Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Colour in Cantiano

Le Marche hills

Le Marche hills

Well it’s time to add a little colour and unlike the greens of Umbria and the yellows of Tuscany, I wanted la Marche to have a nice steely feel to it with an undercurrent of lusciousness.

Being colour blind this is always a challenge and I have to plan ahead, so there’s very little room for spontaneous daubing. Otherwise God only knows what combinations we’d end up with in my lust for freedom.

Sneaky Peek

Sneaky Peek

As with all water colourists, I find the best way is to start light and gradually turn up the brightness. This does lead to the feeling that the painting, for many hours, has a boring look to it. I constantly have to keep my enthusiasm in check  and leave the darker tones and shadows until later. ……… Much later.

It’s all coming together nicely at the minute and the modeling on the hills is starting to give the painting a nice sense of depth. Rolling Italian hillsides, covered in trees are gradually emerging and the peaks are taking on an ominous presence. I can’t put off thinking about the sky for much longer now.

Walking in Piero’s Footsteps

It is always assumed that the early landscapes of the Renaissance period were invented scenes. While some paintings such as Giotto’s Arezzo and Pintoricchio’s Spello are obvious dead giveaways, the majority are not.

Piero della Francesco painting

Baptism of Christ

That is until the dedicated work of two Italian researchers. Artist, Rosetta Borchia and naturalist, Olivia Nesci. Their studies of the works of Piero della Francesca has led to the identification of a number of landscapes that form the backdrop to some classic Renaissance paintings.

The two are based in le Marche and their inquiries have centred around the province’s northern area of Montefaltro and the bordering territories of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. It is known that the master worked intensively in this part of Italy and had a number of patrons here who commissioned works.

The MVR group have created wonderfully positioned “balconies” that give the visitor a painters view of the landscape and open up a new world on these old masters. Despite there being 650  years between many of the paintings creation and the present day, there are still many clues in the landscapes to identify the surroundings.

Finding the Duke

Piero della Francesca

Duke and Duchess of Urbino

Two of the greatest finds come from the diptych of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, Federico da Montefaltro and his wife, Battista Sforza. The profile of the one-eyed Duke with the broken nose is famous as are the hills behind this portrait. Piero painted the diptych, which can be found in the Uffizi, Florence, between 1465 and ’72.

The background corresponds perfectly with the hills and valleys of Ca’Mocetto, with the Metauro plane and Peglio. The prominent feature, the tranquil lake, has long since been drained but everything else is still in place. Right down to the town of Sant’ Angelo in Vado and the patterns on the slopes of Mount Fronsozo.  The tree lined road, is mentioned in a deed, to be found in the Urbania Library, where it is described as “flat and extremely beautiful”.

Landscape of the Duchess

His wife’s painting stands in front of the Marecchia River, very near San Leo. The rocky landscape contains the hills of Maiolo, Penna, Billi and Mount Acquilone, as well as the village of Talamello.  Terrible weather during the late 17th century and a severe storm in 1700, led to a landslide on Mount Maiolo. Even with this cataclysmic event, the profile of the mountain is still recognisable.

Piero's Resurrection

Piero’s Resurrection

Along with this painting the team have discovered the landscapes in Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ, the Resurrection, the Nativity and the Devotion of Saint Gerome. They have also pinned down the location of the reverse side of the Duke and Duchess’ diptych, The Triumph, the Metauro valley as seen from the Pieve del Colle.

The MVR Project’s site contains much more detail and comparative photos to substantiate their findings. As well as details for arranging tours of the Piero Balconies. I look forward to following this groups activities with interest and will keep an eye out for new landscapes as they uncover them.

Cantiano Composition

Cantiano composition

Cantiano composition

Well the planning and design is all sorted, we’ve got Cantiano roughed out in the bottom left hand corner, with its river and the hill that it curls around. Over towards the right is the motorway and the bridge under which you drive to reach Pantano and Il Borgo, higher up in the mountains.

Filling the hills

Each little hills is like a mini-landscape and has to be considered so, while the larger stylised trees are used to divide the picture up into sections.

On the top left is Mount Catia with its massive steel crucifix and the hills above Il Borgo fill the right hand side. The countryside is mainly scrub land, woods and the occasional area of cultivated land, such as olive groves. These are all linked by the meandering roads that steadily climb the slopes.

Drama Queen Sky

Drama Queen Sky

Next I need to decided on the colour scheme. One thing I am sure of it a dramatic sunrise/set, just like the ones we saw during our stay in Le Marche.

Although by tomorrow morning I’m likely to have changed things again.

Mark Making in Le Marche


The next project was commissioned by Brian and Susan for the Nichols girls. Brian wanted them to have a painting that showed off his beloved Le Marche region and in particular the towns of Cantiano and Cagli, along with the gorgeous mountain top village of Il Borgo.

Birthday Boy

Birthday Boy

It was Brian’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and a group of us made the trip across the border from Umbria into Le Marche for the celebrations, We, being lucky, were invited to stay an extra three days and explore the area with the intention of creating two paintings for his daughters.

Brian and Susan are wonderful hosts and treated us to the sights of the area, with Brian’s tales of the region and the history of the landscape. It was a great time and I got enough information and studies complete to set about mark making Le Marche.

Painting Italy

Cantiano sketches

Sketches for Cantiano

Umbria is hilly, verdant green with distant mountains, Tuscany’s rolling hills are ochre, sunflower covered with cyprus line roads. Le Marche is totally different. It is a tall, mountainous region, steely grey with deep, narrow valleys  and bubbling streams.

Italian Landscape



Small clusters of houses, like Il Borgo above Pantano, cling to the slopes and are linked by endlessly winding roads. One of the stand out features for me was the log piles that litter the road. Space is at a premium and people store their winter logs wherever there’s room, mostly at the roadside.

Cantiano LeMarche

Drawing Cantiano

I look forward to returning to paint again in Le Marche as it is a beautiful, rugged terrain, full of interesting places and dramatic landscapes. So here we go! Cantiano.