Piero della Francesca is definitively one of my favorite artists from early Renaissance. A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend in his homeland, Valtiberina visiting San Sepolcro and Anghiari.
A brief history about Piero della Francesca
Piero della Francesca was born in 1415 in Borgo Santo Sepolcro from a wealthy family and started his apprentice in a local workshop and probably had the chance to take notice of the work of great artists such as Domenico Veneziano, Sassetta and Masaccio.
He traveled a lot and worked for famous and important commissioners such as Pope Nicholas V, but always came back to Borgo Santo Sepolcro where he died in October 1492. And in his hometown he left important artworks that you really should see.
Borgo Santo Sepolcro, nowadays San Sepolcro
San Sepolcro is a lovely town in Valtiberina. I was impressed by the nice shops and the richness of its artistic and cultural heritage. The town is partially enclosed in the ancient walls and is full of beautiful buildings and churches preserving incredible artworks.
Among those, there is the Civic Museum, preserving Piero della Francesca masterpieces the “Polyptych of Misericordia” and the “Resurrection“, recently restored and better displayed. There is no need to describe those works, since are universally renowned for their beauty and importance. But I’d like to tell you about a curios story happened during WW2.
San Sepolcro, because of its strategical location, was under the Nazi control and heavily damaged by the bombs of the Allies until British officer Tony Clarke ordered to stop immediately the bombing. As a matter of fact he suddenly remembered the words of Aldous Huxley (1925) describing the Resurrection by Piero as “the greatest picture in the world”. So for the second time San Sepolcro resurrected thanks to this great painting. Actually first time was when the painting was done in 1450-1463.
Of course the museum hosts other great works by important artists such as Santi di Tito, Pontormo, Matteo di Giovanni and Della Robbia. Other stunning works can be admire inside the Duomo of San Giovanni Evangelista, dating back to 11th century and preserving the “Sansepolcro Alterpiece” by Perugino, depicting the Ascension of Christ (1510). Another masterpiece is the “Deposition“ by Rosso Fiorentino inside the Church of San Lorenzo.
The little town of Monterchi hosts the impressive Expectant Madonna (Madonna del Parto), depicting a pregnant Madonna standing in the middle of a richly decorated canopy held by two angels. This is a real masterpiece preserving a funny story. Legend has it that the face of the Madonna is a faithful portrait of Piero della Francesca’s mother. As a matter of fact villains used to tell Piero that his mother had several affairs, so he wanted to teach them a lesson by giving the Lady his mother’s face.
At the moment the Madonna is held in the town museum, that hosts a great children area where you can learn how Piero and other Renaissance masters used to create their incredible frescoes. In addition with the same ticket (5.00€) you can visit the Scale’s Museum.
The Scale’s Museum is very unique and hosts one of the largest collections of scales in Europe. All scales are part of the collection of Velio Ortolani, who started collecting them more than 50 years ago. The museum offers also a special path for children to let them discover the history throughout the scales and the related professions. In addition the museum offers great views over Valetiberina from its windows.
In San Sepolcro don’t miss:
- The Palio della Balestra, held once per year. The town really goes back to the Renaissance with incredible costume figures, knights fight, breathtaking flag-throwers shows!
- The Renaissance Convivium dinner on the Friday night before the Palio: you can taste the best food of San Sepolcro while attending a Renaissance convivium. I loved the ghiacciata (the original ice-cream)
- The most delicious pastry shop in town (Gosh I had never had such delicious pastries!). It’s called Chieli and started to bake in 1948. Since then they’re a real excellence in the area. They prepare incredibly beautiful and exquisite pastries and cakes using only high quality products.