Although most of Gubbio, in northern Umbria, is of medieval construction, the first buildings that welcome visitors to the town are Roman. In addition to the well-preserved first-century arcades of a Roman theatre, there is also a mausoleum, a monumental tomb of which the burial chamber has survived.

Roman theatre remains, Gubbio

The town is built on a steep hill, meaning that buildings are on several different levels. On the bottom level can be found Gubbio’s finest church, San Francesco, construction of which began in the mid-1200s.

Church of San Francesco, Gubbio

In the left apse of the church is a fresco cycle by Ottaviano Nelli, born in Gubbio in 1375, with ‘Scenes from the Life of Mary’, painted in the, then fashionable, International Gothic style.

Ottaviano Nelli ‘Stories from the Life of Mary’ (c.1408 – 13)

Ottaviano Nelli ‘Birth of Mary’ (c.1408 – 13)

Ottaviano Nelli ‘Birth of Jesus’ (c.1408 – 13)

The right apse is split into two parts, the lower part being a chapel with frescoes from the early-fourteenth century. They are attributed to the Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara and depict, on the ceiling, Christ and the four Evangelists, although Matthew has been lost, and on the walls, the figures of six saints.

Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara ‘Christ with Evangelists and Saints’ (early-14th century)

On one of the upper levels of the town is the impressive Palazzo dei Consoli, begun in 1332, which overlooks Piazza Grande with its amazing views over the town and the surrounding countryside. The building, which is in the Gothic style, now houses the Museo Civico. The Sala dell’Arengo, which occupies the entire first floor, was used for popular assemblies in the fourteenth century.

Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio

On the town’s highest level can be found the impressive duomo, dedicated to Saints Mariano and Giacomo. It was first founded in 1229 and built on the site of a previous Romanesque church. The interior has frescoes from the sixteenth century, mainly by local artists.

Gubbio Cathedral (facade)

Gubbio Cathedral (interior)

Città di Castello

Città di Castello is a picturesque medieval town in northern Umbria, although it was originally a settlement of the ancient Umbri. It contains some interesting architecture, including the Duomo, built between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries and the fourteenth-century Palazzo Communale with the Torre Civica.

The Pinacoteca Communale, located in the splendid renaissance Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera, contains one of the most important art collections in the region.

Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera

Of particular note are a ‘Madonna and Child with Six Angels’ by the Maestro di Città di Castello (early-fourteenth century), Antonio Vivarini’s ‘Madonna and Child’ (1440 – 50), a wonderful ‘Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian’ (1497 – 98) by Luca Signorelli, a ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ by Domenico Ghirlandaio and workshop (end 15th century) and a ‘Gonfalone della Santissima Trinità’ by Raphael (1499).

Maestro di Città di Castello ‘Madonna and Child with Six Angels’ (early 14th century)

Antonio Vivarini ‘Madonna and Child’ (1440 – 50)

Luca Signorelli ‘Martyrdom of St. Sebastian’ (1497 – 98)

Domenico Ghirlandaio and workshop ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ (end 15th century)

Raphael ‘Trinity with Saints Sebastian and Roch’ and ‘Creation of Adam and Eve’ (c.1500)

In search of Piero (part II) Sansepolcro and Monterchi

Back in Tuscany to continue the Piero della Francesca trail that began during last year’s visit to Arezzo with the ‘Legend of the True Cross’ cycle. In Sansepolcro, the town of Piero’s birth between 1415 and 1420, the Museo Civico displays two magnificent works; the ‘Polyptych of the Misericordia’ and what the English writer Aldous Huxley called “the greatest painting in the world”, the ‘Resurrection’.

In 1467, Piero was commissioned to paint the fresco of the ‘Resurrection’ for the Palazzo dei Conservatori di Sansepolcro, the meeting hall used by the chief magistrates and governors of the town. Christ is positioned in the centre of the painting at the moment of his resurrection with the four sleeping soldiers in the foreground. It is believed that the second figure, dressed in brown armour, is a self-portrait of Piero. The landscape in the background depicts the river Tiber, which runs along the border of the town of Sansepolcro. The trees on the left of the landscape have no leaves, whereas those on the right are flourishing, which is said to allude to the renovation of men through the light of the Resurrection.

During World War II, the British artillery, led by an officer named Tony Clarke, were ordered to fire on the town of Sansepolcro, but Clarke knew of Huxley’s essay that described the ‘Resurrection’ as the greatest painting in the world, and defied the order to fire, even though his commanding officer ordered him to “get on with it”, thereby saving the painting.

Piero della Francesca ‘Resurrection’ (1467 – 68)

The Polyptych of the Misericordia, dating from 1445 – 62, is one of the earliest works by Piero. It was commissioned in 1445 by the Compagnia della Misericordia, a confraternity of Borgo San Sepolcro. The central panel depicts the Virgin as Madonna della Misericordia (Madonna of Mercy), who is spreading her cloak around the kneeling donors. The side panels show saints; on the left are John the Baptist and Saint Sebastian, whilst the right has Saint Andrew and Saint Bernardino. Because Piero became busy with commissions from elsewhere, the polyptch was not finished for seventeen years, the central panel being the last to be completed.

Piero della Francesca ‘Polyptych of the Misericordia’ (1445 – 62)

The museum also holds the detached fresco of Saint Julian, originally in the church of Sant’Agostino in Borgo San Sepolcro, which was not discovered until 1954, and of San Ludovico di Tolosa, originating from the Palazzo Pretorio, which shows the saint dressed in a Franciscan habit with a richly decorated bishop’s cope.

Piero della Francesca ‘St. Julian’ (1455 – 60)

Piero della Francesca ‘St. Ludovico di Toloso’ (c.1460)

The museum also contains paintings by other local artists including Pontormo, Raffaellino del Colle and Luca Signorelli.

Luca Signorelli ‘Crucifixion Standard’ (c.1502 – 05)

Jacopo Pontormo ‘Saint Quentin’ (1517)

Raffaelino del Colle ‘Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin’ (1526 – 1527)


In nearby Monterchi is Piero’s fresco known as the ‘Madonna del Parto’, in which two angels hold open the flaps of a tent to reveal a pregnant Madonna dressed in a billowing blue gown, partially open to reveal her swollen abdomen containing the future Saviour. The fresco was originally painted by Piero between 1450 and 1475 for the Church of Santa Maria a Momentana between the villages of Monterchi and Cisterna.

Piero della Francesca ‘Madonna del Parto’ (c.1460)

Gozzoli in Montefalco

In Italy, at the (now deconsecrated) church of San Francesco in Montefalco, in southern Umbria, to see the frescoes painted by Benozzo Gozzoli in the mid-fifteenth century. In the central apse there is a magnificent cycle depicting events from the life of Saint Francis.

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Stories from the Life of Saint Francis’ (1450 – 52)

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘The Birth of St. Francis, the Prophecy of the Pilgrim and the Homage of the Simple Man’ (1450 – 52)

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘The Renunciation of Possessions’ (1450 – 52)

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Sermon to the Birds and the Blessing of Montefalco’ (1450 – 52)

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Stigmatization of the Saint’ (1450 – 52)

A further fresco cycle by Gozzoli is in the Chapel of Saint Jerome, depicting, amongst other events, the saint removing the thorn from the lion’s paw.

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Scenes from the Life of Saint Jerome’ (1452)

The church also contains a delightful ‘Nativity’ painted in 1503 by Perugino and a ‘Crucifix’ from the late-thirteenth – early-fourteenth centuries by the Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara.

Perugino ‘Nativity’ (1503)

Maestro Espressionista di Santa Chiara ‘Crucifix’ (late 13th – early 14th centuries)

Matisse Chapel, Vence

In Vence, in the Côte d’Azur region of the south of France, to visit the Chapelle de la Rosaire, also known as the Matisse Chapel. Henri Matisse designed and decorated the chapel for the Dominican sisters in Vence in gratitude for the care given to him by his nurse, Monique Bourgeois, who became Sister Jacques-Marie, after he had received major surgery in 1942.

La Chapelle du Rosaire

Matisse began the chapel project in 1948 and spent four years designing it and producing all the artworks, including the stained-glass windows, drawings on huge ceramic panels, furnishings and even the vestments worn by the priests.

Interior of chapel

A museum adjacent to the chapel contains all Matisse’s preparatory drawings and models for the building, as well as the brightly-coloured vestments which are still used for services in the chapel.

Vestments made to designs by Matisse

Piatti Quartet in Issigeac

At the Issigeac International Music Academy for a concert by the excellent Piatti Quartet. Prizewinners at the 2015 Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition, they now perform at festivals and concerts throughout the world.

Their programme this evening consisted of a first half that began with Mozart’s String Quartet no. 16 in E flat major, the third of the so-called Haydn Quartets. It was followed by a superb performance of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet no. 6 in F minor. This was extremely expressively played, with all the anguish, sadness and agony that Mendelssohn felt when writing it in 1847 as a homage to his beloved sister Fanny who had died just a few months before. It was to be Mendelssohn’s last composition, for a few months later he also died.

The second half was more cheerful, with Dvoraks ‘American Quartet’ in F major, which he wrote in 1893 during his time in the United States. It was very well played and enjoyed by the audience whose applause brought a well-deserved encore.

Piatti Quartet

Mozart ‘String Quartet no. 16 in E flat major’ K428; Mendelssohn ‘String Quartet no.6 in F minor’ opus 80; Dvorak ’String Quartet no. 12 (American) in F major, opus 96.

The Well of Moses, Dijon

In Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy region of eastern France, to see the monumental sculpture known as the ‘Well of Moses’ (‘Puits de Moïse’), the masterpiece of the Dutch artist Claus Sluter. It was constructed between 1395–1403 for the Carthusian monastery of Chartreuse de Champmol, built as a burial site by the Burgundian Duke Philip the Bold.

‘Portrait of Philip the Bold’ (17th-century copy of a late 14th-century painting)

The structure was originally located in the central courtyard of the main cloister and consisted of four parts – the well, which was about four meters deep, the large hexagonal base, adorned with figures of prophets and angels, a terrace which sat on top of the pillar possibly containing the figures of a ‘Calvary’ scene, and a tall slender cross which rose from the centre.

Drawings of two possible reconstructions of the Well of Moses

Reconstruction in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon

Unfortunately, damage, mainly due to exposure to the weather, has meant that the cross has not survived and there are only fragments of the Calvary, now kept in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon. What is still intact is the hexagonal base with its sculptures of the six prophets who had foreseen the death of Christ on the Cross (Moses, David, Jeremiah, Zachariah, Daniel and Isaiah).

Claus Sluter ‘Well of Moses’ showing David and Jeremiah (1395 – 1403)

Also in the Musée des Beaux-Arts are casts of the busts of the prophets and angels, so these can be examined at close quarters.

Busts of the Prophets and Angels in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon

The tombs of Philip the Bold, his son, John the Fearless and John’s wife, Margaret of Bavaria have been moved from the Chartreuse de Champmol and are also now in the Musée.

Tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy

Renoir Rococo Revival

At the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, to see the exhibition ‘Renoir Rococo Revival’. Rococo painting underwent a revival in the nineteenth century, despite once having been considered frivolous. Renoir was aquainted with the style of Rococo artists such as Antoine Watteau, Baptiste Siméon Chardin, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard from his time as a porcelain painter in his home city of Limoges. His art later shared Rococo’s interest in certain subjects such as promenaders in the park and on the riverbank and the garden party. He also admired Rococo’s loose style of painting and its bright palette, both of which would influence him as well as other Impressionist artists.

The exhibition showed around 120 works by Renoir and his colleagues Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot as well as examples of the Rococo art that inspired them.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘In Summer’ (1868)

Jean-Baptiste Greuze ‘La Vertu Chancelante’ (c.1775)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘The Promenade’ (1870)

Antoine Watteau ‘L’Embarquement pour Cythere’ (1717)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘The Swing’ (1876)

Jean-Baptiste Pater ‘Pastoral Festivity’ (c.1725 – 35)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘The Thinker’ (1876 – 77)

Antoine Watteau ‘Rosalba Carriera’ (1721)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘After the Luncheon’ (1879)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘Woman with a Fan’ (c.1879)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ‘Bathers with Crab’ (c.1890 – 99)

François Boucher ‘Diana after her Bath’ (1742)

Städel Museum, Frankfurt

At the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, to see the superb permanent collection which ranges from the early fourteenth century to contemporary art, including many paintings of international renown.

Fra Angelico ‘Madonna and Child with Twelve Angels’ (c.1420 – 30)

Robert Campin (Master of Flémalle) ‘The Trinity’ (c.1428 – 30)

Robert Campin (Master of Flémalle) ‘The Bad Thief on the Cross’ (c.1430)

Jan van Eyck ‘Lucca Madonna’ (c.1437)

Rogier van der Weyden ‘Medici Madonna’ (c.1453 – 60)

Hans Memling ‘Portrait of a Man wearing a High Red Cap’ (c.1470 – 75)

Sandro Botticelli ‘Simonetta Vespucci’ (c.1475)

Raphael and workshop ‘Portrait of Pope Julius II’ (1511 – 12)

Bartolomeo Veneto ‘Idealised Portrait of a Courtesan as Flora’ (c.1520)

Jan Vermeer ‘The Geographer’ (1669)

Claude Monet ‘The Luncheon’ (1868)

Max Liebermann ‘Free Period in the Amsterdam Orphanage’ (1881 – 82)

Ferdinand Hodler ‘Portrait of Hélène Weiglé’ (1888)

Pablo Picasso ‘Portrait of Fernande Olivier’ (1909)

Emil Nolde ‘Christ in the Underworld’ (1911)

Edvard Munch ‘Jealousy’ (1913)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner ‘Nude with Hat’ (1910, modified in 1920)

Otto Dix ‘The Artist’s Family’ (1927)

Baden-Baden and the Black Forest

In Baden-Baden, a beautiful belle-epoque style spa town in western Germany. Baden-Baden is a World Heritage Site and is a gateway to the Black Forest, an expanse of hills, lakes and forests that speads over 6,000 square kilometres.

Our host for eight days is the German documentary film maker, Harold Woetzel, whose numerous films include ‘Mozart in Mannheim’. His delightful house is a scenic walk away from the centre of Baden-Baden via the famous Lichtentaler Allee.

View of Baden-Baden from Mount Merkur

Lichtentaler Allee

It was also a wonderful opportunity to relax and walk around the forest area as well as to visit some of the picturesque towns in the area.