29 February, 2020
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Assisi, well-known as St. Francis’s homeland, as well as being considered a mystical land of saints and prayers, preserves and transmits the art of a typically feminine craft. It probably came from the canvases made and used by the Order of Clares in order to take care of their sister Clare, forced to infirmity.

The Assisi Stich, pic via

We are taking about the Assisi Stitch, a type of a geometric embroidery made by a simple technique, but with a very refined result. A typical monochromatic pattern is performed on linen cloth and, it is traditionally blue or rust brown (more rarely in green, yellow and red).

The dyes

Originally the canvases were woven by hand and the yarns were colored by natural dyeing. They made it so until the 19th century. At that time, there were a lot of dyeing plants which permit the main colors to be obtained: from the woad (Isatis tinctoria), for example, they obtained several shades of blue, from the vivid tones to a very pale one. Even from the humble origins of colors and raw materials used in the Assisi stitch speak of the vocation to the essentiality and poverty that strongly characterized the early Franciscans.

The technique

The Assisi stitch is a counted thread embroidery – twisted yarn n° 20 DMC – made on a natural linen cloth with a regular warp, which is called also Tela Assisi.
The embroidery is executed in three steps. First, the contours are traced with a filza stitch, using a black yarn or a darker one than the thread chosen for the fill; then the bottom of the tracing is filled with the yarn of the chosen color by cross-stitching. Finally the work is completed with the edges, executed in a square point. As a finishing touch, they used to embellish the corners of tablecloths or the cushions by applying three tassel made with the embroidery thread. They use a needle with a rounded point.

 

The Assisi stitch in History

There are testimonies of the presence of objects made in Assisi point already since 1300, as well as in the famous pictorial cycle made by Giotto in the Upper Basilica of San Francesco: in the Death of the Knight of Celano is depicted a tablecloth embroidered with the motifs of the Assisi stitch.
The early drawings (those that are now commonly referred to as work patterns) initially rather primitive become, from the 15th century, elegant and meticulous until they reach the great refinement of the 19th and 20th centuries. Frescos, portals, finely inlaid wooden choirs represent the greatest source of inspiration for the motifs to be embroidered on canvas. Each design has a precise name: the little queen is very famous, and represents winged animal figures.

The schools

The teaching of the embroidery technique – to which many young people approached because they wanted to create their own outfit for the future marriage, or to obtain a minimum of economic independence – took place inside the convents, while in the 20th century appeared the first schools such as the Scuola delle Figlie del Popolo at the San Francesco Laboratory, founded in 1902. Today, the San Francesco Laboratory is home to the Accademia Punto Assisi, an association that promotes and enhances this ancient art of embroidery. The latter, founded in 1998 on a ministerial project, occupies the historic premises of the first laboratory set up in the city. There are three fundamental words that animate the members: protecting, passing on and spreading. Traditional embroidery classes are organized for children and adults who want to approach this endangered art, providing opportunities for exchange, collaboration and socialization. The Academy also organizes themed events and competitions to promote embroidery at national and international level.

 


Sources: Tiziana Borsellini, president and founder of the Accademia Punto Assisi www.accademiapuntoassisi.com

«I do not see a concrete design, a global project that aims to promote the knowledge of contemporary art in its various forms».

Artist, university professor and art historian and much more, it is the professor emeritus of History of Art, Bruno Toscano, born in 1930. In the post-war period, with the Group of Six and with the Spoleto Prize (National Exhibition of Figurative Arts) he helped to promote Spoleto as one of the most active centers of contemporary art: a remarkable personality for the Italian art and the Umbria itself.

 

Bruno Toscano

Professor, what is your link with Umbria?

My parents were from Calabria, but I was born and I received my first education in Spoleto. Moreover, many of my researches are focused on different aspects of Umbria.

I read that you was the founder of the first Spoleto film club: today, what is your relationship with this art?

We founded, my painters friends and me, the film club immediately after the war, in 1949, as an act of freedom. We wanted to introduce many films that had been forbidden during the Fascism period. We decided to inaugurate the cineclub with “La grande illusione” Jean Renoir’s masterpiece against the war. In the program there was a lot of French cinema of the 30s, but also the Italian Neorealism, which was exploding in those years. Overall, it was a poor cinema, in black and white.

How was Umbria, from an artistic perspective, at the time of the Group of the Six (Bruno Toscano, Giuseppe De Gregorio, Filippo Marignoli, Giannetto Orsini, Ugo Rambaldi, Piero Raspi)?

It was a period of intense activity and very far from a provincial dimension. Critics and leading artists came together from the major Italian centers to Spoleto. In the jury of the numerous editions of the Spoleto Prize, which started in 1953, there were critics such as Francesco Arcangeli, Luigi Carluccio, Marco Valsecchi and artists such as Mario Mafai, Roberto Melli and Marino Mazzacurati.

How is our region today from an artistic point of view?

I do not see an effective and global project that aims to promote the knowledge of contemporary art in its various expressionsThe Ciac of Foligno is an exception, conceived as an observatory of wide visibility. But this is no t only a problem for Umbria. It is known that the decline has deep and wide-ranging origins. When knowledge is no longer considered necessary, the level of education and the interest in history and art are lowered. 

How did Umbria influence your painting?

My paintings are linked to the places that surround me. But these are not “views”, but rather a habitat full of stimulus and very engaging. There is something maternal in the earth that surrounds us, which can’t be represented through conventional figurative forms.

How would you describe Umbria in three words?

Divided between growing areas and abandoned areas; as a consequence, impoverished; despite everything, fascinating.

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

“…fertile land of high mountain hangs …”from the “Divina Commedia” XI Canto.

«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 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/

Summer in Florence is hot, down below the Apennines and far from the sea. Even Perugia is far from the sea, but at least it is at the top of a hill and there is always a wind chill refreshing.

Surely in that hot July 1503 Pietro Vannucci was regretting his city. Work and family had brought him to Florence and he was forced to deal with the heat. There are times when the heat also takes away the power to think, not even knowing that the summer is bound to finish, can relieve the feeling of being inside an oven.
But he had to work despite the heat and, while he was working, he sucked his sugared almonds. His supplier was Di Giovanni who provided him, at a high price, with those little delights that cheer the long hours spent sitting in front of the canvases.
Di Giovanni was the apothecary of the Al Giglio pharmacy, and he was used to listen to the artists’ requests, and we’re not talking about painters or stonebreakers, but of the most famous Italian artists of the Renaissance.

 

The painter in black

In the highest spheres of Olympus there was Perugino, the painter with a round, plump face, high forehead, long hair, a cap and an elegant black velvet jacket. Perugino portrayed himself exactly like in the description above, in the Sala del Cambio in Perugia.
Pietro Vannucci from Città della Pieve, known as Perugino, was one of the most influential painters of his time, and like all the best ones, he worked in Rome for the Pope and for the most prestigious customers of that time. Perugino and his colleagues – the painters of the Renaissance – did not use much black because it was considered  the color of mourning. They preferred the delicate colors.
Pietro Vannucci used the black color in the Lamentation of the Dead Christ and in Depositions because the pain inspired by the topics required it. On the other hand, in his portraits he always wears a black jacket, perhaps because it was fashionable among the artists. Even in the portrait done by his pupil, Raphael, he wears a very elegant black jacket and on his head he has a paired black cap.

 

Il Perugino

Confetti with a heart

In July 1503 the artist sucked the sugared almonds with coriander seeds. The sugared almonds make the flavor last for a long time in the mouth. Perugino was a well-to-do gentleman who could afford confetti. Confetti had been known since Roman times because considered digestive, and Lorenzo de ‘Medici offered them at the end of his wedding dinner.
The apothecary  Di Giovanni recorded that in July the painter’s employees, bought three ounces of sugared almonds, about two hundred pounds, so as other delicacies: pink and violet sugared candies, candy quinces and other specialities which were the medicinal preparations of the time.
If Mary Poppins sang: “just a little sugar and the pill goes down”, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the processed sugar was the pill. Sugar and quinces were the base to use with spices and sauces of plants, in order to obtain medicines in the shape of dates, hands, rods and also of clamps.
Perugino was like a rich oilman and he did not pay any attention to the expenses to satisfy his pleasure and care for his big family, because the products that he bought were, from the “Florentine Pharmaceutical Recipe book of 1498: only for the rich and powerful”.

 

 

The Vannucci’s family food

Unfortunately, not everything was so easy. In 1503 his fame as a Vannucci went through a crisis because new trends were advancing and more torment in painting and sculpture was requested. The serenity of Humanism was no longer in fashion and did not correspond to the harshness of the times. The fact of not being appreciated and even criticized, as had happened at the Gonzaga court, had left its mark, and he slept badly. Di Giovanni prepared him some pills which contained poppies to reconcile sleep, as it was believed.
The apothecary’s records are precious, because he noted all the purchases of his customers allowing us to know, over the years, the diseases that occurred in the Vannucci family. So we know that the stomach and intestines were his weak points and also the same for his wife. They often sent somebody to buy the powder of Cassia and Agaric which are laxative plants, so as the Trifera persica.
This remedies of ancient Persian origins, were a very complicated preparation and contained a wide variety of plants: prunes and agaric, but also red roses, oils of violets and dried violets.
It was thought that an ancient remedy was a guarantee of effectiveness. In fact, pieces of mummy were also used, because if the mummy after millennia was still existing, it meant that it was something certainly effective.
The”stomachic things”, were good remedies for treating the stomach of his wife. Chiara Fancelli, daughter of a famous Florentine architect, was the wife and mother of Perugino’s five sons.
He  painted “Our Lady” dozens of times. To paint the Madonna he always used young and beautiful models and perhaps, the most beautiful, was Chiara Fancelli, who seems to have a fragile constitution. Perhaps because of the parties which debilitated the woman.
The products that came out of the ancient pharmacies were remedies with various indications, from the plague, to the headache, to the dog’s fleas.
At home Vannucci come two preparations that are almost panaceas, but that may have to do with childbirth. In fact, the Galen Infringing ointment was also considered an aid to labor pains, while the maidenhair water was considered useful after the birth. Will it be true? We’ll never know. But the aphotecary Di Giovanni has brought down Perugino from Olympus, close to us. Because he suffered from stomachiche and struggleed to sleep too and he loved sucking sugared and sweet things.

 


  1. A. Covi, New sources for the study of Italian Renaissance art., 1969.
  2. Covi, Tacuinum de ‘spezierie, Perugia, ali & no, 2017.

The earliest record of the hermitage dates back to 1206, but it certainly existed long before the Benedictines of the Abbey of Santa Maria di Valdiponte of Perugia decided to settle in the area. Here, they built a cistern to collect drinking water and a church with a monastery dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles. Following the environmental remediation carried out by the monks in the surrounding areas, the hermitage was now amidst vineyards and so, it was defined in Vigneto.

Hermitage of San Pietro in Vigneto

 

The hermitage is placed along a road that was very frequented in ancient times – as evidenced by the ruins of a Roman bridge over the River Chiascio near the Castle of Peglio – and it was probably a detour of Via Flaminia. A route that started from Pontericcioli on the border between Umbria and Marche, crossed Gubbio (perhaps along what today is the state road La Contessa) and, continuing towards Assisi, led to Foligno where it joined Via Flaminia. This constant transit was the reason for the construction of a shelter for pilgrims, for a long time the main function of the hermitage. On 8th August 1463, the hermitage of San Pietro in Vigneto was dissolved by Papal Bull of Pope Pius II and, together with the land, it became the property of the Canons of the Cathedral of Gubbio who still own it today. The earthquakes of 1979 and 1984 required the involvement of the Superintendency that oversaw the restoration of the hermitage and at the same time removed what had been indiscriminately added over the years, correcting what had been altered. It’s located along Via Francigena which still today welcomes travellers and pilgrims thanks to funding offered by a private citizen, Stefano Giombini[1].

The Frescoed Stronghold

The convent, because of its tower and its compactness, looks more like a stronghold than a religious settlement. It is difficult to distinguish and identify the individual buildings due to its architectural continuity and the reuse of the various spaces throughout the centuries. Only the bell gable and a tiny lancet window are a hint of the presence of the chapel in the north-east corner of the complex. In the paved courtyard, overlooked by the buildings, there is a large and beautiful cistern. Inside the church there is a 15th-century fresco of the school of Gubbio; it’s a sweet depiction of Madonna with Child with Saint Sebastian, Saint Anthony, Saint Peter and Saint Rocco at their side.

 

Madonna with Child

Appearing Ruins, Disappearing Ruins

The Castle of Peglio, which stood in proximity of the hermitage, was senselessly destroyed a few years ago to build the dam on the Chiascio: its beautiful, perfectly-cut stones that had survived the centuries are no more there, swept away by bulldozers in 1978. Its remains were impressive: the slits that were used to operate the drawbridge could be seen on the façade and beautiful segmental arches adorned the walls. The water of the dam submerged also a centenary elm that was «so beautiful and large that it would take three men to embrace it»[2].
Due to heavy rain, in 1780 there was a landslide that unearthed the remains of a Pagan temple near the hermitage: clay lanterns, fragments of inscriptions, coins and twelve pieces of a marble statue of Mars Cyprio, the tutelary deity of the temple (today kept in the Archaeological Museum of Florence). An inscription offered evidence that the temple had been restored by some Lucio Avoleno in the 2nd century AD, while 5th-century coins were proof that the inhabitants of the area had been making offerings to the pagan god until that time.

 

 


Sources

For the historical bibliography, see B. Martin, S. Pietro in Vigneto, Vispi&Angeletti, Gubbio 1997, that is also the reference.

P. Pizzichelli, Gubbio Francescana e sentiero francescano della pace, Gavirati, Gubbio 1999, pp. 53-55.

Sentiero francescano della pace da Assisi a Valfabbrica a Gubbio, Provincia di Perugia, Perugia 2000, pp. 30-31.

L. Zazzerini, In ascolto dell’assoluto. Viaggio tra gli eremi in Umbria, Edimond, Città di Castello 2007, pp. 68- 73.


[1]   For information and for bookings, please call 3334789564.

[2]  P. Pizzichelli, Gubbio Francescana e sentiero francescano della pace, Gavirati, Gubbio 1999, p. 52.

The hermitage of Santa Maria delle Carceri, evoked, and evokes now, appealing and leading emotions, and feelings for the writers that in the past went there. Now it does that for the people that go there ether to study or to create a guided tour.

A charming place

Once, a Franciscan Belgian priest, of whom we don’t know the true identity, visited this hermitage at the beginning of the XVIII Century, and it defined it «a very devoted desert».[1] A century after his visit, the journalist and writer, Thomas A. Trollope, wrote: «The monastery […] an overhanging ledge of rock, harder and offering greater opposition to the action of the weather than the stratum immediately below it».[2] At the beginning of the XX Century, the poet Olave M. Potter, described the place as «a wrinkle on the side of the mount Subasio, […] a little world of dreams and sweet memories».[3] And again, today Enrico Sciamanna, couldn’t resist making a poetic description of the hermitage: «the Carceri are a white eye in the green of the holm oaks of the woods of Subasio. An always opened eye on the world towards the sky».[4]

hermitage in assisi umbria

The Name

The name of this place though, that should represent and hermit for ascetic, may be in contrast with all the poetic feelings and suggestions that we see described by the visitor of ancient times: “Carceri” that means “prisons” from the Latin carcer as a synonym of “heremus”, translated in “hermitage” has been used in some documents from the XIII Century, meaning the will for a spiritual “imprisonment” that Saint Francesco and his followers wanted. But the name can also come from the hermitage that looks much like carceres, meaning prisons.[5]

The History

The history of the hermitage of Saint Maria delle Carceri begins with the place where it is build, chosen by Saint Francesco. He found these karstic caves, a perfect place for mystic ascesis and meditation, and they were near an oratory, that the Saint dedicated to Virgin Mary.[6]
In the second half of the XIII Century, they started to build humble constructions, near the hermitic caves, that can be found by the high horizontal section, parallel to the chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Since then, Carceri represents an important place for the Franciscan religiousness.

The Structure

mystical places in umbria

The cell

From a big vault you get in a suggestive triangular terrace called “Il chiostrino dei frati” translated in “the little cloister of monks” that overlooks on a rock cliff, where the Carceri is build, shaped in two rimmed arms. Above the door of the monastery, you can see a monogram of Saint Bernardino, on the inside you can find the refectory and, upstairs, the dormitory, and the monks’ cells.
From the cloister you can go to the chapel of Saint Bernardino, and above its door you can see an inscription of the name given by Saint Francesco to the original chapel. In the chapel you can find only one window, closed by a French glass from the XIII Century, but moved in here only recently, where the Virgin Mary with the child is represented.
Then, you can see the original chapel of Saint Maria delle Carceri, engraved in the stone. Above the altar we can see a fresco of the Virgin Mary with the child and Saint Francesco, over a Crucifixion of the XIII Century, done by Tiberio d’Assisi in 1506. Close to it, we have the choir, where the wooden stalls form the Saint Bernardino period. Going down from a staircase, you arrive in Saint Francesco cave, now divided in two rooms, one is a stone bed where the Saint used to rest and the other is a little cell where the Saint used to pray and meditate.
On the outside you can see a fresco of the Predica agli uccelli, while on the floor you can see a slab, with a little window from which you can see the end of the cliff. Legend has it that the cliff was made by the devil, once expelled from monk Rufino.
Going up from there, you can go in the chapel of Maddalena, where Barnaba Manassei rests. In the woods over the place you find the caves of Rufino and Masseo. Over a bridge you can see a bronze sculpture of Saint Francesco, represented while he frees some turtle-dove birds, the sculpture was made in the late XIX Century, by Vincenzo Rosignoli. From here you can see a long boulevard and, at the end of it, there’s a theater, engraved in the stone, used for liturgical functions, for the pilgrims. Going down on a steep path, you will arrive to the hermitic caves of monk Leone and the first followers of Saint Francesco.[7]


Reference Texts

Guida di Assisi e de’ suoi dintorni, Tip. Metastasio, Assisi 1911, pages 47-49.
Gatti, Le Carceri di San Francesco del Subasio, Lions Club di Assisi, Assisi 1969.
P.M. della Porta-E. Genovesi-E. Lunghi, Guida di Assisi. Storia e arte, Minerva, Assisi 1991, pages 175-178.
Lunghi, Santa Maria delle Carceri, in Eremi e romitori tra Umbria e Marche, Cassa di Risparmio di Foligno, Foligno 2003.
Sciamanna, Santuari francescani minoritici. I luoghi dell’osservanza in Assisi, Minerva, Assisi 2005, pages 60-68.
Zazzerini, Eremo di Santa Maria delle Carceri, in L. Zazzerini, In ascolto dell’Assoluto. Viaggio tra gli eremi in Umbria, Edimond, Città di Castello 2007, pages 2-9.


[1] The unknown Belgian Franciscan, visited the hermitage between 1726 an 1733, he left a memory, and we can find in a book written by A. Sorbini in Assisi nei libri di viaggio del Sette-Ottocento, Editoriale Umbra – ISUC, Foligno 19, page 46.
[2] T.A. Trollope, A Lenten journey in Umbria and the Marches, London 1862
[3] O.M. Potter, A little Pilgrimage of Italy, London 1911, translated from the quote of A. Brilli-S. Neri, Alla ricerca degli eremi francescani fra Toscana, Umbria e Lazio, Le Balze, Montepulciano 2006, pages 23-24
[4] E. Sciamanna, Santuari francescani minoritici. I luoghi dell’osservanza in Assisi, Minerva, Assisi 2005, page 68.
[5] Look in M. Sensi, L’Umbria terra di santi e di santuari, in M. Sensi-M. Tosti-C. Fratini, Santuari nel territorio della Provincia di Perugia, Quattroemme, Perugia 2002, page 75.
[6] An inscription from the fifteenth century, on the arch of the church door sais “Sancto Francesco puose a q[u]esta chapella el nome di Santa Maria” meaning “Saint Francesco gave at this chapel the name of the virgin Mary”. Look at M. Gatti, pages 35-36
[7] For a better description of the Carceri, look at P.M. Della Porta-E. Genovesi-E. Lunghi, Guida di Assisi. Storia e arte, Minerva, Assisi 1991, pages 175-178.

Paciano, a delightful village of just nine hundred and forty inhabitants, is placed on the green hills overlooking Lake Trasimeno. It’s known as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy (Borghi più Belli d’Italia) and it has been chosen by many foreigners as the ideal place to buy a second home; it hosts an atypical museum within the Seventeenth Century Palazzo Baldeschi in the heart of the historic centre, whose main aim is to show-off its rich heritage made up of memories, recollections, and accounts of craftsmanship and know-how.

This is Trasimemo, a memory bank, a museum of artisan wisdom for all of those trades and occupations that were part of daily life on the shores of the lake.

what to see nearby lake trasimeno

Community's Jewel in the Crown

TrasiMemo is an innovative project the residents of this small town wanted and were keen to have.  They are keen to preserve an heritage in which they see a generous propulsive thrust toward a future of renewal. On entering the hall of the museum, the feeling of community is palpable. It is not uncommon to find local citizens volunteering at the Info Points; each one of them has a story to tell or a tale of a particular local character which enriches the visit to this unique museum.
The setting and decor is very pleasant. The ambience is welcoming, the typical noise of work introduces visitors to the reality of artisan crafts through sound; warm lighting illuminates the path and draws attention to details that should not be taken for granted. The exhibits are organised through an archive to clearly indicate where various types of documents are held, divided into four main areas: iron and metal working, wood, terracotta and textiles.


Memories

Dear Visitors, you will not find big book to study; you will find drawers full of treasures: embroidery bobbins, coloured threads, loose, grippers, files, planers and then designs, colours and majolica. Every drop of traditional handicraft summed up into small objects that have strong evocative powers. And then there is the register, full of faces of those who still work with passion in the craft or those who would like to pass the baton to valid heirs.

These craftsmen are the protagonists of the stories on the walls of TrasiMemo and suppliers of the material stored in the Bank of Memory; they support many of the works that still form part of the urban fabric of the village and they also take part in the workshops run by the museum. From time to time, it is possible to participate in the workshop which is available for both adults and children, in order to try out the real handicraft work!

A Smart Museum

Visiting TrasiMemo is exciting for everyone. In addition to touching and seeing important and fascinating objects, there are four large summary panels, one for each area, which recount anecdotes and secrets linked to daily life and to the history of that profession. There is also the use of multi-media content to make the museum experience more interactive.
The wall of words or, to use technical jargon, the wall of the semantic fields, provides the exhibition a great visual impact. Visitors are encouraged to have fun choosing and taking pictures of the one that best describes their visit, to remember it. On leaving the museum it is important not to forget to looking for the symbols of artisanal activity that adorn the streets of Paciano. Public lighting, house numbers painted on majolica tiles and the iron structure of the communal well are just a few examples.
So why you should go visiting TrasiMemo?
«TrasiMemo is a place for everything and everyone: it is for craftsmen and those who have a memory of local knowledge; it is for the people who live in the region and who continue to think of workspaces and life; it is for heritage professionists who, through research, try to protect memory, organising it for the future; it is for visitors who decide to visit the Trasimeno area, wanting to better understand the relationship between its inhabitants, its landscapes and its local resources.»

TrasiMemo, Museum of Handicraft Memory – Paciano

More on Paciano

Under the city, within the underground walls of the Rocca Paolina (a fortress in the city of Perugia), which was not yet open to the public at that time, two of the most important artists of our time met and left two fundamental works in their artistic path: the six thematic blackboards «summa of the crypto-conceptual art» of the German Joseph Beuys and the Grande Nero, the monumental work made by Alberto Burri, the greatest contemporary artist in Umbria.

Describing these works and that meeting today, although the aforesaid artists differ from each other as well as in their views on art and aesthetics, just now that the earth is shaking and being in a state of uncertainty of events, we think that they are actually bound by a basic theme: the inevitable and essential relationship of man with the forces of nature.

The German Shaman

Event Poster

Joseph Beuys reached Naples for the opening of the exhibition where he met Andy Warhol at the Gallery Lucio Amelio on April 1st, 1980, so Italo Tomassoni took advantage of the Italian stay and organized the event in Perugia. The meetings between these great artists contributed to the new autonomy of the European artistic culture compared to the hegemony of the American pattern, which had been a custodian of the culture values since the years after the Second World War.

On the evening of April 3rd, in the Sala Cannoniera della Rocca, Beuys made his drawings, schemes and symbols straight off with a white chalk on six big blackboards. A “social sculpture” breaking any scheme with the traditional art. Being covered with glass cases, they are exhibited at the municipal Museum of Palazzo della Penna sequentially following the path shown by the artist in his performance.

The six thematic blackboards by Beuys

According to Beuys, art is transformation, vital energy transmission within the continuum of the shapeless matter. As a teacher at the Academy of Düsseldorf, through didactics, he tried to bring out the creative faculties as a means of language refounding. Repeatedly defined as a “shaman” for the type of rites of his actions, he reveals the hidden force, the secret energy of the matter. One of Fluxus founders – Beuys – with his happenings goes in search of abstraction, the intellectual property right which the language is based on, he affects the spectator appealing to his senses and combines every type of materials and objects.

Blackboard n.1

Blackboard n. 1, Beuys

In the catalogue edited by Tomassoni, carried out for 2003 new exhibition, there is the description of each blackboard. For our purposes, the most typical one – and maybe the heart of Beuys’s thought – is Blackboard n.1, where he deals with the relationship with nature.

Tomassoni wrote: «art should be expanded in a socio-anthropological sense and economics and politics should be evaluated with the spirit metre. Beuys considers art as the most suitable means for solidarity that protects life instead of destroying it».

Two human figures on the sun: it is the City of the Sun by the Italian philosopher Campanella, where regulations and institutions are not the result of customs inherited from tradition, but the expression of the natural human reason. Beuys himself wrote: «If I want to give a new anthropological position to the man, I must also give a new position to all that concerns him, link him downwards with animals, plants and nature, as well as upwards, with angels or spirits […]. In my actions I have always exemplified art=man».

The Artist of Nature

Going beyond the ideological avant-gard concept that art means life, Beuys has become the artist of nature even thanks to several performances including the most famous, in 1982, at Kassel in Germany, on the occasion of Documenta VII: 7000 oaks, where 7000 oaks were planted over four years close to a basalt stele in an increasing rock-and-plant relationship. However, in my opinion, Beyus was able to better represent the deeper and tragic meaning of the relationship between matter and energy, the forces of nature and human creativity in 1981, on the occasion of the project Terrae Motus at the Galleria Amelio for the 1980 Irpinia earthquake: An earthquake in the Palace, which I saw in the reconstruction done at MADRE Museum of Naples in 2015. Beuys showed his human frailty while preparing a room with the work tools taken from the areas hit by the earthquake

Glass vases under the legs of the table and fragments scattered all around, an egg balanced on a deformed table: these pictures passed on a video projected on a wall. Beuys drew under a table the
seismic waves on an electrocardiogram paper, comparing the shake beat with the heartbeat.

Lucio Amelio wrote: «There was energy in the art to such an extent that it was in opposition to that one risen by the Earth.»

«Every man has the most valuable palace in the world into his head, in his consciousness, in his will» said Beuys, identifying in the human creative force the possibility of a new and real redemption.

Burri and the Continuous Metamorphosis of Man

While Beuys showed his blackboards, Burri chose the most hidden corner of the Rock vaults to place a black grand sculpture over 5 metres high, the Grande Ferro or Grande Nero. A mysterious and silent kinetic work trying to express the human condition, which is constantly developing after the wounds and changes inflicted by nature and history. This deep relationship with nature is expressed in a different way in Burri than Beuys: the bags and experiments with new materials are a research aimed to sublimate used and worn-out objects; it shows all the poetic charge as remains of human life.

The Big Crack of Gibellina, Burri

Since the Seventies, his white or black “cracks” made with mixtures of kaolin and polyvinyl acetate look like a dried land and he has used them in his most important works, such as The Great Crack of Gibellina, a land artwork born in response to the destruction and disaster of the earthquake, but completed only in 2015. With architect Zanmatti, who had already acted as an intermediary in the meeting of Perugia, in 1984 he went to Gibellina, near Trapani, where the mayor considered art as a chance of redemption after many years since the earthquake destroyed the town in 1968.

Square kilometres of concrete form a huge crack above the old town. The visitor goes through the cracks, no more houses but white shapeless blocks, a surreal landscape after life’s end. After his inspection, Burri wrote: «I was close to tears and immediately I had a clear idea: well, I know that here I could do anything. I would do this way: we compact the rubbles that are a problem for everybody, we reinforce them well, and with the concrete we make a huge white crack in memory of this event».

For Beuys and Burri nature is not a destructive or an evil power, it is up to the man, through a renewed relationship with it, to create cleverer forms of life in common. Art can actually changes the world and our behaviour, make eternal the earthly things destined to transience.

 

More on Perugia

 

 


Guido Montana in «L’Umanità», 3 maggio del 1980
Italo Tomassoni, a cura di, Beuys/Burri Perugia, Rocca Paolina, 3 aprile 1980, in collaborazione con Lucio Amelio, Alberto Zanmatti, Litostampa, Perugia 1980.
Stefano Zorzi, Parola di Burri, Torino, Allemandi, 1995
Joseph Beuys: difesa della natura diary of Seychelles, testi di Lucrezia De Domizio Durini, Italo Tomassoni, Giorgio Bonomi, ed. Charta, Milano 1996
Italo Tomassoni, a cura di, Beuys a Perugia, ed. Silvana, Cinisello Balsamo 2003
Guida alla raccolta Beuys Museo Palazzo della Penna, Liomatic, Perugia 2008
Andrea Viliani, a cura di, Lucio Amelio dalla Modern Art Agency alla genesi di Terrae Motus (1965-1982): documenti, opere, una storia…, Mondadori Electa, Milano 2015

arte liberty in umbria

Title: Il Liberty in Umbria.

Architettura – Pittura- Scultura e Arti decorative. Architecture – Painting – Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Scholar: Maurizio Bigio

Publisher: Fabrizio Fabbri

Date of publication: 2016

ISBN: 97888677806886

Features: 231 p., photos 28 x 24.5cm, numerous colour photographs, stapled illustrated paperback.

Price: € 35,00

 

«This publication has been created from the interest I have always had for the arts in general, in particular for painting, sculpture, architecture and photography. I have always been interested in beautiful things.»

This is how Maurizio Bigio, a graduate in Business and Economics, and a Chartered Accountant for the last 37 years, speaks of his latest enterprise “in the field of the arts”. This is not a new departure for him, as he has always been involved in the arts as a musician, having had important achievements in collaborating with major singer-songwriters of the Seventies and issuing the Rock Bigio Blues LP. He recently expanded his artistic horizons devoting himself to photography, collaborating in the creation of the new MUSA (Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts P. Vannucci of Perugia) catalogue edited by Fedora Boco and the book on Ferdinand Cesaroni edited by Luciano Giacchè.

The Author

The subject of Liberty in the Umbrian region previously had only been addressed by Professor Mario Pitzurra, when in 1995 he published Architettura e ornato urbano liberty a Perugia, a text which is now out of print and, according to the author, it was limited to the regional capital city area. It was Pitzurra himself who concluded his work with the hope that «…others will follow my example, possibly extending their study to the rest of Umbria.»

And now, twenty years on, Maurizio Bigio takes up the challenge with purpose of re-awakening interest in this XX century art movement, which has been little studied in the region.

Topic

The foreword to Il Liberty in Umbria, is written by Anton Carlo Ponti with the text edited by Federica Boco, Emanuela Cecconelli, Giuliano Macchia, Maria Luisa Martella, Elena Pottini and Mino Valeri as well as Bigio himself.

The publication is divided into sixteen chapters, encompassing the region from north to south, touching on the city of Città di Castello, Perugia, Marsciano, Deruta, Foligno, Spoleto, Terni, Allerona, Avigliano, Acquasparta and Narni.

The Publication

And the author’s interest is not just in architecture, he also focuses on the decorative details in wood, wrought iron, ceramics, glass and, where possible, on the internal painted decoration inside dwellings.

An interesting chapter, edited by Elena Pottini, is devoted to liberty sculptures in the Perugia Cemetery, while Fedora Boco outlines the protagonists of this period with a small biography and related bibliography. The photographs also include Liberty design lost in time such as the Perugina shop and the internal decor of the Bar Milano. This interesting volume also includes a translation of the text in English by Eric Ingaldson.

 

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