The Niccone Valley
Watercolour and ink on heavy duty cartridge paper. 74 cm x 29 cm, cream mount and dark wooden frame with gold trim.
Painting the historic castles of the Niccone Valley proved to be a fun project. Selecting the largest piece of paper I could get my hands on, which in retrospect still seems too small, I set about drawing the landscape. In the end the painting was more like six little pictures, blended together to make up the valley landscape.
Niccone castle sketches
The subject covers the starts on the left with the village of Niccone, (although not shown) with the weather worn Castello Montalto perched above. Instead we have the nearby restored, medieval village of Borgo di Migianello on the opposite hillside, hiding Niccone. On the hill behind Montalto is Polgetto’s castle, now a hotel, with the distinctive double bumped shape of Mount Acuto.
Travelling to the valley’s mid-point, Sant Andrea di Sorbello and Reschio castles watch over each other. Reschio lovingly restorted, private residence and Sorbello with its distinctive “dovetail” crenellations, identifying it’s owners, during the turbulent years of the Renaissance, as supports of the Ghibelline political cause.
Continuing on to the head of the valley, you reach the crumbling, but still habitable remains of Lisciano Niccone, protecting it’s village below. Nowadays a slightly rag tagged building but still showing a hint of its once grand status. The trip ends at Borgo di Vegli and the massive edifice that is Castle Pierle, still imposing after 500 years as a ruin. The remains of its ivy covered, crumbling walls are a testament to just how well it was constructed over 700 years ago.
Valley photos and sketches
Photographing and sketching the valley gave me a good idea of its feel, the flow of the hills, the wide valley floor, strewn with crops and tree lined fringes. The slopes vary between vineyards, olive groves and deciduous woodland. The roads wind their way along the length of the Niccone, with strada bianca disappearing up into the hillsides.
Some of these roads lead to the castles that protected the borders, others over the mountainous terrain to Umbertide, Cortona, Calzolaro and San Leo Bastia. To truly appreciate the surroundings you’d have to drive it’s 16 miles but what the painting does is convey a sense of its verdant slopes, the collection of forts and villages and the patterns, farmers have left in the landscape.
Painting dark sky
The weeks while painting, during the summer of 2014 were we saw one of the wettest July’s on record and the skyline had a constant tide of grey, dank, rain laden clouds. These were especially beautiful at dusk as the setting sun gave them a myriad of hues, purples, pinks, deep blues and orange/yellow linings.
The normal clear, bright blue sky had been supplanted by a dramatic alien summer. Violent, tempestuous but fascinating to watch. While I much prefer the sight of a cloudless, sunny day, these weeks provided the backdrop for an unseasonably dark sky. One, the poor tourists to the area will probably remember with frustration.