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The magnificent landscapes of Umbria, in particular the Nera Valley, have over time bewitched several world-famous artists. Today, a project as innovative as it is interesting, aims to retrace the paths they have trodden.

In 1818, the French painter Léon Cogniet writes to Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, his master: “You ask what impresses me at most: the sculpture of the Ancients, the painting of the masters or people’s features. Something else impressed me more than all this: I want to tell you about the beauty of Nature!”[1]. Exactly this is what enchantes painters coming to Italy starting from middle Eighteenth Century and which is the same striking Umbrian painter Franco Passalacqua: the universe of the nature as main source of inspiration. Maybe the love for the valley of the Nera river beauties – as Marmore waterfall, Piediluco Lake, River Nera, Narni, Papigno and Augusto’s Bridge – pushed him to set out on a journey of discovery and knowledge on the previous artists who chose to get on the spot to represent these sites on canvas and to design this important project on the Plenaristi.


Martin Verstappen , La cascata delle Marmore, olio su tela, 76,9 x 61,8 cm, secc. XVIII-XIX (Terni, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Terni e Narni)


Anna Ottani Cavina, woman of note as art historian and whose role in the project contributes to grant for its soundness, underlines that en plein air painting has been the big change of these artitsts who, facing the extraordinary landscapes of Italy, chose to leave their comfortable atelier to immerse themselves in the beauties of the nature, depicting what the enchanted panorama offered to their eyes with short and quick dabs on the canvas, preferring watercolour and oil on paper so that colours dried as soon as possible. The details are left out while an effect of chromatic synthesis prevails in order to capture a specific fraction of light or time. Of course, the sensibility of each painter was decisive in determining the result of the portrayals. In fact, German artist Adrian Ludwig Richter[2], in Italy between 1823 and 1826, writes: “our goal was to depict the landscape with the greatest faithfullness. It was amazing to see our four researches for the a clear-cut distinction between them. Our eyes had seen the same place, but each one through his own temperament”. The Valle incantata, new earthly paradise, becomes the location of choice for tens of European painters’ artistic pilgimage as the Swiss Abraham Louis Rudolphe Ducros and François Keisermann, the English Francis Towne, the Dutch Joseph August Knip, and especially the French Jean Baptiste Camille Corot and the Deutsch Carl Blechen perhpas the two most important representatives of en plein air painting here made.

The project has been enthusistically welcomed by the municipalities of Narni and Terni and it has obtained the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Terni e Narni financial support because, as declared by CARIT chairman, Luigi Carlini, we immediately recognized “the great potential for economic and tourism development”, in fact “the promotion and the upgrading of a great environmental and landscape value area are the main objectives of this project”. Three are the souls of this iniziative: the documentary La valle incantata by Franco Passalacqua[3], the Dispersed Museum of the en plein air painting that is an itinerary of over 20 km along the routes where the artists created their works and, eventually, a complete virtual archive of all the works realized in this area, which today are housed in the museums all over the world. The virtual archive (available to view online at www.plenaristi.beniculturali.it[4]) has been realized thanks to the support of the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio dell’Umbria and to the efforts of Marcella Culatti.


Nera waters


Stifone and the Blue of Nera waters

During the centuries, the village, built upon karstic sources (among the most important in Italy), has exploited the water power to activate grain and olive mills and the bellows of the foundries obtsining the mineral from the above mount Santa Croce, which is destination of speleologist thanks to the many caves.

Magnesium, sodium and calcium salts present in the chemical composition of water determine an intense blue colour that enhances during the bright days when the rays of the sun reflect on the calm surface of the Nera river. The small but fascinating village lays just down the rocky crags which make a spur to the Taizzano castle, on the left river bank. In ancient times, into the valley, only a hundred metres away from it, was the port of Narnia romana, from where food and wood departed for Rome. In fact, in his guide of the town of Narni Rutilio Robusti writes: “the orgin of the word Stifone is Greek-Pelasgian and it used to point at a place where they built and launch boats or rafts of wood to send to Rome or somewhere else, then to serve to the building of larger-sized ships”[5]. In the town centre the buildings date back from Trecento to Cinquecento, you get surprised by the unexpected poetry in the air. Just into the town, down to the old wash-houses, supplied by two powerful resurgences, you can find the remains of the first power station in that area, which was able to generate a power of 60 Kw, enough energy to light 700 bulbs in Narni, so that it was one of the first Italian towns to enjoy electric light. The theatre was the first buiding illuminated, then the rest of the town. The power plant was opened the10th of November 1982, at the presence of the mayor of Narni, Paolo Eroli, and of the designer and engineer, Mr Aldo Moretti, who was born in Stifone. An interesting nature trail follows the old railway line Orte-Terni starting fron the Augusto’s Bridge, recently replaced by a route inside tunnels, which runs along the river past Stifone.


[1] A. Ottani Cavina (curated by), Un Paese incantato. Italia dipinta da Thomas Jones a Corot, Milano, Electa, 2002.

[2] The quotation is taken from Franco Passalacqua’s documentary La valle incantata.

[3] The documentary is visible on request at Museo Archeologico, at Centro Arti CAOS (Terni).

[4] To know more about the project visit the website www.plenaristi.it

[5] R. Robusti, Narni. Guida della città e dintorni1924.