Posts Tagged With: art

Assisi: Saint Francis’ Life and Giotto’s cycle of frescoes in the Basilica

Frescos in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi

By Bettine Carey

In 1228, two years after his death, a basilica was built in the Rose City in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. This basilica was constructed in three parts: the crypt where Saint Francis’s remains are buried, a lower level and the upper level. The basilica was consecrated in 1253 by Pope Innocent IV, after which the work on the frescos commenced. The walls of both the lower and the upper levels are covered in beautiful frescos completed by a variety of talented artists. Because of the lack of reliable documentation from the time period, there is some debate about who all the artists were, and which frescos they completed. This paper will look into the different artists who played a part in the completion of the frescos while acknowledging the controversies surrounding the ownership of the paintings.

 The Lower Level of the Basilica

Because of the hilly landscape of Assisi, the lower level of the basilica of Saint Francis was built into the side of the hill, giving it the feeling of being underground. The lower level of the basilica was completed in 1230, about ten years before the completion of the upper level. The ceiling of the lower level is painted a dark blue, giving the impression of a night sky overhead. The paintings on the walls of the lower level of the basilica are covered in colorful frescos, which add an air of lightness to the feeling of nighttime.

The frescos on the walls of the lower level of the basilica depict the life of Christ, the Virgin, and the life of Saint Francis. The completion of these frescos took place between the 14th and 17th centuries, during the Renaissance time period. The Renaissance was a period of mastering the art of perfection. The idea of the “perfect” Renaissance man was outlined in The Book of the Courtier, written by Baldassare Castiglione among other authors. A Renaissance man should be knowledgeable in many fields of study: literature, history, politics, art and so on. Renaissance artists practiced in many different mediums; painting, sculpture, architecture and more. Because of the wide range of mediums they were capable of working with, many artists were well known in more than one area of art. Many of the artists who painted the frescos in Saint Francis’s basilica were well-known sculptors, or architects in addition to painters. Only the best Renaissance artists were recruited for the decorating of important monuments. Because of the scarcity of documents regarding this time period, there is some uncertainty regarding the exact identities of the artists who contributed to the frescos in the Saint Francis basilica, but some conclusions regarding the specific artists can be drawn from the few documents and artistic comparisons available today.

In the nave of the lower level of the basilica, an artist who was never named, simply called the Master of Saint Francis, painted five scenes comparing events from the life of Saint Francis to episodes from Christ’s life. The comparison between Saint Francis and Christ is continued to the right of the alter in the form of images showing the infancy of both figures. It is thought that the artist Giotto di Bondone completed this painting, although no one knows for certain. Other artists who contributed to the decoration of the lower part of the basilica are Lorenzo Lorenzetti, Cesare Sermei di Orvieto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, Dono Doni, and Giacomo Giorgetti.

The lower level of the basilica of Saint Francis is also home to the remains of the Saint. Due to the fear of tomb raiders, Saint Francis’s body was buried in the crypt and sealed off until around 1818 when they were finally rediscovered. There are other bodies buried with Saint Francis in the crypt, his first four followers: Friar Leo, Friar Masseo, Friar Rufino, and Friar Angleo.

 The Upper Level of the Basilica


The sidewalls of the upper level are covered with frescos of events from Saint Francis’s life. It is thought that the artist Giotto di Bondone painted these frescos, although there is some controversy surrounding this topic. Giotto di Bondone was born in 1266 or 1267 near Florence, Italy. Because of the lack of documentation from that time period, much of Giotto’s life is subject to debate. Customary to the tradition, Giotto started his artistic career as an apprentice; he may have been apprenticed to Cimabue, although it is not certain because of the lack of documentation. Around 1290, when Cimabue traveled to Assisi to make his contribution to the frescos of the lower level of the Saint Francis basilica, Giotto went with him. It was during this time period that the frescos in the upper level of the basilica were supposedly painted by Giotto.

An alternative perspective believes that instead of Giotto, three other masters painted the Franciscan frescos. Those three masters were the Master of Legend of St. Francis, the Master of Obsequies of St. Francis, and the Cecilia Master. Regardless of who the artists were, the frescos in the Saint Francis basilica remain to this day one of the greatest cycle of frescos of the time period.

In 1228, in conjunction with the commission of the basilica of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano was commissioned to write a book on Saint Francis’s life. As per usual for books about Saints during that time period, Tomas’s work was filled with half-truths and various versions of the truth of Saint Francis’s life that would portray the saint in the best light. Despite the inconsistencies in the text, Thomas of Celano’s work remains one of the most informative texts regarding the life of Saint Francis. The frescos in the upper level of the basilica of Saint Francis are all based on events that took place in Thomas of Celano’s book.

The 28 frescos that line the walls of the upper level of the basilica of Saint Francis depict events from the saints life that tell the story of his journey through a life of poverty and holiness. The cycle of frescos also serves as a template for how the Franciscan Friars should live their lives. Art scholars think that Giotto, or his school, painted 25 of the 28 frescos, the other three were painted by the Saint Cecilia Master.

In addition to the decorations in the great hall of the upper level of the basilica, the transept, cross vaults, and apses also boast beautiful frescos. These frescos, 34 in total, show events from the Old and New Testament of the Bible. The artists responsible for these works of art include Cimabue and his school, Giotto, and Jacopo Torriti.


The frescos in the Basilica of Saint Francis are exemplary of the traditional style of art during the 13th to 17th centuries, documenting the life of not only Saint Francis, but also Christ and the Virgin. The importance of these frescos goes beyond the face value. They represent the history of Saint Francis, the life of Christ, the devotion of the Virgin, they provide current Friars with a template for how they should live their lives. The art in the basilica of Saint Francis will remain influential to Italian culture for many years to come.

Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis. (n.d.). Italian Tourism Official Website. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from
Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis. (n.d.). Italian Tourism Official Website. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from
Assisi, the Basilica of San Francesco and Other Franciscan Sites. (n.d.). – UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from
Assisi: San Francesco. (n.d.). ARTstor Library. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from
Burr, D., & Halsall, P. (1996, January 1). Medieval Sourcebook: Thomas of Celano: Lives of St. Francis. Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from
Giotto di Bondone. (2014, April 28). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 3, 2014, from
Potter, P. (2002). Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267-1337). St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata (c. 1290). Emerging Infectious Diseases, 8(12), 1531-1531.
Saint Francis cycle in the Upper Church of San Francesco at Assisi. (2014, January 17). Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from
The Basilica of St Francis and the Sacro Convento. (n.d.). Assisi OnLine. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from



The Life of St. Francis

By Francesca Marino

Legend has it that in the Italian city of Gubbio there once lived a terrifying and ferocious wolf that ate the citizens and animals living in the town. Many people left Gubbio due to their fear of the wolf. A very passionate and brave man decided this could not go any further; this brave man chose to go forth and confront the wolf. When the wolf was found the man made the sign of the cross and asked if the wolf would please no longer cause any harm to the citizens and animals of Gubbio and in return they would always make sure the wolf was well fed. The man then stood in front of the town, with the wolf at his side, and claimed the wolf had done evil only out of hunger but did not intend to cause harm. The brave man then made a pact between the wolf and the citizens of Gubbio to be brothers with one another and since then no harm was ever caused by the wolf again. This brave man is no other than Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francis of Assisi was born with the name Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone during 1182 in the town of Assisi located in Umbria, Italy. The exact birthdate of St. Francis is not known. He was one of seven children in a very wealthy silk merchants family. Francis’s mother, Pica Bourlemont, had Francis baptized under the name Giovanni but his father, Pietro Bernardone, quickly decided to give him nickname Francesco, meaning “the Frenchman”, which was then shortened to Francis. Due to the families wealth Francis was provided with a life of luxury.

Francis lived a rather spoiled youth, one very typical to a young man from a merchant’s family. Everyone loved him and attended to all his meticulous needs. Francis spent his adolescence at wild parties that surrounded his life in sin; nothing Francis said or did was rooted by good intentions. He achieved to live up to all his fathers expectations. Francis was a good businessman and invested his love in France, which is exactly what his father wanted but all this did not satisfy Francis, he wanted more. Francis wanted to go to war; he set out to fight as a knight in battle when Assisi declared was on Perugia.

The first war did not meet Francis’s expectations, he soon found himself with chains around his ankles in a gloomy dungeon. Francis was captured as a prisoner and used for ransom where he was not released until a year later. In attempt to take on war again Francis set out as a knight for the Fourth Crusade. This is where he received his first, unexpected, calling.

On the first night out at war Francis had a dream where God told him that he had everything all wrong and should return home immediately, and so that is exactly what he did. Despite all the shame and humiliation he received from his father and peers for giving up in battle Francis aimed his goals towards something greater. Francis realized he had lost his zest to life and then began to invest an immense amount of his time in prayer and set out to build a powerful relationship with God; the vision deepened his ecclesiastical awakening.

Francis then took part in a pilgrimage to Rome; on this journey he joined the poor in begging at the doors of churches. One evening at the church of San Damiano while Francis was praying he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him saying “Francis, Francis, go repair My house, which as you can see, is falling into ruins.” (Thompson 1) Francis took this vision from Christ too literally; he thought Christ wanted him to repair the church that he was physically in at the moment. So he gathered fabric from his fathers shop and sold it to get money to repair the crumbling church. When Francis’s father heard what he had done, he considered it an act of theft and punished Francis by forcing him to stand before the Bishop of Assisi and the town to return the money. Here Francis not only returned the money but also stripped off all his clothes. He then turned to the crowd and said “Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’” (Dominic) During the following months Francis lived as a beggar in the region of Assisi.

Francis vowed to give up all his possessions and take on a life of poverty when he heard a sermon about Mathew 10:9. He now had nothing but everything he could possibly need. Francis then began to preach about devoting his life to God and to show obedience towards the church. One by one people began coming to Francis, they desperately wanted to live the life Francis was living. “His companions came from all walks of life, from fields and towns, nobility and common people, universities, the Church, and the merchant class.” (Brand 144)

Once Francis gained followers he began to see the purpose and reasoning as to why God has brought him to this point in his life. In 1209, Francis and his eleven followers went to Rome to request permission from Pope Innocent III for a new religious order. When Francis and his beggars arrived to Rome the Pope was so shocked by their appearance they were immediately thrown out. A few days after the friars arrival the Pope then had a dream about a “…tiny man in rags holding up the tilting Lateran basilica.” (Montgomery 1) The Pope saw this as a sign from God and immediately after this envision Francis was called back by the Pope and grated permission to preach. On April 16, 1210 the Franciscan Order was founded.

In 1209, while Francis was preaching in the church of San Ruffino in Assisi, Clare of Assisi stood in the crowd. Fracis’s words touched her deeply and helped her realize her calling. Francis and Clare began to work together and they then established the Order of Poor Ladies, which is now known as Poor Clares. This Order for women gave women the opportunity to seek out a life similar to those in the Franciscan Order.

Shortly after the Poor Clares grew very large and the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance was formed for those who could carry out the principles of Franciscan life in their day-to-day lives.

In 1219 Francis set off for a journey to Egypt where he hoped to covert the Sultan of Egypt, where a crusader army was located. Here it is documented that Francis unhesitatingly entered into a fire and came our suffering no burns. This incident is illustrated in the 13th Century Fresco Cycle, done by Giotto, which is located in the Basilica of Assisi today.

Francis soon had another vision, in this one he saw the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. This vision was unlike his others and because of it he received the stigmata. Saint Francis is the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ’s Passion. The wounds weakened Francis and brought his life to a peaceful end on October 3rd, 1226.

In my mind, Francis stands out and shines bright in particular related to other saints due to his love of nature. Francis felt that nature is God’s creations and nature was not only something he liked to admire but felt that it was a part of his brotherhood. It is a powerful thing to ponder how St. Francis considered a hawk his brother just as much as he did the Pope. It has been noted that Francis was capable of communicating with animals in ways that go beyond the average human capability. For example, how Francis was able to communicate with the wolf of Gubbio.

On July 16th, 1228 Saint Francis of Assisi was proclaimed a saint by pope Gregory IX. St. Francis is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy. October 4th is the national ‘Feast Day’ a holiday created in the honor of Saint Francis where the Catholic church holds ceremonies to bless the animals. Along with being an Italian Catholic friar and preacher he also is documented as being the first Italian poet. It is amazing to imagine the accomplishments he made during one lifetime. Saint Francis of Assisi impacted the teachings of the Catholic Church in ways that will never be forgotten. St. Francis continues to be a prominent role model in my life, as I wish to approach life by finding value in love and nature not in possessions.


Works Cited

Brand, Peter, and Lino Pertile. The Cambridge History of Italian

    Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

Dominic, Dustin. “St Francis of Assisi Full Movie.” YouTube.

YouTube, 10 May 2013. Web. 05 May 2014.

Montgomery, Brian. “St. Francis of Assisi – Saints & Angels –

Catholic Online.” St. Francis of Assisi – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2014.

Paschal, Robinson (1913). “St. Francis of Assisi“. Catholic Encyclopedia.

New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Ruth, Margaret The Word made flesh: a history of Christian thought

September 25, 2009.

Thompson, Anne B. “The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction |

Robbins Library Digital Projects.” The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction | Robbins Library Digital Projects. E. Gordon Watley, n.d. Web. 05 May 2014.



By Khyra Wilhelm

Assisi is a small town settled high in the slopes of Mount Subasio in the the central region of Umbria, and has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Italy due to its historical, cultural and religious significance.[1] Saint Francis was a man of great importance in Italy, who lived and died in Assisi, and to whom the city’s most important monument is dedicated: the Basilica of Saint Francis. He was regarded by his followers with incredible devotion and reverence due to his religious instruction and his character, which is embodied in the construction of the basilica. The basilica is important not only as an artistic and architectural triumph, but because it is largely reflective of the importance of Saint Francis and his life work.


Saint Francis was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone in 1182, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi. As a young man Francis enjoyed the easy, luxurious life of a privileged family and is often cited as a “free-spending playboy” in his youth.[2] During the battles between Perugia and Assisi in which he fought, Francis was captured and after a year as a prisoner of war he was ransomed by his rich father.[3] The following year was spent recovering from a sickness that Francis had contracted during his time of imprisonment, which led to an intense introspective period.[4] After his recovery Francis left Assisi with the intention of joining the Fourth Crusade as a knight but returned, much to the scorn of his father and friends, after experiencing religious visions of Christ and Mary.[5] Upon his return to Assisi Francis took to the streets preaching and soon had many followers. If not a knight, Francis’ father expected his son to work for the family business, but Francis renounced all legal claims to the family fortune, stripped off his expensive clothes and adopted a life based on that of Jesus and the Apostles, a life of poverty.[6] It was during this time that Francis began to write; these poems were religious in nature and the first to be written in the Italian language, instead of Latin, giving the poor access to religious literature.[7] As he traveled, Francis preached of poverty, repentance and compassion for the poor and sick.

The Basilica of Saint Francis is comprised of two separate churches on different levels, the Upper Basilica and the Lower Basilica, as well as a crypt, in which the body of Saint Francis is interred. The basilica is situated on the far west end of the city, atop a hillside previously called the Colle d’Inferno, the Hill of Hell, because it was where criminals were put to death on the gallows. This land was property of the Papacy and, after the death and canonization of Saint Francis, was donated for the construction of the church; thereafter the hill became known as the Colle di Paradiso, or the Hill of Heaven.[8] The basilica was decorated by numerous late Medieval painters from Roman, Tuscan, Florentine and Sienese schools, built in both Romanesque and Gothic styles, and for this reason it is a beautiful example of the development of art during the Italian Middle Ages.[9] The Basilica of Saint Francis has played a significant role in establishing the most typical characteristics of Italian Gothic architecture and uses the fresco as the main artistic feature and medium for conveying religious messages, rather than stained glass.[10] For this reason, the basilica has influenced the development of art and architecture within Italy.[11] The frescoes inside the Basilica were painted by Giotto, Cimabue (Giotto’s master), the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini, arguably the greatest painters of the 13th and 14th century.[12] Assisi has become an important pilgrimage site, for both its religious and spiritual significance as well as its artistic and architectural significance.


The Upper Basilica is open and expansive, with soaring Gothic columns and decorated in bright colors. It contains the world famous frescoes painted by Giotto and his school in the late 1290s–twenty-eight panels in rich detail surround the room in the lower part of the nave depicting the life of Saint Francis according to the Legenda Major, the 1266 biography of Saint Francis by Saint Bonaventure.[13] Beginning on the right with “Francis Honored by the Simple Man,” and continuing clock-wise, viewers follow the progression of the life of Saint Francis, his funeral, posthumous miracles and canonization. Although these frescoes are thought to be the work of Giotto, the true authorship is still disputed as to whether the frescoes were completed by the master or his students. The upper part of the nave contains a cycle of thirty-four scenes from the Old and New Testament, painted by followers of Cimabue and the Roman School. The works of Cimabue can also be seen in the cross vaults, transept and apses. The main entrance and the facade of the Upper Basilica was built between 1280 and 1300 in a Gothic style with a large, ornate rose window above the door. This rose window and other stained glass within the church are among some of the best examples of Medieval glasswork in Italy.[14]   

In stark contrast to the light and spacious Upper Basilica, the Lower Basilica is darker and more austere. The lower part of the church reflects the Romanesque style and was designed by Brother Elias, one of Saint Francis’ first and most loyal followers, to resemble a huge crypt, giving it a low-hanging ceiling with ribbed vaults and hues of dark blue with golden stars.[15] An unknown artist began the frescoes of the nave in 1260, making these the oldest in the church. It was also decorated by the grand masters of the Florentine and Sienese schools of the 1300s, including Giotto and his inner circle, Cimabue, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.[16] Five scenes from the Passion of Christ decorate right side while the left depicts five scenes from the Life of Saint Francis; in placing the two stories side by side in this juxtaposition Saint Francis is compared to Christ.[17]

Saint Francis died on October 3rd, 1226 and the following day construction of the basilica began. It is believed that plans for construction had already begun prior to both his death and his canonization in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX. However, after his death, the body of Saint Francis was secretly buried by Brother Elias and the other friars in the Basilica of Saint Claire for fear that followers would raid the tomb and spread his body as relics.  After the completion of the Lower Basilica in 1230 the body was moved to the secret crypt in the Basilica of Saint Francis and was only rediscovered in 1818, then opened for pilgrims to visit the burial place of the saint. The construction of the Upper Basilica began in 1239 and lasted until 1253. At the completion of both churches, Upper and Lower, Pope Innocent IV consecrated the site and later, in 1288, the church was raised to the status of a Papal Church by Pope Nicholas IV. The popularity of the church increased in the years after its construction and from 1270 to 1350 side chapels were added for noble families, destroying the preexisting frescoes in the opening of the walls. In 1934 Saint Francis’ most faithful brothers–Brother Rufino, Brother Angelo, Brother Masseo and Brother Leo–were entombed in the corners around the alter. More recently, in 1997, the Umbria region was struck by two earthquakes that destroyed many venerable buildings, including the vault of the basilica, which crumbled into 3,000 pieces and killed four people.[18]

Behind the basilica is the friary Sacro Convento, made up of numerous Romanesque arches and buttresses that provide support for the entire building. The friary came into operation early in its history, in 1230, but construction continued over a long period, giving it a blend of styles, including Romanesque and Gothic. Given that the church was situated on a hillside and therefore had limited space for expansion, the main supporting wall was forced to stretch in the opposite direction, toward the city. This great wall resembles a fortress from the valley below. Today the friary has been converted into a museum containing works of art and relics donated by the pilgrims that have flocked to the city over the centuries.[19]


Saint Francis was a man extremely dedicated to God and to others; he believed that one must give from the heart, give love to those that have no love and peace for those who have no peace. Saint Francis was not a man to bargain with his faith and believed that truly following Christ meant leaving everything behind for spiritual devotion, because in order to be spiritually rich one cannot be materialistically rich. He believed in obedience to Christ, dedication to Poverty, and giving one’s life over to Chastity. People of all styles of life were drawn to Saint Francis for “his repudiation of the worldliness and hypocrisy of the church, his love for nature, and his humble, unassuming character earned him an enormous following throughout Europe, posing an unprecedented challenge to the decadent Papacy.”[20] In a period of clerical corruption and “dissatisfaction with opportunities for spiritual life and the expression available within the existing ecclesiastical and social structures,” Saint Francis embodied the belief that an ordinary layman could have a direct relationship with God.[21] Saint Francis brought about a changing of ideals in religion during the Middle Ages and represented a new movement toward personal religion. Saint Francis’ followers were drawn to the nature of his character–dedicated, committed, compassionate, selfless, and humble. Furthermore, “the short period of [the basilica’s] construction, rare for a church of this size, is often explained as a measure of the great love that the people of the time had for St. Francis.”[22] Even in the early 15th century pilgrims from all over Europe were making their way to Assisi to honor the saint. The creation of this great monument, the short period of its construction, the care taken to protect the body and the numerous important artists that decorated the church all point to the influence that Saint Francis had. The basilica is a reminder of the importance of Saint Francis, not only in his life and work, but among his followers as well.



“Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis.” Italian Tourism Official Website. Accessed May 5, 2014.      basilica-of-st-francis.html.

“Assisi: Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.” Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power. Accessed       May 5, 2014.

“Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Last modified March     7, 2014.’Assisi.

Whatley, Gordon E., Thompson, Anne B., and Upchurch, Robert K.“The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction.” University of Rochester. Accessed May 5, 2014. http://    life-of-                                                                         saint-francis-introduction

Winke, Rebecca. “Saint Francis Basilica in Assisi.”, Italy Travel. Accessed May 5,      2014.

Zamora, Antonio. “Assisi – a picturesque medieval walled city.” Scientific Psychic. Accessed        May 5, 2014.


[1] Antonio Zamora, “Assisi – a picturesque medieval walled city,” Scientific Psychic, accessed May 5, 2014,

[2] Gordon E. Whatley, Anne B. Thompson, and Robert K. Upchurch, “The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction,” University of Rochester, accessed May 5, 2014,

[3] Antonio Zamora, “Assisi – a picturesque medieval walled city,” Scientific Psychic, accessed May 5, 2014,

[4] Gordon E. Whatley, Anne B. Thompson, and Robert K. Upchurch, “The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction,” University of Rochester, accessed May 5, 2014,

[5] [5] Antonio Zamora, “Assisi – a picturesque medieval walled city,” Scientific Psychic, accessed May 5, 2014,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gordon E. Whatley, Anne B. Thompson, and Robert K. Upchurch, “The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction,” University of Rochester, accessed May 5, 2014,

[8] “Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, last modified March 7, 2014,’Assisi.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis,” Italian Tourism Official Website, accessed May 5, 2014,

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, last modified March 7, 2014,’Assisi.

[14] Winke, Rebecca,“Saint Francis Basilica in Assisi,”, Italy Travel, accessed May 5, 2014

[15] “Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, last modified March 7, 2014,’Assisi.

[16] “Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis,” Italian Tourism Official Website, accessed May 5, 2014.

[17] “Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, last modified March 7, 2014,’Assisi.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Assisi: Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi,” Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power, accessed May 5, 2014,

[21] Gordon E. Whatley, Anne B. Thompson, and Robert K. Upchurch, “The Life of Saint Francis: Introduction,” University of Rochester, accessed May 5, 2014,

[22] “Assisi: Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi,” Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power, accessed May 5, 2014,

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The Orvieto Cathedral and Luca Signorelli’s Paintings

The Cathedral of Orvieto


“Because the Duomo of Orvieto has escaped the kind of close analysis that scholars have devoted to cathedrals of Florence and Siena, it remains the least understood of these three important central Italian Gothic cathedrals.”

-David M. Gillerman



One of the most popular and visited sites in the region of Umbria, Italy is the cathedral or “duomo” of the city of Orvieto. Construction of the cathedral began in 1290 A.D., during the Middle Ages, at the order of Pope Urban IV.[1] He commissioned the cathedral to provide a suitable location to hold the Corporal of Bolsena, the result of a miracle that had occurred in the neighboring town of Bolsena.[2] A church had stood in that spot, but it was torn down to make way for the construction of the grander Orvieto Cathedral.

Fra Bevignate di Perugia originally oversaw construction, but most of the work was done under the architect Lorenzo Maitani. Maitani took over construction around 1309, after the Office of Works became doubtful of the ability of the choir to support the rib vaults that had not yet been constructed.[3] He fortified the choir walls with three buttresses and oversaw much of the subsequent construction. Maitani’s buttresses were the first in a series of changes to the original layout of the cathedral.[4] For over 20 years, Maitani oversaw the building of the cathedral, and passed the job onto his sons when he died.[5] Other architects and designers are accredited with other alterations and the construction of different sections of the cathedral. All these different architects and design changes contribute to the cathedral’s unique appearance, which completed belongs to many different styles. The shape of the cathedral is generally Romanesque, but its adornment represents a variety of Gothic style architecture. The overall style is sometimes called Siennese Gothic, due to its similarities to the Siena Cathedral.[6]

The famous golden façade of the Orvieto cathedral was designed in the gothic style by Lorenzo Maitani and Cesare Nebbia.[7] The upper exterior façade is made of intricate gold mosaics depicting the life of the Virgin Mary, designed by Nebbia. The lower section of the façade was formed from bas-reliefs and depicts scenes from both the Old and New Testaments.[8]

The work was done by a large team of craftsmen, most from other cities and regions, including Siena and Tuscany. The marble slabs were placed on the wall after they had been almost completely finished. The work was done from bottom to top, with workers specializing in a specific part of the process. As explained by John White in an article about the Façade of the Duomo:

It appears that as soon as the general roughing-out had been completed, a series of specialists… descended on the marble blocks to work piecemeal through their allotted tasks, with the result that the less skilled and more repetitive assignments were quite rapidly completed, whilst the men charged with more complicated and more subtle processes fell steadily behind.[9]

Work on the façade began around 1350, and it took half a century to complete. Unfortunately, the mosaics deteriorated over time, and today only one contains some of the original stone. Many restorations have been undertaken over time to preserve the beauty of the cathedral.

Four bronze statues, symbols of the Evangelists, project from the façade, with a beautiful large bronze door at their center. This portal, designed by Emilio Greco, is also famous for its intricacies and technical expertise. Four panels known as the Summa Theologica in marble decorate the pillars that frame the doors. The first panel shows scenes from the Book of Genesis, while the second one links the Old and New Testaments by depicting episodes from both books. The third panel chronicles major events in the life of Jesus Christ. The fourth and final panel shows the Last Judgment.[10] Andrea di Cione did the famous rose window above the facade, one of the final pieces of over 300 years of construction. It is centered around the head of Jesus, which radiates outward like a sun to more mosaics.[11] Framing the rose window are figures of prophets and apostles, and a bronze figure of the Lamb of God rests directly below.[12]

The interior of the cathedral is very large and spacious, with 10 huge columns decorated by black a white lines. It is composed of three naves, and a transept cuts across the central block to form a cross.[13] The walls are also black and white, but intricate frescoes cover many of the walls and ceilings in the cathedral. The apse is decorated by many paintings, which include works done by Ugolino di Prete Ilario, Pastura, Ugolino di Prete Ilario, Pinturicchio and Giacomo da Bologna.[14] While the entire cathedral contains a multitude of art and history, two of the chapels attract special attention and renown.225px-Interno_duomo_Orvieto_

The Chapel of the Corporal holds the relic of the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. The miracle occurred in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a consecrated host began to bleed onto a corporal during Mass. It affirms the doctrine of transubstantiation, which claims that the bread and wine physically becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ at the moment of consecration. It is preserved in a large golden reliquary, built in 1339 by Ugolini di Vieri. The reliquary is the centerpiece of the chapel, which is also decorated by frescoes that depict miracles throughout the history of Catholicism that concern the bleeding host. These frescoes were painted between 1357 and 1363 by Domenico di Meo, Ugolino di Prete Ilaro, and Giovanni di Buccio Leonardelli.

The Cappella of San Brizio houses the famous frescoes by Luca Signorelli. Fra Angelico started the frescoes in 1448, but he left for Rome a few years later and never returned. 50 years passed until Signorelli would continue his work. His frescoes depict the episodes of the end of the world: The Preaching of the Antichrist, the Ascent of the Elect, the Antinferno, the Damned and the Resurrection of the Flesh. The frescoes of the Antinferno drew inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy and the state of purgatory.

The varying architecture of the Orvieto cathedral leaves a lasting impression on its visitors. The sheer size and intricacies of the design is awe-inspiring, and the history of the construction is interesting in its own right. One is struck by the history of the famous chapels and multitude of beautiful paintings throughout the entire cathedral. It truly is one of the treasures of Italy.



 Encycolpaedia Britannica. 15th ed., s.v. “Orvieto Cathedral.”


Gillerman, David M. “The Evolution of the Design of Orvieto Cathedral, ca. 1290-1310.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 53, no. 3 (1994).


Harding, Catherine. “The Production of Medieval Mosaics: The Orvieto Evidence.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 43, (1989).


“Orvieto’s Duomo.” Inorvieto Web. Last modified April 30, 2014.


Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Orvieto Cathedral.” Bluffton University Web. Last modified 2005.


White, John. “The Reliefts on the Façade of the Duomo at Orvieto.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 22, no. 3/4 (1959).



Luca Signorelli’s Frescos

By Jessica Howard

At first glance, the interior of the Orvieto Cathedral seemed similar to all of the other Cathedrals we had seen during our travel. Each just as breathtaking as the next the interior of Orvieto’s Cathedral was as gloriously detailed as it’s exterior. It was breath taking. Hidden in the left side, tucked away in a corner of the grand interior of the Cathedral, is a chapel. “La Cappella Nouva” is its name. It is where the widely known Luca Signorelli painted his frescos depicting Dante’s Inferno and the biblical book of Revelations upon its four walls. La Cappella Nuova began construction in 1408 and was finished in the year 1444. The chapel is separated from the rest of the church by two large iron gates leaving an air of sacred silence when you walk into the smaller room. The chapel was made in honor of Saint Britius also known as San Brizio who was one of the first bishops who evangelized people in Orvieto. But first the church was in need of an artist who could capture the grand beauty of the church as a whole through his paintings. Their first choice painter went by the name of Perugino who, at the time, was the most famous painter in the region of Umbria. Perugino was born in Citta della Pieve around the year 1446 and Raphael was one of his most famous pupils. However, he was in busy in Rome so he did not take the offer. Therefore Fran Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli started the decoration of the vault in 1447. They painted only two sections, Christ in Judgment and Angles and Prophets, which are both located on the ceiling of the chapels interior. Not soon after both artists were summoned by Pope Nicolas the Fifth to paint the Niccoline Chapel within that very same year. Fifty years passed, and still they had found no one who could complete the remainder of the chapel. That is, until they found a young man by the name of Luca Signorelli. At the time he was not a very well known painter and on April 5, 1499 he was awarded the vault. Only twenty-five years old, Signorelli started to add the scenes with the Choir of the Apostles, of the Doctors, of the Martyrs, and of the Virgins and Patriarchs. Upon seeing his completed works the board of the church assigned him to paint the remainder of the blank walls. He started in 1500 and completed in 1503 (there was a gap in the year 1502 because the church lacked funds) never the less, Signorelli finished his frescos within 3 years and they are considered his most complex and compelling work.


The first scene is called Preaching of the Antichrist. This fresco was painted soon after the execution of Savonarola, who was a Dominican friar and active preacher during the Renaissance, held in Florence on May 23 1498. Savonarola had been judged guilty of heresy, and the Antichrist depicted in the painting that is preaching slander and calumny, is causing an uproar just as Savonarola did. However, the Antichrist is being overtaken by the words of the devil who is standing just behind him whispering words to speak into his ear. The Antichrist is painted in resemblance to Jesus Christ, yet he is embraced by the devil. In the book of Revelations it says that when the last days of Earth are near the Antichrist will come and he will resemble in ways Jesus Christ. He will be charismatic and handsome and even people who say they are followers of Christ will follow him without knowing that he is actually being controlled by the devil. The followers of the Anti-Christ are killing the Christians in the foreground. And women and elderly people are being rounded up to be slaughtered in the background. According to the bible when the women and the elderly people are considered the weakest that is when the Revelation is coming. Behind the devil and the Anti-Christ there are Franciscans and Dominicans who are reading and speaking the word of God. They are strong in the words of Christ. Among the crowd in the painting are some familiar faces. A young Raphael is standing in the foreground striking a pose, Dante, Christopher Columbus, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Cesare Borgio are also some faces to keep an eye out for. And in the left corner of the fresco Signorelli painted himself, dressed in noble wear next to Fra Angelico. In the left background the Antichrist is being chased from the heavens by the archangel Michael. And in the right background he paints a large Renaissance styled temple.

The second fresco is titled The End of the World and is painted of the arch of the entrance into the chapel. There are paintings of cities collapsing and people running under dark grey skies. On the right side below there is the Sibyl with her book of prophesies and King David with his hand raised predicting the end of the world. In the left corner people are scrambling and lying in an abundance of different positions on the ground. It looks as if the people are trying to escape the painting and their fate inside the painting and trying to reach our world inside the chapel. During this time period a successful foreshortening technique was uncommon.

Next, the third fresco titled The Resurrection of the Flesh is known more commonly as Signorelli’s study of the nude body. He explored the possibilities of the male and female in the nude and tried to recreate a three-dimensional setting. His completion of this study is what makes him a Master painter in many art historians perspectives. Those figures brought back to life are being risen from the dead and are crawling out from under the earth. They are being received by two angles in the sky blowing on a trumpet. To see this in real life was beyond incredible, the detail he put into each figure was implacable. He got the composition of the human figure more accurate than any other painter during that time period in my personal opinion.

250px-Orvieto108The Damned are taken to Hell and Received by Demons is the title of the next fresco. Signorelli went to the extremes of fantasy when he painted the Resurrection and the Damned paintings. He evokes powers to portray cataclysmic vision and fate, and the despair of the damned being sent to hell. He once again shows his skills in painting the naked body, except this time the human figures are greeted by contorted and multi-colored demon figures. The demons are in near human form yet there skin is in the colors of decomposing flesh. The humans are being brutally tortured by the demons. One is flying in the air with a women on its back telling her of her undeniable fate in hell.

The next and final fresco is The Elect in Paradise that shows people looking up to angles playing music. This is the small group of humans who made it to heaven. It is believed that Signorelli may have used real nude models to help him portray his figures throughout all of his frescos.

Looking back I am honored to have been able to see these frescos in person. Because the people in the frescos were almost life sized it made everything come to life and surfaced a deep-rooted fear in my veins. The scenes of what the Judgment Day might look like is frightening but equally as important for people to know and be aware of. I’d never imagined such a small chapel in the left corner of a Cathedral, much like all other Cathedrals, could hold such a powerful and moving cycle of frescos.

Works Cited

David M. Gillerman (1994). “The Evolution of the Design of Orvieto Cathedral, ca. 1290–1310”. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (Society of Architectural Historians) 53 (3): 300–321. doi:10.2307/990939. JSTOR 990939.
Harding, Catherine. “Orvieto”. In J. Turner. Grove Dictionary of Art (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517068-7.

James, Sara Nair (2003). Signorelli and Fra Angelico at Orvieto: Liturgy, Poetry, and a Vision of the End-time. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0-7546-0813-1.

Pope Hennessy, J. (1955). Italian Gothic Sculpture. London.

Riess, Jonathan B. (1995). Luca Signorelli: The San Brizio Chapel, Orvieto (Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance).

George Braziller. ISBN 0-8076-1312-6.

Torriti, Piero. The Cathedral of Orvieto. Bonechi Edizioni. ISBN 88-7204-612-2.

White, John (1959). “The Reliefs on the Façade of the Duomo at Orvieto”. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 22 (3/4): 254–302.

1] Encycolpaedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v., “Orvieto Cathedral.”

[2]Mary Ann Sullivan, “Orvieto Cathedral,” Bluffton University Web, last modified 2005,

[3]David M. Gillerman, “The Evolution of the Design of Orvieto Cathedral, ca. 1290-1310,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 53, no. 3 (1994), 301,

[4] Gillerman, The Evolution of the Design, 301.

[5] “Orvieto’s Duomo,” Inorvieto Web, last modified April 30, 2014,

[6] Encycolpaedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v., “Orvieto Cathedral.”

[7] John White, “The Reliefts on the Façade of the Duomo at Orvieto,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 22, no. 3/4 (1959), 254,

[8] “Orvieto’s Duomo,” Inorvieto Web, last modified April 30, 2014,

[9] White, The Reliefs on the Façade, 254.

[10] White, The Reliefs on the Façade, 270.

[11] Catherine Harding, “The Production of Medieval Mosaics: The Orvieto Evidence,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 43, (1989),

[12] Sullivan, Orvieto Cathedral,

[13] Orvieto’s Duomo,” Inorvieto Web, last modified April 30, 2014,

[14] Orvieto’s Duomo,” Inorvieto Web, last modified April 30, 2014,


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The city of Urbino: literature, art and architecture

The Art of Urbino By Karolina Sotomayer The Ducal Palace in Urbino contains numerous works of art in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche. This gallery is famous for exhibiting one of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the world. Containing paintings by Titian, Raphael and Piero Della Francesca, it is a must-see when in Urbino. The following words will uncover some of the wonderful artistic masterpieces that can be found in the gallery. images-9 Probably one of the most jaw-dropping and significant places of the palace is the famous Studiolo for Federico da Montefeltro. The artist, who up to date remains unknown, should be praised for the masterpiece he has created. The intricate woodwork and the details of the walls of the studiolo are simply breathtaking. On the top wall of the room, one can appreciate a series of portraits of Cardinal virtues as well as other well-known people of the time, mostly members of the church and of Federico’s court. The general area can be divided into three registers, each filled with images that represent mainly the liberal arts. The artist therefore, has included images of books and scientific instruments as well as symbols of many subjects related to this education system. Grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy are some of the subjects present in the walls of the studiolo. Probably one of the most notable pictures however, is Federico and the prince’s portrait, in which the prince is wearing a robe, presumably symbolizing their humanistic ideals and a lance, whose meaning has various interpretations. One of the explanations given to why it is inverted is that it symbolizes the intention of creating war to reach a state of peacefulness. In the same manner, we see Federico holding a book, which represents the kind of man he wanted to be perceived as; he wanted people not only to know him as a wise man in decisions of war, but also as an educated person, as a lover of literature and the arts. In the article titled The Inlaid Decorations of Federico da Montefeltro’s Urbino Studiolo: An Iconographic Study, Luciano Cheles (32) describes the studiolo inscriptions in the following way,   Generally speaking, the studiolo inscriptions are reminders that the room is the refuge of a cultivated person. They fulfill this function better than the books, the scientific instruments, etc., for words being conventional signs, they denote literacy to a literate élite. There are more words in the studiolo than in any other part of the palace.   Apart from being the “refuge of a cultivated person”, it was also a room meant to embody the concept of vita contemplativa, or contemplative life, mainly characterized by the presence of landscapes from the Montefeltro territories and subjects from the liberal arts such as philosophy. The studiolo is an example of the variety of forms art could take during the Renaissance period for it is not very common to see an entire room’s walls covered in woodwork. The gallery contains other significant works that have given the place its prestige and fame. La Muta, one of Raphael’s earliest paintings resides in the Apartment of the Duchess at the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche; this painting is also known as the Portrait of a Gentlewoman. Dated around 1505-07, the oil on canvas painting was given the name of The Silent One not as a means of describing the woman portrayed but to keep her identity unknown. There is a clear resemblance with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa for Raphael had great influence of Florentine art and Da Vinci himself. In previous portraits to the Renaissance period, the faces of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza are done in profile and in rigid, straight poses; during the Renaissance period, art found a new road and the people in portraits began to look more natural and their poses more relaxed. The resemblance of La Muta with the Mona Lisa is in the softness of the skin and in the variation of the body posture seen in the hands, which are one placed on top of the other and the torso, which allows the portrait to be in ¾ perspective. Raphael was present during the making of the Mona Lisa and so he learned one of Da Vinci’s most valuable techniques, which can be found in the hands. These are crucial to the addition of realism to the figure, and how this woman wanted to be seen. The hands of La Muta are one placed on top of the other, symbolizing virtuosity; in the same way, she holds a handkerchief as a symbol of piety. Da Vinci’s version of the hands seems to be unsurpassable for his time; however, Raphael did a similar version adding his own signature technique, the index finger pointing forward gives a chance to enhance the details of the knuckles, making the hands seem even more real than those of the Mona Lisa. The pointing index finger does not only serve this purpose; this position of the hand is known as mano pantea, characteristic of Renaissance paintings, it meant the person had a spiritual life but no right to give blessings; this symbol is often found in pictorial depictions of Christ. It may seem hard to believe that so many messages can be hidden in a single pair of hands, however, even the jewelry the woman is wearing, such as the rings on her index fingers can tell us about her spirituality, confidence and wealth.Unknown-6 Another treasure found at the Galleria of the Ducal Palace is the Ideal City. Like, the studiolo, this masterpiece’s author remains an enigma to many. After various analyses and comparisons to other works of his, the creation of this painting has been attributed to a painter known as Cosimo Rosselli around the 1480’s. As a gift from the pope to Federico da Montefeltro, the Ideal City is said to have an Albertian character, meaning it has a formal style of composition, scale and decoration. Based on the laws of logic, the artist has managed to create beauty and balance. This concept of equality of powers is reflected in the buildings at the sides of the central building through their equal sizes and heights. During the Renaissance period, an enlightened government was that which respected its citizens’ freedom in order to manage a peaceful and harmonious society. In this way, it is clear that all the elements in the painting revolve around the central piazza and the central building. There are doubts on what this building’s purpose is, however most assume that it is a temple. The concept of the ideal city therefore, was extremely important during the Renaissance period, especially in Urbino under the Duke of Montefeltro’s power. According to Baldassare Castiglione, a writer of the time who was part of the court in Urbino, “Federico’s aim was to build a city in the form of a palace” (16). Even though nobody knows what this meant, it was clear that the Duke wanted to build a city that was not being imposed on its people and the landscape. During the Renaissance, people began to look closely at how things should be done and how people should behave; the perfect example of this is the Book of the Courtier, written by Castiglione himself in which he deals with the subject of what the ideal Renaissance man should be like. This is the same idea exposed in the painting of the Ideal City.Unknown-7 A visit to the national gallery of the Ducal Palace is a glance back at a period in history when people woke up and changed the way they perceived their life purposes. People became more curious and acquired the desire to improve, to gain more knowledge instead of believing solely what their religion told them. Likewise, Renaissance art was a return to discovering the human capacities and appreciating the human body and its mysteries.           Works Cited   Author Unknown. The Renaissance Ideal. Date unknown. Page 16. Print.   Cheles, Luciano. “The Inlaid Decorations of Federico da Montefeltro’s Urbino Studiolo: An Iconographic Study.” Kunsthistorischen Institutes, (1982). 32. Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz. Jstor. Web. April 23, 2014.   Galleria “Portrait of a Gentlewoman (The Silent One).” Galleria Borghese. Web. April 14, 2014     Niyazi, Hasan. “Raphael’s sublime ‘La Muta’ and the mano pantea.” 3Pipe-Problem, 2011. Web. April 16, 2014   Saalman, Howard. “The Baltimore and Urbino Panels: Cosimo Rosselli.” The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 110, No. 784 (Jul., 1968). The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd. Jstor. Web. April 23 2014.   Russano, Massimiliano. “Ideal-City Paintings Express Renaissance Concepts.” The Epoch Times. Web. April 23, 2014   Bibliography for Pictures Artist unknown. Studiolo for Federico da Montefeltro. Nd. Ducal Palace of Urbino.   Luciano Laurana. The Ideal City. Circa 1480. Galleria Nazionale delle Marche.   Sanzio, Raphael. Portrait of a Gentlewoman. 1505-07. Oil on canvas. Galleria Borghese.

The City of Urbino

By Kirby Franklin

Although few people have heard of Urbino, it was a mecca for culture, art, and commerce during the Renaissance period. The city especially developed this reputation under the rule of Federico III da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, because his influence created the great structures that we see to this day. The sight of Urbino, nestled on top of a hillside, is a direct representation of the medieval town it was envisioned to be. While architectural information lacks in the Roman and Medieval periods, it set the basis for what Urbino would become. Today, the main attractions to Urbino would have to be the architectural masterpieces, the Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace) created during the Renaissance period. During the Roman period, Urbino went by the name of Urvinum Mataurense, meaning “the little city on the river Mataurense”. Life during this time period was rather simple. Most of the citizens devoted their time to agricultural practices, so leisurely activities like architecture were not a top priority. However, the city center was a lively place that contained a basilica dedicated to the Roman architect Vitruvius, as well as other public buildings including baths, theatres, and temples. The Roman inhabitants built the infamous city walls during the third and second centuries BC (six portions of the original wall have survived to this day). This was their contribution to the architectural city that we see today. images-12 Unfortunately, very little information is known about the physical appearance of Urbino during the medieval time period. The most drastic change that occurred had to do with the expansion of the city at the end of the eleventh century. Land outside the city walls almost entirely belonged to the Church and lacked development, but the religious administration brought a considerable amount of urbanization to previously rural places. The need to contain the city within the walls persisted, so when the city grew, the walls grew with it. Very little changed occurred with this growth, the new additions mostly consisted of new living quarters and street patterns. Thus, setting the groundwork for the architectural masterpieces of the Renaissance to take place. At the end of the twelfth century, the then duchy of Urbino passed a law that allowed for further changes to happen to the city, but this time on a much larger scale. With this consent, during the middle of the fifteenth century, Duke Federico III da Montefeltro initiated the construction of the Ducal Palace. This undertaking would completely revamp the city, which made it a radical step for the town that required a great deal of care and effort so as to not destroy the existing urban structures. The foundation of the city had long ago been set by the Romans, therefore Montefeltro’s original blueprints had to be modified in order to accommodate this. An architect from Dalmatia, Luciano Laurana, was assigned to take on this task. He designed the façade, the infamous courtyard, and the grand entrance staircase. His contributions to the palace embodied what the people of the time envisioned as the exquisite living quarters that royalty were to live in. What Laurana created perfectly met Federico’s standards; he wanted to “create a city in the form of a palace…an ideal but impossible city, existing only in the mind.” Montefeltro wanted transformation, and that is what he got. Perhaps the most famous portion of the building, and the part that was constructed first, is that of the Palazzetto della Iole. The name originates from the fact that the main room has a marvelous chimney with figurines of Iole and Hercules carved into it; this attention to detail is what grants the Palazzetto della Iole its honorable reputation. The façade, for example, has a different exterior from the rest of the palace with its arched windows, most of which have mullions cutting the windows in half. The six windows in the middle feature ledges with ovolo moldings, leaves of ivy, and garlands of oak leaves. Three arched windows follow the other six; they have the same moldings, but the decorations are different, proving that the last three were made at a later date. Near the windows we can clearly see remains of medieval buildings where Federico had the intention of “pulling them down in order to avail himself of their site” (Rotondi, 19). On the inside of the palace, the Sala della Iole, Sala degli Affreschi, and the Sala dell’Alcova are the most grand rooms. Two of these rooms have vaulted ceilings with a medallion of Montefeltro’s eagle. For reasons unknown, Luciano Laurana only oversaw construction of the Ducal Palace for six years, after that, he left the creation in the hands of other architects and designers. His departure, unfortunately, makes it difficult to determine which other parts of the palace should be accredited to him or others.images-13 The second phase of the palace contains a mixture of Laurana’s designs with the finishing touches from other decorators. For instance, Laurana designed the marvelous entryway, but the decoration of the Grand Staircase is credited to Federico Conte, as his initials appear throughout the piece. Oddly enough, “there is a complete absence of heraldic emblems,” (Rotondi, 55) meaning that the Montefeltro family has no obvious representation as visitors enter the palace. The third phase largely represents the works of Francesco di Giorgio. One of his contributions to the palace was his work in the Duchess’s suite and the restoration of the ceiling in the Sala delle Iole. The palace typically had vaulted ceilings that gave the inside of the building elegant characteristics. Francesco di Giorgio, however, preferred a heavier look and made the ceilings flatter. Another glorious aspect to the palace is the Secret Garden, which both architects contributed their ideas to. Laurana began the project, designing a portico, a patio, a basement to support what was above, and a space to collect rainwater. Although some aspects were not exactly executed in this way, the end design was somewhat similar to this, with arches and floor level changes. Francesco di Giorgio comes into play with his hydraulic works. In order to supply the plants with water, a cistern (giant tank) was placed at the top of a spiraled ramp that led to the vegetation below. We know this is attributed to him because “during his youth he had been in charge of water installation in his native Siena” (Rotondi, 67). Clearly, the Ducal Palace is a place with various complicated, yet beautiful features. Urbino has a great deal of historical significance, and even more when it comes to our travel course. It is the setting for literature, art, and architecture throughout various time periods in history. Although, one could argue that its greatest achievements occurred during the Renaissance period. The Ducal Palace, of course, is an architectural work of art that has a great deal of history, as it was such a huge project. It undoubtedly holds many more treasures than mentioned here, but the most important aspects were portrayed as best as possible.

Renaissance Literature of Urbino: The Book of the Courtier

By Kloie Rush-Spratt

The age of the Renaissance in Italy was marked by art, knowledge, and culture. In Urbino, the most significant example of such is the building of the Ducal Palace and it’s influences it had on literature. Although the literature from the Italian Renaissance varies from region and was influential, Urbino holds much literary significance because of its source of the ideals of the Italian Renaissance. In the Italian Renaissance literature is another expression of the values cherished during this time period. Although literature found Urbino is but a few, this can be seen clearly with Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier and even in Giovanni Santi’s poetry. When Federico Montefeltro commissioned the Ducal Palace in the 1400’s he wanted to show Renaissance Italy that Urbino was a civilized city of culture. Montefeltro’s encouragement for education and art was at the root of his design. This made Urbino a center of attention from all over Italy and, from the help of Baldassare Castiglione, all over Europe as well. Castiglione looked at Urbino and saw that the city set the foundations for the ideal Renaissance man. In 1507, Castiglione wrote his first draft of The Book of the Courtier. The book is essentially the discussion on what makes the perfect cultured and ideal Renaissance man and woman. The topics covered range from the value of painting or sculpture, to the use of language, and the degree of a warrior-like status. What is important to note about The Book of the Courtier is the narrative style. The book is written as a dialogue–which is an important insight into the values of Italian Renaissance Culture. The book is not an instruction pamphlet–not dictatorial. Instead, the topics are all opened to debate and are debated. Each courtier in the book is offered a chance to speak and are given equal value. This highlights Montefeltro’s goals with Urbino, for it to be a city of growth through sharing of knowledge. Interestingly enough, that is how this book is presented. Another example of Renaissance ideals is the language the book is spoken in. In The Book of the Courtier there is a discussion on language of the ideal courtier. In this discussion there is favor for the Tuscan, romantic, lyrical language over the “archaic” Latin. This is seen in the book as the old men have a distaste for the new ideals of the Renaissance and relish in the ways of the medieval past. This is immediately put to shame by Castiglione who finds this lack of open mind to be limiting and ultimately a mistake. This preference of contemporary language is notable in Castiglione’s own style of writing. Olga Zorzi Pugliese does an analysis in her book Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making. Pugliese also discerns how Castiglione’s language is less militaristic. The tone in the book is also lightened by the constant jests made by the characters during their discussions, creating a feel of an open space for an easy going debate. Despite the ideal man having to progress to contemporary times, there are still some ideals that continue from the medieval times. Although there is a rise in the appreciation of art and dance, the ideal man is also to have a specific physique that is comparable to one of a warrior. Yet, while the man must have high self-esteem, what must be noted is the lack of arrogance the man should have. He’s fighting should not be for himself but for the righting of general wrongs, to even correct the prince if need be. This interesting equalization of a courtier and prince leads into the ideals of self-respect and humility. The ideal courtier is expected to uphold their own honor, presenting themselves as an individual. However, the courtier must not be flashy and wear subdued colors to showcase their elegance and humility. Although this may seem to contradict the idea of creativity, it actually highlights another Italian Renaissance value. For example, Castiglione also coined the word sprezzatura, which is the certain nonchalance a courtier must have of all his knowledge–he must avoid to impress. This reflects the design of the Ducal Palace, which although is tall, spacious and grande, has a simple elegant design that was meant to be open to the people. This idea of being sophisticated yet humble is another value seen in the Italian Renaissance that is reflected in literature. Also, on a note of equality, there is a discussion of the high respect for women the courtiers must have. This dialogue goes into the third book of the novel in which there is a strong defense of women and the need to be equal with men, to rid of their tyranny. Castiglione’s perceptive argument of women versus men is insightful, and ahead of his time. It is interestingly enough to note that feminism discussion has no conclusion. In fact, the debate is loosely connected to the idea of the ideal courtier and oddly enough that is last discussion in The Book of the Courtier. Perhaps Castiglione’s purpose with this was to make a point that there is not always closure. Also the ideal man is connected to all topics of conversation and although he must strive for truth, he must always be open to debate and alternative opinions. Another writer from Urbino was the famous painter Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi. Although not as influential, Santi’s poetry also recognizes the value of art–specifically paintings. Santi’s most known work is “The Life and Deeds of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino” and is ultimately a tribute to Montefeltro’s excellence and all the culture he had brought to Urbino. In this epic Santi praises many artists, showing the high esteem held for them in this time period. Santi was held close to the Ducal Palace because of his respect for such culture, and often wrote and staged theatrical events. Unfortunately, Santi has been overshadowed by the prestige of his son, making it difficult to find many of his works. Renaissance literature coming for the city of Urbino is scarce, yet the grand influence of The Book of the Courtier has impacted Europe for centuries. Urbino as a city of culture was recognized early on with the architecture of the Ducal Palace and was emphasized by the artwork by Raphael and “The Ideal City.” Even with Santi’s poetry one can see the potential the ideal Renaissance city had. However, the writings from Castiglione were the most influential as they fueled an cultured intrinsic lifestyle that was adapted by many. Ultimately, The Book of the Courtier sets the standards of man as having honor, integrity, athleticness, and, overall, culture. Many subjects are left open, such as women or preference of a prince over republic. These discussions that bear no certain conclusion are only an example of Castiglione’s belief in growth–that nothing is settled and there is always room for improvment. The Book of the Courtier was read by the courts all over Europe, namely England. It’s strong value in art, knowledge and culture has been used as instruction for the perfect courtier throughout centuries since. Indeed, Castiglione’s literary contribution highlights not just the peak of Urbino’s excellence, but also the values of Italian Renaissance culture. Works Cited Cavallo, Jo Ann. “Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making by Olga Zorzi Pugliese.” Rev. of Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making. Renaissance Quarterly Spring 2009: 206-07. JSTOR. Web. 3 May 2014. Morris, Roderick C. “Reconsidering Raphael’s Father.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 9 June 2009. Web. 2 May 2014. Osborne, June, and Joe Cornish. Urbino: The Story of a Renaissance City. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2003. Print. Pugliese, Olga Zorzi. Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (Il Libro Del Cortegiano): A Classic in the Making. Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2008. Print.

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