manages to show off in the hardest battles, in those superhuman silences that make noise.

 


[1] Si tratta della cosiddetta pietra miliare vedi http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/miliare1/.