My latest painting is going to be a large 75 cm x 30 cm picture of the picturesque Niccone Valley in Italy. This luscious landscape is criss-crosses by the Umbria and Tuscany border. For centuries rival lords from Perugia and Cortona built castles to protect their territory.
Some of these are ruins and others have been refurbished into stately homes. A trip along its length and drives up into the wooded hillsides gives you a wonderful chance to explore this scenic part of Italy.
Castles of Niccone
High above the village of Niccone stands the now worn remains of Mont Alto. Guarding the entrance to the valley and providing Umbertide with advanced warning of trouble from Citta di Castello. Now abandoned and set in a thick forest, it is only accessible by foot.
Next you have the splendid Borgo di Migianella. In the centre of this restored hamlet you’ll find the remains of the ancient castle and gateway. It’s loft position offers great views along the Niccone and the steep climb made it easy to defend.
On the hills behind Niccone you can spot the tower of Castello di Polgetto, which is now a luxurious hotel. Again its high position looking down on Umbertide provided the town with notice of any comings and goings in the valley.
Sorbello and Reschio
Halfway down the Niccone there is the stand off between Tuscany’s Sorbello Castel and the lavish Reschio on the Umbrian side. These two fortresses have faced each other for 1,000 years and are embroiled in many of the dark tales of the mirky politics of the area.
At the head of the valley you reach the villages of Liscione Niccone in Umbria, with its run down but still lived in castel. And the monumental, ruined keep of Castello di Pierle, which stands on Tuscan soil, above Mercatale.
Pierle must have been quite spectacular in it’s day. You can understand why, in the sixteenth century, the Medici lord, Francesco, slighted the building. Destroying the walls he said would prevent it from becoming a haven to bandits.
Composition of the painting
Researching the painting, I took a drive along the length of the valley and explored the surrounding hillsides, taking photos and making sketches enroute. Getting into the countryside is a great way to get the feel for a painting and how the eventual elements will fit together.
The composition follows the previous, Morra Valley painting and references the style of Lorenzetti in his “Good and Bad Government” fresco in Siena. This continues with the study of High Gothic, Early Renaissance landscapes and how they were viewed by artists 700 years ago.