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.

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