Tag Archives: Assisi

Big Up Assisi

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Assisi – watercolour and ink 960 cm x 600 cm (sold)

Well here you have it, the Assisi painting. Purely because of its size this commissions was great fun to work on. Measuring 960 cm x 600 cm meant I had lots of space to play with so I was able to include lots of detail.

Assisi’s landmarks

There are the usual suspects, the basilicas of St Francis, Clare and Ruffino, the old clock tower and the ruined fortrezza on top of the hill. However, if you looks carefully around Assisi, there are also iconic domestic buildings that stand out. These are the places that give the city its character.

Olives and wine

The olive tree in the foreground is in the centre of a traffic roundabout as you arrive at the town. Towering above it is the bastion of Saint Francesco’s churches, you will also drive through miles of vineyards and olive groves on your way to town. These are illustrated in the bottom corners.

The scale of the painting allows you to get lost exploring the little alleyways, spotting details and identifying the landmarks. Everyone has their favourite spot and it’s fun to see where each person’s journey takes them. Enjoy your own trip around Assisi. 🙂

At Death’s Door in Assisi

DSCN7333The phrase “at death’s door” is synonymous with being seriously ill. When someone is looking really under the weather you’ll often hear, “Oh! he’s at death’s door”. While the meaning is quite obvious, where exactly is this deadly door.

Bad luck

DSCN7329So! during the middle ages and beyond it was considered bad luck to take the corpse from a house using the main entrance. Seriously ill people or the recently departed were laid out in the front parlour. From here, there was a smaller door next to the front door that led into the street. It was through this which the dead person in their coffin could be passed.

Death’s door

These doors of the dead are easy to recognise as they are only half doors and were built with a stone ledge to support the coffin as it was DSCN7343removed from the house. The body could be balanced here while everything was made ready for their last journey.

Ghostly image

I’ve been walking around the many medieval cities of Italy, and most recently, during my research for Assisi. As you explore the town you can make out the ghostly remains of these bricked up doors in the walls of the houses.

Others have been put to use and turned into shop display windows or now form entrances to another part of the building. Looking around I do wonder how many of the people using these entrances or pricing up trinkets realise that daily they pass through death’s door.

Supersized Assisi

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Sketch of Supersized Assisi

I have been commissioned to paint a supersized version of Assisi. Once framed the picture will measure around 1300 cm x 900 cm.

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A Child’s view

The commission is for a young lady who bears the name of this wonderful city. The intention is to create a painting full of detail with alleyways, gateways, buildings and wooded hideaways where a child can let loose their imagination and make up tales of wonder and mystery.

Assisi’s landscape

Assisi will feature prominently in the centre with vineyards and olive groves filling the foreground. This is pretty much in keeping with the landscape around the town. Field boundaries, copses of trees and little isolated farmhouses will lead up to the start of the town with its gates and walls.

IMG_20180524_0003Assisi background

On the left, sitting low to the horizon, will be the Basilica of San Francesco. The upper slopes of Mount Subasio will then fade off on the right hand side. The sky will be a bright, sunburst, a mixture of yellow, orange, pinks, blue and lilacs perfect for this setting.

I’d also like to fill the picture with secret letters, numbers and images to fire a young person’s imagination and get her to look deeper into the painting. We’ll see how this idea pans out though.

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Towers, steeples and archways

The size of the watercolour will allow plenty of space to paint a fantastic, magical landscape where kids can have fun adventures. The hope is that people can return to it time and time again and discover new things hidden within the picture.

With the paper successfully stretched it’s time to get painting Assisi in all it’s magnificent detail.

Assisi – Home to Saints Francis, Ruffino and Clare

watercolor Assisi

Assisi – watercolour and ink, 35 cm x 70 cm. (For Sale)

This Assisi watercolour is a very busy painting filled with lots of detail and colour. Like the town itself, you can easily get lost looking at the buildings, alleyways and churches. The three major cathedrals of St Francis, St Ruffinus and St Clare are all prominently featured, as are five of the medieval gateways.

Dawn sky

DSCN7606The sky is a beautiful sun burst pattern, one commonly seen in the Umbrian dawn. While the picture is divided into three views by two trees, which depict the styles of Giotto and Simone Martini. Both of whose work can be seen in the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco.

Streets of AssisiDSCN7349

As you walk the streets, what strikes you most is the array of arched doorways and windows. The town is full of arches, some ancient ones, long blocked in, others leading to delicious restaurants and bars, while others lead you down interesting back alleys to new and captivating piazzas.

Designing Assisi

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Assisi Sketch

Just how do you go about drawing a famous, 28,000 peopled town with a 3,000 year old history and a number of famous saints and landmarks?

Painting landscape

When drawing an iconic place it is important to identify the patterns, lines and shapes that make up the town. What is in the surrounding landscape and the natural forms that define it?

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Assisi bell towers

What are the key buildings that make up its skyline and how do people remember it? Where are its landmarks and stand out buildings? Once all that has been worked out it’s time to consider the colours and textures of the town. Once all these questions have been answered the town’s shape and essence will form.

 

Sights and shapes

It isn’t important to capture every window or roof tile but you need to draw its likeness. When someone looks over the

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Rocca Maggiore, Assisi

final image, will they recognise it as Assisi or will it be just a confusing collection of buildings, set amongst an undecipherable landscape? If you’ve done your job properly the answer is no.

Defining Assisi

So what are Assisi’s defining characteristics?

It sits on the slopes of Mount Subasio, with it’s gentle curves and distinctive shape. The lower reaches are covered in lines of olive groves and vineyards. Trees also lend a sense of place to an area and the Umbrian countryside is full of Cyprus, Umberlla pine, oak and the occasional palm tree.

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Assisi’s gates

The saints of Assisi

The striking feature of Assisi has to be the Basilica of Saint Francis, rising majestically from the valley floor. It dominates the mountain and can be seen from miles away. The town is also famous for Saint Clare and Saint Rufino, who both have cathedrals here.

 

Bell towers and castles

Perched high above the city’s churches, houses and streets are the ruins of the 12th century castle, the Rocca Maggiore. Long abandoned but still a formidable sight.

Leading off from the defensive fortress are the

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St Francis’ Basilica

remains of the town walls with the eight main gateways. Unlike Spello, which is situated at the other end of Mount Subasio, Assisi’s gate designs are pretty unremarkable but they do add to the town’s overall splendour.

To create a true semblance of Assisi you need to accurately capture these features. Its varied bell towers, the clock tower, the Medieval buildings surrounded by greenery and curvy hillsides. And of course, you can’t ignore the domineering presence of Saint Francis.

 

Dressing the Part

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Martini’s Altarpiece with predella designs below

Sometimes art requires that you do strange things.

On a recent project with Dr Gaie Burnet, about a lost predella of Simone Martini,

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Peasant with mop staff

I was given the opportunity to try on women’s skirts in the name of art. This was not out of some sexually repressed need to dress as a woman, after all, I’m British and this comes as second nature to us. However it was necessary for me to capture the likeness of medieval peasants for the panel.

And why?

It did come as a surprise to my wife, when I walked into the sitting room to ask her a question, wearing one of her skirts, I did explain it was for artistic integrity. Bags, walking sticks, a dressing gown for a flying monk’s habit, hats and belts all helped in creating the right look for the drawings.

My dogs were somewhat concerned by my behaviour as I darted around, changing clothes and then setting the camera to timed, running across the kitchen to strike a pose. Only to repeat the chaotic process two seconds later. For them balancing, prone on a stool, to imitate the flying saint was the final act of a madman.

Martini in Siena

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Flying monk

 

 

 

In this way and with the absence of my own willing peasant I managed to create a series of pictures that were used in drawing the missing panels from Beato Augustino’s altarpiece, which is now on display in the Palazzo Siena (check). The exercise was an illustration for Dr Burnet’s own work on the painting and how it may have been used for religious instruction and as a way of establishing the Augustinian Order during a time of great change.

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Peasant with cloak

Both Dr Burnet and myself found the process of working together an interesting one and exploring Martini’s works at Assisi and Siena was a wonderful experience. It was fun to see how these great works were not just pretty frescoes illustrating the lives of the saints, bishops and Christ but were being used for political propaganda, very much like today’s elaborate electioneering boards proclaiming one belief over another.

Dissecting the message

While I was able to bring my knowledge of painting, colour and design to the project, for me, it was fascinating to hear the political and religious history around the time the artist was working and discover the messages his patrons were most likely trying to convey. What, on the surface of things, appear to be simple depictions of people are quite often more complex, with much of the true meaning being forgotten over time.

I would thoroughly recommend artists and academics working together on projects like this, as both stand to gain a lot more than they realise about the process of making art. Both from a practical perspective of painting and design but also in terms of understanding what clients were trying to get across when commissioning these great works.

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Beato Augustino flying in

 

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Saint saves baby

Painting Mount Subasio

Umbria, Assisi painting

Mount Subasio, Assisi and Spello
Watercolour and ink, 74cm x 37cm (For Sale)

It has been an idea of mine for quite a while to paint Mount Subasio with its sentinals, Assisi and Spello. These are both ancient towns and in the case of Assisi very famous as the birthplace of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

Assisi Umbria

Basilica San Francesco, Assisi

The painting is viewed as if travelling along the SS3 between Perugia and Foligno. Out of the distance the curvey shape of Subasio appears and as you approach, the distinctive features of San Francesco’s basilica come into view. It is an awesome sight to drive up to.

Follow the highway

Porta Consolare with olive trees

Porta Consolare with olive trees

The bottom of the page represents the superstrada and if you look carefully as you drive along the foothills of Mount Subasio you’ll see the churches along the roadside. Spello at the other end is moulded around the slopes and has a number of ancient town gates. The most distinctive of these are the twin towered Porta Venere and the Porta Consolare, with olive trees growing on top of it.

The trees in the foreground represent the works of Piero Lorenzetti and Giotto, both worked in the area and have frescoes in the basilica. The palm trees are in the style of Pinturicchio who worked extensively in Spello and it is here you can see his paintings.