Archive for the Sansepolcro Category

Piero della Francesca Trail – Sansepolcro, Monterchi and Arezzo

Piero della Francesca’s Paintings

Piero della Francesca (1416/17-1492) was a Renaissance artist and mathematician, perhaps because of his interest in mathematics his paintings are noted for their perfect perspective and the solid, almost sculptural, quality of his figures. Art historians often cite the way he painted his figures as being directly influenced by Masaccio, regarded by many as the first (but short lived) Renaissance painter, whose paintings he would have seen in Florence. Piero della Francesca is claimed by both the Tuscans and the Umbrians as one of their artists because the town where he was born, Borgo San Sepolcro (now San Sepolcro), was sold by a pope to the Tuscan dukes when he was short of money.

The Madonna Di Senigallia by Piero della Francesca

The Madonna Di Senigallia by Piero della Francesca

Piero della Francesca is probably not as well known as he should be because most of his paintings are in out of the way places. Many were commissioned by Federigo di Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, Urbino is a small town in the Marchè that was transformed into a Renaissance court by this cultured mercenary captain. Two of his paintings are still there, the Flagellation of Christ and the Madonna di Senigallia, but his famous portrait of the Duke and his wife, Battista Sforza, are in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Others are still in situ in Sansepolcro, Monterchi and Arezzo and it is possible to easily see all of these in a day if you are based on the Tuscany Umbria border near the Upper Tiber Valley, Lake Trasimeno, Cortona or Arezzo. There is another incredible altarpiece in the Galleria Nazionale dell’ Umbria in Perugia but it would be too much to try and fit this in to a one day excursion, it’s best to visit Perugia and Urbino on separate days to complete the trail. I’ll write as if you are starting the trail in Sansepolcro, then visiting Monterchi and Arezzo but feel free to reverse the order of towns. Note that you have to book a time slot to see the frescoes in Arezzo, otherwise you may not be able to get in, you are asked to arrive 30 minutes before your viewing so allow plenty of time to park and make your way to the church of San Francesco.

Piero della Francesca Trail, Day 1

Sansepolcro, Monterchi, Arezzo

Piero della Francesca in Sansepolcro

Once at Sansepolcro park outside the town walls and head into the centro storico, following signs to the Museo Civico. Sansepolcro still has two of Piero della Francesca’s works, the Resurrection of Christ fresco and the Madonna della Misericordia, an altarpiece.

Piero della Francesca's Misericordia tryptych in Sansepolcro

Piero della Francesca’s Misericordia tryptych in Sansepolcro

The Resurrection Of Christ

Described by Aldous Huxley as “the greatest painting in the world” Piero della Francesca’s Reurrection of Christ is still in place in the exact spot where it was frescoed onto the wall. the painting is heavy with the symbolism of re-birth and renewal, The pink tinged clouds of the dawn mirror Jesus’ cloak as he emerges from the tomb, look at the trees on the left of the painting, they are are bare whereas on the right there are in leaf. The broad triangular base formed by the sleeping soldiers forces the eye upwards to the emerging Jesus who completes the top of the triangle. Jesus is painted as if we are looking straight at him, whereas we should should be looking from below, this deliberate trick of perspective serves to make him jump out of the painting. It is thought that the sleeping soldier without the helmet is a self portrait of Piero Della Francesca.

The Madonna della Misericordia

Painted over several years for a religious order with traditional artistic tastes, the flat gold leaf background to this painting only serves to make the figures look more three dimensional. Unlike medieval paintings with flat gold backgrounds, the Madonna’s cloak with which she shelters members of the order is painted in perfect perspective.

Museo Civico, Sansepolcro Opening Times:

15 June to 15 September 9.30-13.30 / 14.30-19.00

16 September to 14 June, 9.30-13.00 / 14.30-18.00

Closed 25 December and 1 January

Piero della Francesca in Monterchi

Madonna del Parto (Pregnant Madonna, or,  Madonna in Labour)

The heavily pregnant Madonna depicted in this fresco is quite unusual subject matter, very few other examples exist. Painted on a wall of the cemetery in Monterchi, the fresco was moved in the 199o’s to the old school building which has been converted into a one painting museum, much to the benefit of Monterchi’s tourist industry.

The Madonna del Parto (Madonna in Labour) in Monterchi

The Madonna del Parto in Monterchi

The fresco is a great example of less being more, two mirror image angels draw back the curtains of a tent to reveal the heavily pregnant Madonna, who stands supporting the weight of her child with her left hand on her hips and the right hand on her belly. The opening of the curtains and the slit allowing the front of her dress to expand could be construed as symbolic of the birth that is shortly to come. It is said that Monterchi was associated with a fertility cult and Piero della Francesca’s mother was from the village, so it is quite a suitable location for this painting.

Madonna del Parto Opening Times:

April to October 9.00-13.00/14.00-19.00, ticket office closes at 18.30

November to March 9.00-13.00/14.00-17.00

Piero della Francesca in Arezzo

The Story Of The True Cross, Cappella Bacci, San Francesco, Arezzo

This fresco cycle is one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance art. the story is a convoluted medieval tale telling the story of cross on which Jesus was crucified.

A detail from the Proof of The Cross by Piero della Francesca showing the same faces

Proof of the Cross – detail, note the repetition of the faces. Piero della Francesca, Arezzo.

It starts with the death of Adam and an acorn being planted in his mouth from which the tree grows. Instead of following a chronological order, similar scenes from this tale are juxtaposed on opposite walls of the apse, for example, the battle scene of the Byzantines defeating the Persians in the 7th Century is opposite the scene depicting Constantine’s  victory at the Milivian Bridge over Maxentius in the 4th Century. Higher up, you can see the Queen of Sheba recognising the power of the tree that the cross is later to be made from when she tries to cross the bridge it is made from. This is juxtaposed against Helena, Constantine’s mother, using the cross to resurrect a dead man. Note in a scene on the back wall of the apse, the angel visiting Constantine in a dream to tell him to paint the sign of the cross on his army’s shields, the composition has a remarkable similarity  to the Madonna del Parto.

Piero Della Francesca’s Legend Of The True Cross Frescoes In Arezzo, Opening Times:

Monday to Friday 9:00 – 18:30
Saturday: 9:00 – 17:30
Sunday: 13:00 – 17:30

Visits last 30 minutes

For information telephone 0575 352727

Mary Magdelene Fresco, Arezzo Duomo

From San Francesco, it’s a short walk uphill to visit the Duomo where you will find a small fresco of Mary Magdelene with her oil container on the left hand wall.

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Towns In The Upper Tiber Valley

The River Tiber has its source high in the Appenine mountains to the north of Sansepolcro. The watershed of smaller rivers that flow into the wide Tiber valley where Tuscany and northern Umbria meet is known as the Upper Tiber Valley or, in Italian, the Alto Valle Tevere. In fact, the border with the region of Le Marche also follows some of the ridges that divide the Tiber’s catchment area from other rivers. Because the Upper Tiber Valley comprises two regions it is sometimes difficult to find information in one place. In the past, initiatives aimed at the visitor have not been co-ordinated  – I have a small tourist office guide to the Upper Tiber Valley that only mentions places in Umbria. However, a recent scheme offering discounts for multiple museum visits in the Upper Tiber Valley indicates that things may be improving.

The Niccone Valley in Autumn

The Niccone Valley in Autumn

Most of Gorgacce Rentals’ holiday houses are in the Upper Tiber Valley, in particular, the picturesque Niccone Valley, whose river joins the Tiber near the the town of Umbertide. This blog post aims to address the piecemeal information about the area and provide visitors with a concise guide to the towns and villages, whether they are in Umbria or Tuscany.

Rooftops in Montone and the Upper Tiber Valley

Rooftops in Montone and the Upper Tiber Valley

The E45 Super Strada runs down the main valley and connects the larger towns, as does a private Railway Between Perugia and Sansepolcro. If you start to explore the smaller places you will find yourself on slow, winding roads, often with breathtaking scenery, it would take several days to visit all the places mentioned below. The Upper Tiber Valley has a lot to offer the visitor: a climate of hot summers, mild springs and autumns (and fairly cold winters); rustic dishes cooked with the finest local ingredients; beautiful landscapes of wooded hillsides, olive groves and vineyards dotted with farmhouses and castles; art works by Piero della Francesca and Luca Signorelli amongst others; and, of course, the subject of this post, historic towns and hill top villages.

The larger towns in the Upper Tiber Valley are near the river and include Sansepolcro, Citta di Castello and Umbertide. Smaller places worth visiting are usually hill top villages and include Caprese Michelangelo, Anghiari, Monterchi, Citerna, Lippiano, Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, Morra, Montone, Pietralunga and Preggio. Morra is in a valley but it is worth making the journey here to see Luca Signorelli’s Frescoes in San Crescentino.


Sansepolcro is so named because crusaders / pilgrims supposedly brought back a stone from the church of the Holy Sepulchre. I don’t think this holy relic exists anymore – I’ve never seen it mentioned as something you can see. Once owned by the popes, in 1441 the town was sold to the Tuscan Dukes to raise money, as an interesting side note a nearby village of Cospaia was left off the maps when the transaction took place – the two sides’ surveyors used different streams as the boundary. The village became an independent republic and survived by becoming a centre for tobacco production and smuggling.

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

The town’s most famous citizen was the Renaissance painter and mathematician Piero della Francesca, both Tuscany and Umbria claim him as “their” painter because of the transfer of the town from the Papal States to Tuscany. Two of his paintings are in the Museo Civico, the Resurrection and the Madonna della Misericordia, they are the highlight of a trip to Sansepolcro.

Sansepolcro – don’t miss:

  • Museo Civico – Piero della Francesca’s paintings.

Also consider:

  • Centro Storico – wander around the pleasant old town, stop in a bar or restaurant.
  • Duomo – Ascension by Perugino & 10th Century carved wooden crucifix.
  • San Antonio – Processional banner with paintings by Luca Signorelli on either side.

Citta di Castello

Citta di Castello has a lovely centro storico, and, being near the Tiber, it is pretty much flat which may be a welcome relief if you have spent a lot of time wandering around hill towns. There are plenty of bars and restaurants and a market on Thursdays and Saturdays, flea market on Sundays. The town has an unusual (for Italy) circular campanile that you can climb. It has two museums housing work by 20th century artist Alberto Burri, one time resident of Citta di Castello. These are well worth visiting and can provide a welcome change from the religious paintings of the Renaissance and Medieval periods. If you have time, the Pinacoteca houses the aforementioned Renaissance and Medieval art, much of it of dubious quality, however, it’s worth going in just to have a look around the frescoed palazzo that houses the collection. On second thoughts, perhaps I’ve being a bit down on the Pinacoteca’s collection – you will find paintings by Luca Signorelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, a badly damaged Raphael, ceramics by the Della Robbia family and an ornate reliquary by Ghiberti (he of the Baptistery doors in Florence).  Sometimes there are special exhibitions in the Pinacoteca, recently there was a privately owned Andy Warhol collection on display and a Mogdigliani exhibition is planned for spring 2014.

Rooftops in Citta di Castello, Umbria, Italy

Rooftops in Citta di Castello

Citta di Castello – don’t miss:

  • Burri Museums – larger paintings outside of town, smaller works in the centro storico.
  • Centro Storico – wander around and enjoy the ambience maybe visit a market.

Also consider:

  • Campanile – climb the circular bell tower.
  • Pinacoteca – lovely building, a few good paintings and a badly damaged Raphael.
  • Terme di Fontecchio  – thermal baths just outside town.
  • Folk Museum (Tradizione Popolare) – discover local crafts & old fashioned farmhouse life.
  • Printing museum – Citta di Castello still has a large printing industry.
  • Umbrian Textile Museum.


Umbertide is the nearest town to many of our rental villas in the Niccone Valley, like many Italian towns the outskirts are unattractive urban sprawl. However, the new part of town does have its uses, as many visitors discover when they use the Co-op supermarket. The old part of town next to the Tiber is the real attraction, especially on Wednesdays when there is a large and lively market in the old town selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, salami, fish and porchetta as well as a large clothing section. A tall castle tower known as the Rocca dominates the centro storico, there are often art exhibitions inside. In the last few years much of the centro storico has been pedestrianised and a large communal space below the Rocca is used for events in the summer, there is also a new footpath down to the Tiber from here.

Houses in the old part of Umbertide

Houses in the old part of Umbertide

Umbertide – don’t miss:

  • Umbertide Market – great value fresh produce.
  • Quick stroll through the centro storico.

Also consider

  • The Rocca – exhibitions change regularly.
  • Santa Croce – Deposition by Luca Signorelli.
  • Abbey of Monte Corona – octagonal campanile & interesting crypt.

Smaller Towns & Villages

Caprese Michelangelo

A village at the extreme northern end of the Upper Tiber Valley. It is famous for being the birthplace of Michelangelo but you won’t find any of his art there. La Verna, the monastery where St Francis is said to have received the stigmata is in the hills to the north of the village. There are several good restaurants and an (by all accounts) underwhelming Michelangelo Museum that is located in the house said to be his birthplace.


The small town of Anghiari was site of a battle between the Milanese and Florentine armies in 1440, the fighting was depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s lost fresco, The Battle Of Anghiari. There is some evidence that Giorgio Vasari (mannerist painter, architect and early art historian from Arezzo) painted over the fresco in Florence’s town hall, in what would if true, now be considered a massive act of vandalism. However, the frescoes were incomplete and damaged thanks to  Leonardo da Vinci’s use of experimental pigments and Vasari would have been painting under orders from the Medici family. Machiavelli wrote about the battle and tells us that only one soldier died – he fell from his horse. The mercenary captains of the day often came to agreements before a battle, why lose valuable men when you can still get paid for putting on a show?

The Town of Anghiari in Tuscany

The Town of Anghiari

Anghiari has been given the status of one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, the main attraction of a visit is to wander the narrow medieval streets and enjoy the views across the Tiber Valley towards Sansepolcro and the hills behind.

Anghiari – don’t miss

  • The thing to see is the town itself.


Whilst a pleasant enough village located on a low hill, most visitors would probably pass Monterchi without a second thought were it not the home of Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto (Madonna in Labour). Piero della Francesca’s mother came from Monterchi and the village was supposedly the centre of a pagan fertility cult – probably both factors that helped him choose this unusual subject matter. The painting is very simple, two angels pull back the entrance curtains of a circular tent to reveal the heavily pregnant Madonna. A visit to Monterchi is often combined with a visits to Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in Arezzo, Sansepolcro, Urbino and Perugia on the Piero della Francesca Trail.

The Madonna del Parto (Madonna in Labour) in Monterchi

The Madonna del Parto in Monterchi

After visiting the Pregnant Madonna, it’s worth taking a quick stroll up into the village and perhaps enjoy a coffee or glass of wine at the enoteca in the piazza.

Monterchi – don’t miss:

  • Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto.
  • A visit to the cave-like wine & cheese shop in the central piazza.


Close to Monterchi and higher up (450m), Citerna it would probably have more visitors than Monterchi if were it not for that village’s Pregnant Madonna. There are great views across the Upper Tiber Valley, a covered walkway inside the village walls and, in the church of San Francesco, a terracotta Madonna and Child once kept behind the altar, but now recently attributed to Renaissance artist Donatello and displayed in a side chapel.

The piazza in the centre of Citerna

The piazza in the centre of Citerna

Citerna – don’t miss:

  • San Francesco – Donatello’s Mother and Child.
  • A walk around the village taking in views & the medieval covered walkway.


A small hill top village with attached (private) castle. Because of its size, there is not a lot to here, if you are passing you could stop for a quick stroll and a drink in bar. A few kilometers from Lippiano, you’ll find the start of the Marzano Walk, a route from my e-book Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border that takes in old ridge trails and the abandoned village of Marzano.

Monte Santa Maria Tiberina

Monte Santa Maria Tiberina managed to stay independent until Napoleon invaded Italy in the early 1800’s. Situated on a high point on a ridge, its distinctive shape is visible for miles around. Ruled by the Marquises of Bourbon del Monte – descendants of Frankish invaders, the village was one of the few places in Europe where a duel could be fought legally.

The hill top village of Monte Santa Maria Tiberina

Monte Santa Maria Tiberina

M.S.M. Tiberina – don’t miss:

  • A walk around the village and a panoramic drink on the terrace outside the trattoria / bar.

On the walk take in:

  • The 16th Century castle.
  • Santa Maria church – built around 1000CE, impressive stone baptismal font.


Morra is surrounded by lovely countryside and many of the farmhouses nearby are now holiday homes. The village itself is not particularly noteworthy (sorry Morra!) but the church of San Crescentino has a remarkable fresco cycle of the Easter story by Luca Signorelli.

Detail from the crucifixion, San Crecentino, Morra

Detail from the crucifixion, San Crecentino, Morra

Morra – don’t miss

  • San Crescentino – Luca Signorelli’s frescoes.

Nearby consider:

  • Badia Petroia – 11th Century Benedictine Abbey.
  • Basilica of Canoscio – large church over-looking the Tiber Valley.


A perfect hill town that, along with Citerna and Anghiari, has been designated as one of Italy’s most beautiful small towns. Montone was the hometown of a famous mercenary captains, Andrea Fortebraccio, also known as Braccio Fortebraccio (Arm Strongarm). Before his death in a battle against the papal army in 1424, he was the ruler of a large part of central Italy. as you have probably come to expect by now, Montone has beautiful stone buildings and narrow alleyways and incredible views across the Carpina and Tiber Valleys. There are several restaurants and a couple of bars in the Piazza Fortebraccio where you can enjoy a drink.

Rooftops in Montone and the Upper Tiber Valley

Rooftops in Montone and the Upper Tiber Valley

In one of the town’s churches (San Giorgio also known as the Collegiata) is what is said to be a thorn from Jesus’ crown of thorns – donated to the town by the son of Andrea Fortebraccio (he had been given it by the Venetians after fighting in their army). According to my tourist office guide this church also has a painting by Perugino – this is the first I’ve heard about it, so I’ll have to take a look inside one day and confirm if this true.

The church of San Francesco and the attached monastery are now a museum, one of the 15th Century paintings (by little known Umbrian artist Bartolomeo Caporali) shows Montone in the background. From the church garden there are fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and the town’s rooftops.

A few kilometers east from Montone is the Rocca d’Aries, a castle perched high on a ridge. You can walk past the Rocca d’Aries if you follow the Montone Walk, a route in my book.

Montone – don’t miss:

  • A walk around the town of Montone taking in the views.
  • A drink in the piazza.

Also consider:

  • San Francesco museum.
  • San Giorgio (Collegiata) – reliquary containing the thorn & a Madonna by Perugino.
  • Montone Walk passing the Rocca d’Aries.


Located deep in the picturesque countryside of northern Umbria, Pietralunga feels like it’s a long way from anywhere. Close to the border with Le Marche, it is a pleasant small town built on the remains of a Lombard fortress. The Monte del Vento walk in my book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border starts a few kilometers from Pietralunga. I know people who rate the town’s pizzeria so highly that they will make the 25 minute drive along the road from Umbertide just to eat there.

The town of Pietralunga in Umbria, Italy

The town of Pietralunga


A hill top village high above the Niccone Valley, the location of many of our holiday villas.

An aerial view of the hill top village of Preggio in Umbria

An aerial view of the hill top village of Preggio in Umbria

The views from up here are, of course, wonderful. The village doesn’t take long to look around but there are a couple of bars and a restaurant where you can stop for refreshments.

A view from the village of Preggio

A view from the village of Preggio

There are many Castles In The Niccone Valley and several other villages including Lisciano Niccone and Mercatale di Cortona at the western end of the valley. People from the Tuscan part of the Niccone Valley (Mercatale) refer to it as the Val di Pierle, named after the hamlet and abandoned castle of Pierle. Several of the hiking routes in my e-book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border are in the Niccone Valley including the Migianella Walk.

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Train Ride From Umbertide To Sansepolcro

Two days ago we took the train from our local town of Umbertide to Sansepolcro, a town further north along the Upper Tiber Valley famous for being the home town of Renaisssance artist Piero della Francesca. The train makes a good day out, especially if you are travelling with kids, and, children permitting, you may be able to see some of Piero’s paintings as the museum is quite small and does not take long to look around.

Sansepolcro Train Station

Sansepolcro Train Station

The railway once connected Umbertide with Gubbio and Arezzo, today, however, the privately owned Ferrovia Centrale Umbria (FCU) is a single line running from Sansepolcro at the northern extreme to Perugia in the south. If you are checking train times, be sure to look at times on the website, you won’t find them on . If you’ve used Italian trains before you’ll know you have to “validate” your ticket before the conductor comes along, the machines to do this are on the trains as you enter.

We bought our tickets at the newspaper kiosk outside the station in Umbertide (€7 return) although it looked like you can also get them at the station ticket office on workdays. The journey to Sanespolcro takes around an hour and offers a different view of the Upper Tiber Valley to that of travelling in the car.

Umbertide viewed from the train

Umbertide viewed from the train

The railway passes through fields, towns and past back gardens. From the train, I noticed how many Italians are very keen on planting vegetable plots on every available piece of garden, sometimes encroaching upon railway property with a row of extra tomatoes! I also noticed how popular makeshift sheds are, a wooden frame covered in corrugated metal or plastic sheets seemed to be the most common design.

There are great views from elevated sections of railway across the countryside, as we approached stations there were often old industrial buildings in various states of decay. These abandoned buildings (along with the trains and the large amount of exposed concrete used in the station buildings) provided graffiti artists with an opportunity to show off their skills (or in most cases, the lack thereof).

Police Car In the central piazza, Sansepolcro, Tuscany

Police Car In the central piazza, Sansepolcro

Finally, we arrived at Sansepolcro station, there are no signs to the town centre as you exit, the easiest way is to turn right and follow the town walls until you spot an entrance on the left. We wandered straight out and eventually made our way to the centre by turning right. Despite visiting Sansepolcro several times in the past I was not sure if we were going the right way. We eventually emerged in the main piazza and found the Museo Civico, home to two famous paintings by Piero della Francesca, the Resurrection and the Madonna della Misericordia.

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

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The Paintings Of Piero Della Francesca

Art lovers who holiday on the Tuscany Umbria border are spoilt for choice when it comes to galleries and paintings, one painter, whose work you should try and see, is the Renaissance master Piero della Francesca. A mathematician and artist, Piero della Francesca spent much of his life working in the towns of the Tuscany Umbria border and the Renaissance court of mercenary soldier Federigo da Montefeltro in Urbino (in the neighbouring region of Le Marche). Determined fans of this remarkable painter can follow a Piero della Francesca Trail, taking in the towns of Arezzo, Sansepolcro, Monterchi, Urbino, Perugia and even Rimini on the Adriatic coast. A visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence can also be included in the Piero Trail as you will find his famous portraits of the aforementioned Duke of Urbino, Federigo di Montefeltro and his wife, Battista Sforza. The Piero della Francesca Trail forms the background to John Mortimer’s novel Summer’s Lease, if you haven’t already read it and you are interested in following the Piero Trail, it’s worth bringing a copy for holiday reading.

The Madonna Di Senigallia by Piero della Francesca

The Madonna Di Senigallia by Piero della Francesca

The faces in Piero della Francesca’s painting display an unusual lack of emotion, the solid figures draw their inspiration from classical sculpture and seem to be frozen in a moment in time. In 1897, the art critic Bernard Berenson wrote “Impersonality – that is the quality whereby (Piero) holds us spellbound, that is his most distinguishing virtue”.

A detail from the Proof of The Cross by Piero della Francesca showing the same faces

Proof of the Cross – detail, note the repetition of the faces. Piero della Francesca, Arezzo.

The same faces reappear throughout the paintings, and are sometimes repeated within the same scene with altered characteristics such as facial hair.

The same faces appear in different guises in Piero della Francesca's paintings

The same faces appear in different guises

Perhaps it’s stretching things a bit far to claim that this repetition influenced the Pop Art of Andy Warhol, but the overall effect is quite modern in style. The mastery of perspective and foreshortening in Piero’s painting is incredible. In true Renaissance Man style, Piero della Francesca was also a mathematician as well as an artist and the study of perspective naturally interested him, often the pictures depict Renaissance architecture and intricate floor patterns that show off his skill.

The Piero della Francesca Trail


The Legend of the True Cross in the church of San Francesco – book in advance as spaces are limited. A medieval tale telling the story of the cross on which Jesus was crucified and it’s magical properties throughout the centuries. It starts with the death of Adam and the planting of the acorn in his mouth, it ends with the defeat of the Persians by the Byzantine Emperor and the return of the cross to Jerusalem. Restored in the 1990’s, these vivid pictures are a “must see” on a trip to Arezzo.


The Resurrection, still in it’s original position and the Misericordia Polyptych are on display in the Museo Civico within the walls of the old town. Described by Aldous Huxley as the “worlds greatest paining”, the Resurrection shows Christ rising from a tomb while guards sleep beneath him. The pink tinged clouds reflecting the light of the rising sun and the bare trees on one side of the painting but in full foliage on the other are symbolic of renewal. The soldier second from the left is said to be a self portrait of Piero della Francesca.

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

The Misericordia Polyptych is remarkable in that the traditional medieval style with a flat gold leaf background actually enhances the solidity of the figures, which, unlike medieval paintings, are painted in perfect perspective.

Piero della Francesca's Misericordia tryptych in Sansepolcro

Piero della Francesca’s Misericordia tryptych in Sansepolcro


The Madonna del Parto

The Madonna del Parto (Madonna in Labour) in Monterchi

The Madonna del Parto in Monterchi

Depicting an unusual subject, the heavily pregnant Madonna del Parto could easily have been lost during the Counter Reformation when it would have been considered inappropriate. It now costs €5.50 to get in to see the Madonna del Parto, making it an expensive entry ticket to see a single painting, For those that are interested, you also get access to Monterchi’s museum of scales and balances with the same ticket. However, if you have never seen it, it is worth gritting your teeth and paying the extortionate entrance fee, this seemingly simple painting will stay in your memory for years to come.


The Flagellation of Christ by Piero della Francesca

The Flagellation of Christ

In the Ducal Palace in Urbino you can see two paintings by Piero della Francesca, the Flagellation of Christ and the Madonna di Senigallia. The Flagellation is the subject of much debate, what are the three men on the right talking about? Why are they ignoring the scene in the background? There are two sources of light in the painting, the interior is illuminated from the right and the exterior of the building from the left, does this mean that the two scenes are occurring at different times?

The Madonna di Senigallia (shown at the start of this post) is influenced by artists from the Low Countries who depicted biblical scenes in ordinary contemporary settings. Piero della Francesca would have met northern European artists at the court in Urbino.


The Annunciation on the Perugia altarpiece by Piero della Francesca

The Annunciation on the Perugia altarpiece

One of the masterpieces in the collection of the National Gallery of Umbria, the Polittico di San Antonio has a remarkable Annunciation, the perspective of columns in the background draw your eye to the back of the cloister. Look out lower down for St. Agatha, holding her breasts on a plate.

St Agatha holding her breasts on a plate

St Agatha holding her breasts on a plate


Portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta in Rimini

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta praying in front of St Sigismund

In the Adriatic town of Rimini, Piero della Francesca met another famous Renaissance man, Leon Battista Alberti, an architect and mathematician. Alberti started to remodel the 13th Century church of San Francesco as a Renaissance building, now known as the Tempio Malatestiano. The redesign was never finished but Piero della Francesca left this painting of Sigismondo kneeling in front of his patron saint.


Florence / Uffizi

In  the Uffizi Gallery in Florence you can see the portraits of the successful mercenary soldier Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and his wife Battista Sforza. In the background of his wife’s portrait it is thought that the town is Gubbio in Umbria where the Duke built a Renaissance palace. Most books will tell you that the Duke lost an eye and part of his nose in a jousting accident, however, I overheard a guide at the Uffizi saying he had the top of his nose removed after the accident to improve his vision. The side on profile may have hidden his missing eye but it also copied the profile of Roman Emperors on coins, something the Duke would have been keen to allude to.

Portraits of Federigo Da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza

Portraits of Federigo Da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza

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