Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven

In Montcabrier, in the Lot department in south-western France, for the fifteenth edition of the ‘8 de Montcabrier’ festival. An enjoyable evening of Classical era compositions from Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven from an ensemble of excellent musicians, including Spanish flautist Vincens Prats, clarinetist Juncal Salada-Codina, also from Spain, French pianist Morgane Fauchois-Prado and a string quartet of members of the Orchestre de Paris.

Members of the ‘8 de Montcabrier’ ensemble

The concert opened with Mozart’s ‘Flute Quartet no. 1’, which was written in 1777 during his period in Mannheim. It was a lively performance, with some stylish playing by flautist Vincens Prats

The first half continued with Haydn’s ‘String Quartet in D major’, known as ‘The Frog’, which is the last of the set of six ‘Prussian Quartets’, dedicated to King Frederick William II of Prussia.  The finale contains a rapid repetition of the same note on adjacent strings, which some thought sounded like a croaking frog, hence the work’s nickname. First violinist, Pascale Meley, produced an extremely spirited performance.

The second half consisted of Beethoven’s ‘Trio for clarinet, cello and piano’, which was, for me, the most enjoyable performance of the evening, with particularly accomplished playing by clarinetist Juncal Salada-Codina

Mozart: ‘Flute Quartet no. 1, in D major’, K285; Haydn: ‘String Quartet in D major, ‘The Frog’, opus 50, no. 6; Beethoven: ‘Trio for clarinet, cello and piano in B flat major’, opus 11, no. 4.

Quatuor Agate and Adi Neuhaus in Paunat

At the Musique en Sol festival in Paunat, in the Dordogne department of France, for an excellent and varied concert with Quatuor Agate and Israeli pianist Adi Neuhaus.

Quatuor Agate

Adi Neuhaus

The concert opened with Chopin’s ‘Fantasy in F minor’, a very expressive single-movement work, generally regarded as one of the composer’s finest. It was very passionately played by Adi Neuhaus. The first half continued with Beethoven’s ‘String Quartet no. 13’. Completed during the final years of the composers life, the Quartet was controversial when first performed. The final movement, a difficult lengthy fugue, was negatively received and was replaced. However, it has been resurrected in recent performances and recordings, as it was by the Agate Quartet this evening, enabling the work to be heard as Beethoven originally intended. The whole piece was extremely well played, but the fugue was superb.

The ‘Piano Quintet’ of Shostakovich completed the evening’s performance. Written for the Beethoven Quartet in 1940, it was a great success on it’s first performance at the Moscow Conservatory and received the Stalin Prize. Tonight it was also extremely well played by the joint forces of Adi Neuhaus and the Agate Quartet. Whilst lurking dark shadows could often be discerned, especially from the piano, not surprising given the period during which it was written, the work was dramatically, sometimes even flamboyantly, performed, with the scherzo particularly enjoyable.

Chopin; ‘Fantasy in f minor’, opus 49; Beethoven: ‘String Quartet no. 13 in b flat major’, opus 130, with ‘Grosse Fuge’, opus 133; Shostakovich: ‘Quintet for Piano and Strings in g minor’, opus 57.

Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa

In the Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, western Tuscany, to visit the cathedral, baptistery and, of course, the famous leaning tower.

Piazza dei Miracoli

The Piazza is dominated by the cathedral, construction of which began in 1064. Whilst it is Romanesque in style it also shows clear Byzantine influences, especially in the interior mosaic decoration.

The apse mosaic depicts Christ in Majesty holding an open book in his left hand with the inscription EGO SUM LUX MUNDI (I am the light of the world). With his right hand he is giving benediction. He is flanked by the Virgin, who has raised her hands in intercession, and St John the Evangelist. The head of St. John was completed by Cimabue in 1302 and this was to be his last work as he died in Pisa in the same year.

Apse mosaic, Pisa Cathedral

The cathedral contains a carved pulpit made by Giovanni Pisano between 1302 and 1310. Unfortunately, it was damaged in a fire in 1595 and has suffered somewhat from subsequent restoration work. Nevertheless, it is one of the most magnificent of the Pisano pulpits.

Giovanni Pisano ‘Cathedral pulpit’ (1302 – 10)

The Baptistery is a spectacular construction and is the largest in Italy. Building started in 1152 and it was completed in 1363 and so it is an example of the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style. 


Baptistery interior

The interior is quite plain with a large octagonal font at the centre dating from 1246. The main feature is the pulpit which was sculpted by Nicola Pisano, the father of Giovanni, between 1255 and 1260. It is a hexagonal construction, raised on seven columns. At the base of three of these columns are sculpted lions.

Nicola Pisano ‘Baptistery pulpit’ (1255 – 1260)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the campanile or bell tower of the Cathedral, is the most famous feature of the Piazza, due to the fact that it has a nearly four-degree lean, the result of unstable foundations.  The tower began to lean during its construction in the twelfth century, due to the soft ground which could not properly support its weight. By 1990, the tilt had reached 5.5 degrees; however, the structure was stabilized by remedial work between 1993 and 2001, and the tilt has now been reduced to 3.97 degrees.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Along the northern edge of the complex is the Camposanto Monumentale – the cemetery building. ‘Campo Santo’ translates as ‘holy field’, as legend says that it was built using sacred soil from Golgotha, brought back to Pisa after the Third Crusade.

The walls of the structure were completely covered in frescoes. The earliest, attributed to Francesco Traini, were painted in 1336 – 41. Frescoes depicting ‘The Last Judgement’ and the ‘Triumph of Death’ in the south-western corner were painted in the years after the Black Death and are usually attributed to Buonamico Buffalmacco. In the north gallery there is a cycle of ‘Scenes from the Old and New Testaments’ by Benozzo Gozzoli, whilst in the south arcade are ‘Stories of Pisan Saints’ (1377 – 1391) by Andrea Bonaiuti, Antonio Veneziano and Spinello Aretino as well as ‘Stories of Job’ by Taddeo Gaddi from the end of 14th century.

In July 1944, a bomb fragment from an Allied air raid started a fire in the Camposanto, which burned for three days, causing the timber and lead roof to collapse. This severely damaged everything inside the cemetery, including the frescoes. Subsequent restoration work has stabilised them but most are now in poor condition.

Buonamico Buffalmacco ‘The Three Dead and the Three Living (left) and ‘The Triumph of Death’ (c.1338 – 39)

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘The Vintage and Drunkenness of Noah’ (early 1470s)

Benozzo Gozzoil ‘The Building of the Tower of Babel’ (early 1470s)

Fabriano, Marche

In Fabriano, Marche, to visit the Pinocoteca Civica, which has an excellent collection of late medieval and early Renaissance Italian art.

The collection begins with works from the Fabriano convent of Saint Augustine and continues with artists of the Fabriano school who were influenced by the style of Giotto. Late Gothic paintings from Allegretto Nuzi then lead into the fifteenth-century Renaissance works of Antonio da Fabriano, Bicci di Lorenzo and Neri di Bicci.

Rainaldetto di Ranuccio da Spoleto ‘Crucifix’ (second-half 13th century)

Master of St. Augustine ‘Crucifixion’ (second-half 13th centruy)

Master of Campodonico ‘Crucifixion’ (1345)

Allegretto Nuzi ‘Saint Augustine between Saints Nicola da Tolentino and Stefano’ (1362)

Allegretto Nuzi ‘Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine, Francis, Martin and Lucy’ (1366)

Bicci di Lorenzo ‘Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and James the Great’ (15th century)

Neri di Bicci ‘Enthroned Madonna and Child with Saints Venanzio, Vittore, Florenzo, Andrea’ (15th century)

Antonio da Fabriano ‘Madonna and Child with Saints James the Great, Antonio Abate and Donor’ (2nd-half 15th century)

Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi

Just eighteen months after the death of Saint Francis on 4 October 1226, Pope Gregory IX ordered the building of a church dedicated to the saint. Construction of the church, which is built into the side of a hill, began in 1228. There are, in fact, two churches, known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and a crypt, where the remains of the saint are interred. 

Both the Upper and Lower Churches are decorated with frescoes by artists from both the Florentine and Sienese schools, including Cimabue, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti. There is also much debate about the possible involvement of Giotto, although most scholars now think it unlikely.

Nave of the Upper Church

The nave of the Gothic-style Upper Church is decorated with twenty-eight frescoes depicting events from the life of Saint Francis. They have been variously attributed, including to Giotto and to a Roman artist named Pietro Cavallini, both on the basis of style, although there is no evidence of either artist being in Assisi.

In September, 1997, two earthquakes hit the Assisi region and there was widespread destruction. While a group of specialists and friars were inspecting the damage to the Basilica of Saint Francis, an aftershock shook the building, causing the collapse of the vault. Two Franciscan friars and two of the specialists were killed. Many of the frescoes in the Upper Church were damaged and those where the vault had collapsed were almost completely destroyed. The church was closed for two years for restoration.

Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis. Upper Church.

Saint Francis preaching to the Birds

Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata

In the transept and apse of the Upper Church are frescoes by Cimabue. However, the oxidization of the lead-based paint over time has meant that they have degraded considerably.

Cimabue ‘Crucifixion’ (1277 – 80)

The Lower Church was constructed first and was built entirely in the Romanesque style. It consists of a central nave with several side chapels with semi-circular arches. The nave is decorated with the oldest frescoes in the church by an unknown artist known as Maestro di San Francesco. They feature scenes from the Passion of Christ on the right side, with scenes from the Life of St. Francis on the left.

Maestro di San Francesco ‘Lamentation over the Dead Christ’

Maestro di San Francesco ‘Deposition of Christ from the Cross’

Maestro di San Francesco ‘St. Francis preaching to the Birds’

To the right of the high altar in the transept arm of the church is a ‘Maesta’, by Cimabue, a depiction of Mary and the Christ child surrounded by angels and flanked by St. Francis.

Cimabue ‘Maesta’ (1278)

The south transept is decorated with six scenes from the ‘Passion of Christ’ by the Sienese artist Pietro Lorenzetti. The frescoes include a particularly emotional ‘Deposition of Christ from the Cross’, a monumental ‘Crucifixion’ and a ‘Madonna and Child with Saints John the Evangelist and Francis’. 

Pietro Lorenzetti ‘Crucifixion’ (c.1320)

Pietro Lorenzetti ‘Deposition of Christ from the Cross’ (c.1320)

Pietro Lorenzetti ‘Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and John the Evangelist’ (c.1320)

The first chapel on the left of the nave is the San Martino Chapel, dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. It was decorated between 1317 and 1319 with ten frescoes depicting the saint’s life by another Sienese artist, Simone Martini. 

Simone Martini ‘Chapel of St. Martin’ (1320 – 25)

Simone Martini ‘St. Martin with Donor kneeling’ (1320 – 25)

Simone Martini ‘St. Louis, King of France and St. Louis of Toulouse’ (1320 – 25)

Simone Martini ‘St. Anthony of Padua and St. Francis’ (1320 – 25)

The Chapel of the Magdalene contains a series of frescoes with scenes from the life of Mary Magdalene. These were attributed to Giotto in the past, although this is now thought unlikely. Some believe that Giotto may have been involved in the planning of the series but that the painting was carried out by his workshop.

‘Mary Magdalene with the Donor, Cardinal Pontano’ (1320s)

‘Noli me tangere’ (Touch me not) (1320s)

‘Raising of Lazarus’ (1320s)

Tomb of Saint Francis

The crypt below the Lower Church contains the tomb of Saint Francis. However, there is no sarcophagus, rather his remains are interred inside a stone pillar. Its location remained unknown for six-hundred years, until, in 1818, Pope Pius VII allowed the lower basilica floor to be excavated. After digging for fifty-two days, the tomb was rediscovered under iron bars.

Tomb of Saint Francis

In search of Piero (part IV) Perugia

The completion of the Piero della Francesco trail came in Perugia, at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, with the ‘Polyptych of Sant’Antonio’, painted around 1470.

The polyptych was painted for the new Franciscan convent of Sant’Antonio da Padova in Perugia. It portrays the ‘Virgin enthroned with the Child’ in the central part, flanked by saints Anthony of Padova and John the Baptist on the left and Francis and Elizabeth of Hungary on the right. Above is a beautifully painted Annunciation. The upper part of the predella, probably painted by assistants, shows the saints Clare and Agatha, while in the lower part are miracles stories of the main Franciscan saints.

Piero della Francesca ‘Polyptych of Sant’Antonio’ (c.1470)

Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia

In Perugia, the capital of Umbria, to visit the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in the Palazzo dei Priori. The museum holds one of Italy’s most important art collections, featuring works from the thirteenth century onwards, including the world’s largest collection of paintings by Pietro Perugino.

Palazzo dei Priori, Perugia

Whilst the focus of the collection is Umbrian artists, the earliest works are from Siena. All are now magnificently displayed in the forty halls of the museum which only reopened this year after several years of renovation.

The collection begins in the mid-thirteenth century and shows the leading roles played by Tuscan masters such as Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Arnolfo di Cambio and Duccio di Boninsegna, painters from Umbria, such as the Master of Saint Francis and Ottaviano Nelli, and of the Marches, including Gentile da Fabriano and Lorenzo Salimbeni.

It then enters the early Renaissance, with works by artists such as Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli. The museum also holds the world’s largest collection of works by Pietro Perugino, displayed in two sections; the first the youthful output of the artist, with the second displaying his mature and later periods.

Hall 1 is dominated by a magnificent crucifix by the Master of Saint Francis from 1272. Originally made for the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, it is richly coloured and embellished with gold. It provides an impressive start to the museum’s new display.

Master of Saint Francis ‘Crucifix’ (1272)

Duccio di Buoninsegna ‘Madonna and Child with Six Angels’ (1304 – 10)

Ottaviano Nelli ‘Pietralunga Polyptych’ (1403)

Taddeo di Bartolo ‘Pentecost’ (1403)

Fra Angelico ‘Guidalotti Polyptych’ (1438)

Domenico di Bartolo Ghezzi ‘Santa Giuliana Polyptych’ (1438)

Bicci di Lorenzo ‘Triptych with opening doors’ (Sant’Agnese Tabernacle) (c.1420 – 40)

Perugino ‘Gonfalon of Justice’ (c.1496)

Perugino ‘Madonna of Consolation’ (1496 – 99)

Perugino ‘Ranieri Annunciation’ (c.1490 – 1500)

Fontana Maggiore

Apart from the Palazzo dei Priori, the most important monument in Perugia is the Fontana Maggiore. The fountain was designed by Frà Bevignate da Cingoli and built between 1275 and 1278 to celebrate the arrival of water in the city by means of a new aqueduct. It was then decorated with carvings by Nicola Pisano and his son, Giovanni.

Fontana Maggiore

The lower basin is made up of 25 sections, each divided into two tiles that describe the twelve months of the year, each of which is related to a zodiac symbol. Each month is connected to scenes of daily life and the farming work that characterize it:

  • The month of January (a gentleman and his wife at the hearth – Aquarius)
  • The month of February (two fishermen – Pisces)
  • The month of March (the ‘spinario’ and the pruning of the vineyard – Aries)
  • The month of April (two allegories of spring – Taurus)  
  • The month of May (two Knights on Falconry – Gemini)
  • The month of June (the harvest and flailing – Cancer)
  • The month of July (the threshing and the division of wheat – Lion)
  • The month of August (the fig harvest – Virgo)
  • The month of September (the crushing of must – Libra and the grape harvest
  • The month of October (the filling up of casks – Scorpion and the construction of casks)
  • The month of November (the ploughing – Sagittarius and the sowing)
  • The month of December (the slaughter of the pork – Capricorn)

The harvest and the month of June

The preparation of wine in October

Mosaics (and more) in Ravenna

A weekend in Ravenna in the Emiglia-Romagna region of northern Italy. Ravenna contains no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage sites – all religious buildings from the fifth and sixth centuries, all decorated with incredible designs in mosaic.

Ravenna was one of Europe’s most important cities in the Late Antique period. Between 402 and 751 it was the residence of the Western Roman emperors, the Byzantine governors and the Ostrogothic kings of Italy. Between 540 and 600, Ravenna’s bishops embarked upon a notable building program of churches, which were richly decorated in mosaic.

Basilica of San Vitale

Consecrated in 548 AD, the Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important sites of early Christian art. In construction it is octagonal with a large central cupola. Inside, the mosaic decoration is extremely richly coloured and includes not only portraits of Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora and Bishops Maximinian and Giuliano Argentario but also vivid depictions of wildlife, plants and landscape.

Basilica di San Vitale

Apse mosaic

The Sacrifice of Isaac

Emperor Justinian and his retinue

Empress Theodora and attendants

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

This small mausoleum was built in the fifth century for Galla Placidia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius; however, it was never used for her as she was buried in Rome. The mosaic designs are Christian symbols of immortality and eternal life.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Mosaic lunettes with Apostles

The Good Shepherd

Ceiling design with central cross and symbols of the four Evangelists

Basilica of Sant’Appollinare Nuovo

Erected by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great as his palace chapel and originally an Arian church, it was reconsecrated in 561 AD, under the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. The mosaic designs date from both periods and are in three rows. The top rows depict twenty-six scenes – thirteen show Jesus’s miracles and parables and thiteeen depict the Passion and Resurrection. Below these are prophets, saints, and evangelists, sixteen on each side, whilst the bottom row has, on one side, the Three Magi and a procession of the twenty-two Virgins and on the other side a procession of twenty-six Martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Saint Apollinaris.

Basilica of Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo

Christ and Angels

Three Magi

Procession of Virgins

Prophets, saints, and evangelists

Neonian Baptistery

This is the most ancient of Ravenna’s monuments, its construction, octagonal in shape, dating back to the early fifth century. The mosaic decorations are from the period of Bishop Neon in the mid-fifth century.

The ceiling design depicts John the Baptist baptizing Christ, who is standing in the River Jordan. Zeus as personification of the Jordan, is also present. A procession of the twelve apostles proceeds around the centre mosaic in two directions, ending with Saint Peter meeting Saint Paul.

Neonian Baptistery

Ceiling mosaics – John the Baptist baptizing Jesus

Saint Andrew’s Chapel

The Chapel was built by Bishop Peter II during Theodoric’s rule and it is the only archiepiscopal chapel of the early Christian era. It served as a private oratory of Trinitarian bishops from the beginning of the sixth century.

Christ dressed as a Roman soldier

Ceiling mosaics

Figures of Evangelists above the apse altar

Adjacent to the chapel is the Archiepiscopal Museum, containing numerous artworks and archaeological finds relating to the ancient city cathedral (now demolished), the most important of which is the carved ivory throne (cathedra) of Maximian.

The throne is entirely covered with ivory panels. On the front, beneath Maximian’s monogram, is the figure of John the Baptist, flanked by the four evangelists. Scenes from the story of Joseph (Genesis 37 – 50) are located under each armrest. The back panels, inside and outside, have depictions of the early life of Christ and his miracles. 

Throne of Maximian

Tomb of Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri, author of the ‘Divine Comedy’, was born in Florence around 1265 and spent his early life there. However, for political reasons to do with disputes between Guelph factions in the city, he was condemned to perpetual exile in 1302 and never returned to Florence. It was whilst in exile that Dante wrote the ‘Divine Comedy’.

After spending periods in Lunigiana and Verona, Dante was invited to Ravenna by Guido Novello da Polenta, lord of the city. In 1321, Guido sent Dante on a diplomatic mission to Venice; however, whilst travelling back he was stricken with malarial fever. He died in Ravenna in September 1321.

In the early-sixteenth century, Florence, with Papal support, asked for Dante’s remains to be sent to the town of his birth. Ravenna refused to comply and hid the bones. They had to be hidden again in 1810 during the French occupation to prevent them being confiscated and for a while they were forgotten about until they were found again in 1865. After being hidden again during World War II, they were finally replaced in the monument where they still remain.

Tomb of Dante

In search of Piero (part III) Urbino

Continuing the Piero della Francesca trail to the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, where two of the artist’s works can be found.

‘The Flagellation of Christ’ was described by the art historian Kenneth Clarke as “the greatest small painting in the world”. The scene on the left depicts a flagellation, assumed to be of Christ, whilst the portrayal of the three figures in the right foreground is something of an enigma, with numerous theories as to who they might be.

The ‘Madonna di Senigallia’ is a smallish painting and was probably originally used for private devotion. Surprisingly, it was not noticed until 1822 in the church of the Observant Franciscan convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, just outside Senigallia in Marche, hence the name by which it is now known. After its discovery it was taken to the Palazzo Ducale.

Piero della Francesca ‘The Flagellation of Christ’ (c.1455)

Piero della Francesca ‘Madonna di Senigallia’ (c.1474)