Although Cortona has an Etruscan background it eventually became a Roman colony before becoming an independent city-state in the thirteenth century. However, after being conquered by Ladislaus, King of Naples, in 1409, Cortona was sold to the Medici in 1411.
More recently its picturesque, steep narrow streets have provided the backdrop for the film ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, based on Frances Mayes’ book. However, I was here to see the collection of the town’s Diocesan Museum, especially a most beautiful ‘Annunciation’ by Fra Angelico.
The altarpiece was originally executed for the church of San Domenico in Cortona. Amongst the columns and arches of a loggia, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, uttering the words “the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee”, from the Gospel of Saint Luke. To the left of the loggia, above a delicately painted garden, can be seen a depiction of Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise.
The predella depicts scenes from the Life of the Virgin, including a ‘Visitation’, which is said to include the first identifiable landscape in Italian art.
Fra Angelico ‘Annunciation’ (1433 – 34)
The Museum’s collection includes a second Fra Angelico, ‘Madonna and Child with Saints’, known as the Cortona Triptych, also painted for the church of San Domenico in Cortona. Its predella depicts scenes from Saint Dominic’s life.
Fra Angelico ‘The Cortona Triptych’ (1436 – 37)
Other works include a ‘Madonna with Child Enthroned and Four Angels’ by Pietro Lorenzetti and a large ‘Crucifix’ by the same artist.
Pietro Lorenzetti ‘Madonna and Child Enthroned and Four Angels’ (c.1320)
Pietro Lorenzetti ‘Crucifix’ (1320s)
Luca Signorelli, best known for his frescoes of the ‘Last Judgment’ in Orvieto Cathedral, was born in Cortona and has his own room in the Museum.
Luca Signorelli ‘Lamentation over the Dead Christ’ (1501 – 02)
Luca Signorelli ‘Communion of the Apostles’ (1512)
Surprisingly, amongst the collection of Renaissance masterpieces is a collection by the Italian Futurist, Gino Severini. However, Severini was born in Cortona in 1883, where his father was a junior court official. After meeting fellow artists Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla he was invited by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti to join the Futurist movement and was a co-signatory, with Balla, Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and Luigi Russolo, of the ‘Manifesto of the Futurist Painters’ in February 1910.
The Diocesan Museum has an impressive collection of cartoons for Severini’s ‘Stations of the Cross’ mosaics.
Gino Severini cartoon for ‘Stations of the Cross’