Tag Archives: Italy

JMW Turner in Umbria

Turner_selfportrait

Turner Self-portrait

By 1819, Europe had returned to relative peace, Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo and tourists were once again travelling the continent. This was the year the painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner first journeyed into Italy. At the age of 44 he created a collection of images detailing his travels as he meandered his way to Naples.

 

Turner’s sketchbooks

Upon his death in 1851, Turner gave his sketchbooks to the British people and some of these are now available to look through online, while you can thumb through others, under supervision, at the Tate Britain Gallery. Upon discovering this I sought out the books relating to his tours of Italy and have had fun tracking his route though Umbria, where I now live.

Turner’s skill in conveying, in very simple lines, the complexities of the Italian countryside cannot be understated. Using these small sketches and with the aid of my own knowledge of the area and Google maps, I have been able to follow his tour along Umbria’s eastern borders.

Crossing the Alps

PiazzaRepubliccoFolignoJMW, like many before, crossed the Alps at Mont Cenis through the Simplon pass and travelled down through Milan to Florence. Then making his way over to the Adriatic coast, visiting Ancona and negotiating the Apennines, into Umbria. Passing through Macerata, Coliferito and Pale, his first major destination in the green, landlocked province was Foligno.

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Piazza della Repubblica, Foligno

Wandering around Umbria in the 1800s was much like driving around the countryside today in a well-worn Fiat Panda with a dodgy suspension over rough terrain. The ride was very rickety, which is evident from some of the drawings that he did along the way. Sadly, in Umbria, the intervening 200 years have not seen much in the way of highway progress and the state of many of its roads still leave much to be desired. Potholes, landslides and large muddy puddles were as much a part of travel then, as they are now.

 

Visiting Foligno

RoadBtwFolignoTreviThe coach didn’t stop in Foligno but by following the order and pictures, it seems the travellers simply skirted the town walls and headed on out along the via Flaminio in the direction of Terni. Here the trip takes Turner along the foothills of the Apennines through the village of Sant Eracole, the Torre di Matigge and passed the towering vistas of Trevi.

It looks likely that one of the stops was at the

TorreMattige

Torre di Matigge

Roman temple of Clitumnus, where he made a number of sketches of the scenery and a detailed study of the building. After this break the bumpy ride continued on to Spoleto and here again it looks like Turner just rode around the town walls, making notes of the town as he went.

Spoleto sights

He did manage to catch some views of the ViaRomaViewSpoletoRocca that dominates the skyline and an interesting drawing below the Torre d’Olio, a view that has changed quite a bit over time. Leaving Spoleto, he recorded the Ponte della Torri and the castle, a picturesque spot that is still a popular photo opportunity with today’s visitors.

Carrying on along the via Roma and over

ViewViRomaSpoleto

View leaving Spoleto

the Somma pass he sketched the village of Palazzaccio di Strettura with what was then a ruined castle nestled in the valley. Today this ancient fortification is a modern, refurbished hotel and makes a great resting point on the way to Rome.

Terni and the waterfalls

Reaching Terni, Turner jotted down a few of the town’s Baroque buildings and made sketches of the town’s inhabitants Papigno_001as he relaxed. The Terni of today is a different place from the one he visited. After his time there the industrial revolution changed much of the landscape as it became a thriving steel centre. This was further altered when 80% of the town was bombed during the Second World War. Sadly many of the drawings from this time show places long lost to development and war.

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Papigno

While in the area, Turner, like many artists and poets before him, took a detour into the hills above the town to visit the magnificent, 2,000 year old, man-made waterfalls at Marmore, the village of Papigno and tranquil waters of Lake Piediluco. He spent a good many hours around the area, chronicling the landscape and making notes of the hills and villages, before heading off to Narni.

The magical land of Narni

NarniWestNarni, dominated by its formidable castle, is one of those hill towns that is visible for miles around. Turner recorded his progress towards the town gates with a series of drawings. Judging by the quantity of sketches he made, it’s fair to suggest he spent at least the night here.

Narni is famous for its Augustinian Roman bridge, much ruined, as you’d expect after

NarniEast

Narni

2,000 years but still with sufficient structure to be of interest. Here he drew various views around this landmark, as well as the interesting looking medieval bridge with its own tower at one end. Unfortunately in an attempt to slow the Nazi’s retreat during WWII the Allies saw fit to bomb this old monument. While an arch and three pillars of the roman bridge can still be found, you can now only imagine the other pretty bridge.

On to Rome

RomanArchNarni_001Continuing south down the slopes of the Narni hills he finally left Umbria and entered the province of Lazio. At this point the coach wound its way along the River Tiber in the wide open plains of the Tiber Valley. Passing through the villages of Borghetto, Otricoli and Castello Formiche, drawing as he travelled until finally reaching the town of Civita Castellana. Where it looks like he spent another day exploring.

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Roman Arch, Narni

From here Turner bounced on to Rome where he made a series of sketches of the ancient monuments along with a number of paintings. After the eternal city he went on to the culturally diverse Naples and like many tourists both then and now he took in the spectacle of Pompeii. Again producing a number of watercolours from the resulting drawings he made on his trip.

Returning to Umbria

?Borghetto; and Another Sketch 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Turner made his return journey in the winter, which is perhaps why he appears to have drawn less. He retraced his path through Rome and back up to Umbria, passed Borghetto, Narni, Terni and Trevi once more, making a few sketches as he drove by. At Foligno this time the coach went on to Assisi and probably below Perugia before skirting Lake Trasimeno, leaving Umbria then heading towards Cortona. As this part of his journey is

BorgettoCastle

Borghetto Castle remains

not documented, it can only be assumed that this is the route he took. This is a flatter road with bigger towns to stop.

Despite spending roughly two weeks travelling around Umbria, all that remains are his sketches. The draw of Venice, Rome, Naples and Pompeii seemed to have been greater subjects for his paintings. The diaries of his journey do make interesting viewing and while some areas have suffered destruction and heavy industrialisation there are many parts that have hardly altered at all over the last 200 years.

Turner’s Tour Map

The Wedding Gift

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Citta di Castello South Wall  – Watercolour and ink 74cm x 32cm (Sold)

 

When Lucia and Leo decided to get married, Lucia’s sister Beatrice asked me to do them a painting of Citta di Castello. This I was delighted to do as I’d been teaching them English for the last two years and know the three very well.

Town wall

LuciaLeoSo we’d decided on the town and just needed the layout. This time I decided to paint Castello’s south wall, which features the impressive gateway, the Pinocoteca decorated by Versari and a half-hidden view of the bell tower and duomo.

Painting tall trees

The length of the wall is cloaked in trees so I chose to paint them in a similar way to Citerna and Nice. Raising them above the scene to give uninterrupted views of the town but keeping the verdant look.

As the painting was for a wedding I put a dawn sky in, with lovely and pinks and purple, the start of a new beginning etc. This spiritual undercurrent was completed with the “Angel fingers” sun rays peeping out through the cloud and covering the town.

Noteable buildings

CdiC Wall (37).JPGCitta di Castello is flanked by hills with the outstanding Belvedere sanctuary on one side and the former Montessori, educational institute, Montesca on the other. The scene is completed with the bell towers that grace the skyline and the modern roundabout on the left.

Secret surprise

As it was for a special occasion the lovely couple’s initials “LB LF” were also inscribed as graffiti on one of the doors and the scoreboards on the Bocce ball court feature the date of their wedding “0206”.

The wedding itself was a wonderful event, the service was held at Canoscio and afterwards we retired to the hills above Sansepolcro for a wonderfully typical Italian reception. I was happy to have been asked to play a small part in their memorable day.  Tanti auguri tutti.

The Back of Santa Maria Tiberina

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Monte Santa Maria Tiberina – Watercolour and ink, 74cm x 32 cm (Sold)

Painting Monte

Monte Santa Maria Tiberina is an Umbrian, hill top village that is visible from just about anywhere on the Umbrian, Tuscan border. From it’s lofty perch it looks down on the Upper Tiber Valley, Citta di Castello, all the way down to Umbertide and up as far as Sansepolcro.

Painting Umbrian village

Monterchi – Watercolour and ink 36 cm x 36 cm (Sold)

Piero’s influence

This version was commissioned as a sister painting to the Monterchi study and so they share many similar features. MSMT’s location meant a Piero della Francesca sky was an essential element, while the large feature trees are reminiscent of the masters own style.

The view in reality, mainly, consists of wooded slopes but if you travel along the road from Prato to Monte you find yourself weaving your way around the hills. Climbing ever upwards, past small farms, olive groves and vineyards.

The painting shows the change in the vegetation, which culminates in the cluster of fir trees on top of the hill and the blockhouse structure of the ancient village.

The Stranger Shows

DSCN1165The visione di uno straniero mostra, (The Foreigner’s Viewpoint Exhibition) was held between the 9th and 24th January 2016, in Citta di Castello, Umbria. It proved to be a great success with a number of works selling, works commissioned and a good quantity of art prints sold.

Show in the snow

What was so very heartening was the sheer number of people who, on a chilly, snowy winter’s evening, made the effort to go out into the town centre. It was estimated that around 80 people come to the cosy surroundings of the ARTe Gallery to eat, drink and amiably talk.

DSCN1158During the week, several events were also arranged to encourage visitors to the show. These included a poetry reading by psychiatrists Tina Lepri and Helen Schick, with a lovely piano arrangement by Alison le Porta. Again there was a good turn out and those who came along had an entertaining evening.

Afternoon tea

Sunday, 17th January, myself and Mrs W hosted an afternoon tea gathering where we explained the history, culture and quirks of tea drinking in Britain. I was rightly assured that Italians are very interested in this strange British behaviour. It ended up as an apt event for a tea room, in which ARTe is established.

DSCN1193My initial skepticism was ill founded as around 30 people came in from the cold to hear me wax lyrical about Britain’s favourite herb and how it came to be so popular. Mrs W had also baked a range of traditional cakes and biscuits beloved by tea drinkers all over the U.K.

Lessons learnt

What I discovered from the exhibiting at ARTe, was that it’s a good idea to arrange other events to coincide with the show. This enables you to get more people through the door, gives additional reasons for promoting the art show and creates further conversations around the art work.

DSCN1202A simple selection of nibbles is guaranteed to bring the public in and something to entertain will keep the interest going. While you hope to sell the paintings, having small reproductions is also a good idea, as not everyone can afford the real thing but would like a memento of your work.

Grazie tutti

I would like to thank to all those who attended the event and especially, Daniela and Nicoletta from ARTe, Roberta from Lingua Piu, as well as Tina, Helen and Alison for their contributions, and Suzanne (Mrs W) for her unwavering support and enthusiasm.

 

Mapping the Town – Painting Castello’s centre

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Castello’s Centro Storico Watercolour & ink, 45 x 25 cm (For Sale)

As the exhibition date draws ever nearer I decided I had time for one last painting. However, what painting would complete the show?

In the end I decided that a street scene around the gallery would be an interesting idea.

Old maps

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Old map

I love the way old map makers, in the 15th century, fitted the streets and buildings into town plans, so I used an image of old Citta di Castello as inspiration.

The gallery is off the main thoroughfare and down a little side street that luckily links some of the town’s landmarks. It can easily be reached from the Duomo, the Civic tower and the Podesta, Castello’s old town hall.

Via Apollinare and Via del Popolo are normal Italian streets, lined with small, old churches and restaurants. The entrance to the market and a collection of shops can also be found here. Narrow, cobbled and brightly coloured, it’s similar to a thousand others all over the country but this one has the Tea Shop Gallery where the works will be on display.

Steamy sky

Citta di Castello street

Via del Popolo

The sky went through a number of permutations, fluffy, feathery and speckled, before finally settling on an abstract blue/purple swirl.

As the show is in a tearoom the idea was to create a sky that had the feeling of a boiling kettle or a steaming hot cup of tea. It was initially a pale blue but the tower was lost against it, so I tried a bolder approach.

No greenage

Another difference is the total lack of green. Just for a change I made a conscious decision to leave out any green in this painting. Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy and my paintings are normally full of verdant tones.

If you are in the area between the 9th and 17th January (2016) it will be great to see you. Why not call in for a cuppa? Ciao Neal!

Show can be seen  at:-

ARTe, Sala di Te, Via della Apollinare, Citta di Castello.

Monterchi Watercolor

Painting Umbrian village

Monterchi – Watercolour and ink 36 cm x 36 cm (For Sale)

Piero territory

Madonna del Parto - Piero della Francesca

Madonna del Parto – Piero della Francesca

Monterchi stands on the Umbrian Tuscan border and is famous for the rare painting by Piero della Francesca of the pregnant Madonna, “Madonna del Parto”. He was born locally, in Sansepolcro and many pieces of his work can be found in the area.

It’s for this reason I decided to paint a sky similar to his “Baptism of Christ” now held in the National Gallery in London. The tree on the left is also a reference to the 15th century painter.

The Baptism of Christ - National Gallery, London

The Baptism of Christ – National Gallery, London

Drawing the landscape

I used some sketches and photos from the Valtiberina painting that were taken looking across the fields from the road to Lippiano.

The colourful town stands out nicely, with a clear sky behind and plenty of trees in the foreground. Although I did a little pictorial pruning of the trees to give a better view of the buildings.

Watercolour of Umbertide Sul Tevere

Umbria towns

Umbertide Sul Tevere  Watercolour and ink, 74cm x 46cm (For Sale)

Painting Umbertide

I wanted to paint this watercolour as I was invited, along with six other artists, to take part in the opening of a new exhibition space in Umbertide. I decided that it would be a good idea to paint a new piece of the town for the show.

Inauguration poster

Inauguration poster

The latest picture of Umbertide was meant as a sister painting to the large one of Citta di Castello

. Taken from a viewpoint of the northern entrance into the town centre, the scene looks across the River Tevere. In the foreground are the road and rail bridges, the old wall and the houses of Piazza San Francesco.

La Rocca

Rising out of this is the old Rocca tower and the strangely shaped Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Reggia to it’s left. Also visible is the bell tower in the main piazza and the curvey facade of Santa Croce, now a museum, which is famous for it’s Luca Signorelli fresco.

The mountains of Acuto and Corona dominate the background with Civitella Ranieri on the third hill. On the tobacco fields behind Umbertide the painting shows the Abbey of Monte Corona and one of the brightly coloured, orange warehouses that litter the landscape around the town.

My sky is normally influenced by the weather at the time of painting and we’ve had some stormy, dark days of late. However, rather than create a grey, somber scene I decided to show the way black, leaden clouds come across as pink and purple to me. Much more dramatic and cheery.

Duccio’s Tree

International Gothic artist

Duccio’s tree

The large tree to the right is a reference to Duccio, whose work I’ve been studying lately in reference to a project on the lost predella of Simone Martini’s picture of Beato Agostino Nouvello, in Siena. I love the way that he realised that there were two elements to depicting trees, the dark green shape of the tree and its lighter leaves.

Umbertide Sul Tevere conveys the feeling of a town situated in a large open plain surrounded by tall mountains and tree covered hills. While linked with the outside world by road, rail and river it is still a busy but tranquil place to live.