Reconsidering Raphael’s Father By Roderick Conway Morris.

Reconsidering Raphael’s Father.

First published: International Herald Tribune © Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2013

An interesting article about Giovanni Santi. I went to the exhibition too!

Posted in History of Art, Religious art, Renaissance paintings | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Englishwoman visits the crypt of San Biagio at Serra Sant’Abbondio

This is the last stop in our journey along the River Cesano and the Romanesque churches linked by the ancient road which runs alongside the river. We’ve already visited San Gervasio di Bulgaria, San Lorenzo in Campo and San Vito sul Cesano. Have a look at my post on San Vito to see how these churches are, or were, linked.

San Biagio is different from the other sites, because it’s deep in the mountains. You can see how the peace and beauty of the countryside attracted monks to settle here, where they could pray undisturbed by the busy traffic of the lower Cesano valley. The river is hidden in a deep gorge here. A long way down to catch your Friday fish!

The River Cesano hidden by the trees of its gorge below the church of San Biagio.

The River Cesano almost hidden by the trees of its gorge below the church of San Biagio.

Before we got this far, however, we had come a very roundabout way. I assumed that the cemetery of Serra Sant’Abbondio, where the church of San Biagio is located, would be easy to find and so I hadn’t researched it very thoroughly. In fact the church is in the old cemetery, which is not clearly signed – why would it be? We stopped at a caffè outside the walls to buy a drink but really to enquire.

View of Serra Sant'Abbondio from the caffe'

View of Serra Sant’Abbondio from the caffe’

The customers and barmaid could not have been more helpful. It was 15 August, Ferragosto, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin and a national holiday, but things seemed pretty quiet in Serra. The caffè was not very full or busy and no doubt we were a welcome distraction. First they explained to us that the church was in the old cemetery and how to get there, and then one young man went off to the Pro Loco (local civic association which often provides tourist information) to try and get hold of the key to the church. The Pro Loco had been open all day (bravi! giving up their holiday), but by the time we arrived it had only just closed, and our kind helper came back disappointed. We were frustrated too, as the church is known for its fine Romanesque crypt.

A lesson to me to ring in advance ( 0721 730657) and ask for the key another time. This is what I shall do next time we want to see inside an old church. No doubt I should have contacted the Mondolfo IAT (tourist information centre:  0721 939252) for San Gervasio, and the Pro Loco of San Lorenzo in Campo(0721 776479) for San Lorenzo and San Vito.

Off we went anyway to see the church and cemetery. The scenery was indeed spectacular,

View from the old cemetery of Serra Sant'Abbondio

View from the old cemetery of Serra Sant’Abbondio

and there was a deep sense of peace and holiness in and around the cemetery and the modest little chapel (as it turned out to be) of San Biagio.

Locked entrance to the crypt of San Biagio, Serra Sant'Abbondio. Strait is the gate!

Locked entrance to the crypt of San Biagio. “Strait is the gate!” (Gospel of Matthew chapter 7, verse 14.)


The chapel of San Biagio

The chapel of San Biagio

A farewell glimpse of the mountain scenery around Serra Sant'Abbondio

A farewell glimpse of the mountain scenery around Serra Sant’Abbondio.


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The Englishwoman survives rain in Italy (with a little help from Dante).


I love the book “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Arnim, but every time I read it a little voice says to me, “In real life it would have been raining!”.

It rains a lot in Italy, and the Marches are no exception. How else did they get so green and fertile? (Same goes for Umbria.) There is something relentless about Italian rain. The climate is not so changeable as ours – forget Gerard Manley Hopkins and “fickle, freckled, adazzle, dim.” Consequently, when the rain sets in, it sets in with a vengeance. And there’s no such thing as drizzle – just steady, driving rain, filling the ditches, flooding the roads, getting in through the roof, blowing in through the shutters, rushing down the hills, spoiling everyone’s fun. It rains in summer as well, when the heat really builds up and you get a thunderstorm. And some summers are just terrible. Last July (2014) it rained all month, seriously damaging the regional economy, which relies heavily on sun, sea and sand. It was disastrous for the banini, or beach franchisees.

Dante sums it up. Not by chance did he include rain as one of the tortures of hell. He knew what he was writing about. “Io sono al terzo cerchio, de la piova Eterna, maladetta, fredda e greve; Regola e qualità mai non l’è nova. Grandine grossa, acqua tinta e neve Per l’aere tenebroso si riversa; … “.(Inferno Canto VI lines 7-11.) “I am in the third circle, of rain Eternal, accursed, cold and heavy; its law and quality are never new. Large hailstones, dark water and snow Pour down through the gloomy air; …” (Thanks to Longfellow’s translation.)

The sommo poeta doesn’t have any suggestions about surviving a rainy holiday, however, so it’s back to me. Pack a waterproof and waterproof shoes. Go to Urbino, or Ascoli Piceno, where there is a lot to see and museums and galleries tend to be open. The same goes for Ancona, but parts of the city are really run-down and depressing. Drive carefully! A two-lane highway with lorries thundering past you is no fun in the rain.

I hesitate to suggest the local art galleries and museums, because they will probably be shut whenever you want to visit them. (Don’t get me started!) Someone must visit them, though, because July was a very good month for visits to museums and galleries. Check opening hours at the beginning of your holiday.

In summer, cinema is always in the open air. All English-language films are dubbed anyway. Dubbing is an important source of income for Italian actors and actresses, so I don’t expect it to be given up any time soon. However, there are lots of concerts of all kinds of music, for which there is usually an alternative venue in case of bad weather (maltempo). Similarly, although there is no theatre season in summer, there may be the odd performance, if you understand some Italian.

You may well not want to drag your children along to enforced cultural events, and unfortunately there aren’t many wet-weather tourist attractions, apart from the Grotte (Caves) di Frasassi, which are spectacular. Luckily, there is a good blog, Marche for Kids, with an English translation, not by a native speaker, which has a useful list of attractions, including some which would be fine in the rain, such as the caves of Camerano and the Roman cisterns of Fermo. Children and grown-ups would enjoy both of these. I only wish I could have read the blog twenty years ago!

Do you have any ideas for what to do in Le Marche when it rains? I’d love to hear from you.

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The workshop of Giovanni Santi after 1494/L’atelier de Giovanni Santi apres 1494/La bottega di Giovanni Santi dopo 1494

What did the 11-year-old Raphael do when his father died in 1494?

Summary: He probably learned his craft with Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, whether or not in his father’s workshop, until about 1500.

Le jeune Raphael qu’est-ce qu’il faisait après la mort de son père en 1494?

Sommaire: Probablement il apprenait son métier à Urbino en travaillant chez un artiste d’Urbino, peut-être Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, jusqu’à 1500.

Che cosa faceva l’undicenne Raffaello dopo la morte di suo padre nel 1494?

Sommario:Probabilmente studiava il suo mestiere da un artista urbinate, forse Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, fino al 1500.

As I have said before, Vasari in the Lives of the Artists says that he was sent to Perugia by his father (i.e. before 1494, the year of his father’s death) to be Perugino’s pupil. This story is highly unlikely, however, for many reasons. For me the clincher is that, according to Vasari, Raphael’s mother Magia was very upset when he left home (“non senza lagrime e pianti grandissimi della madre lo menò a Perugia”). Hardly surprising, if it were true, as she died in 1491 when her son (born in 1483) was only  eight.  Therefore, if Vasari is right, Raphael left home before his mother’s death, when he was  eight years old or younger. Titian was 10 when he left his home in Pieve di Cadore to train as an artist in Venice, which suggests that a boy as young as eight would not have been sent away as an apprentice. Probably Raphael did work with Perugino, but not until about 1502, when he was eighteen.

So at the age of eleven Raphael would have probably already started his training in his father’s workshop. Did  Santi’s workshop continue to operate after its master’s death? There is no documentary evidence to suggest that it did, though absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. Santi did not mention the workshop in either of his wills (cited by Anna Falcioni, Documenti urbinati sulla famiglia Santi in Raffaello e Urbino, Milano, 2009), which left his property equally between his brother Bartolomeo, a priest, and his son Raphael. Scholars assume that the workshop went to Raphael (see Henry and Plazzotta in Raphael: from Urbino to Rome, London, 2004, p.18) and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

We know that Raphael was in Urbino in 1500, because he was present at a legal hearing related to his father’s will: “Constitutus personaliter [personally present] … illustris Raphael quondam Iohannis Peruzzoli [son of the late Giovanni, grandson of Peruzzolo] de Urbino” (cited by Falcioni as above). The document refers to him as illustrious, which indicates that he had already acquired a certain status in his native city.

So from documentary evidence to plausible speculation: where was Raphael between 1494 and 1500?

Maria Rosaria Valazzi, in Rafaello e Urbino, cat.25, has attributed to Santi’s workshop a detached fresco from Pesaro’s duomo, or cathedral. Based on this attribution, she concludes that Santi’s workshop was operating in 1498-99 and Raphael was active in it. Frustratingly, she doesn’t tell us explicitly on what she bases the date 1498-99 (or am I missing something?).

Madonna and Child with Sts Peter and Jerome. Deposition of Christ. Attr Giovanni Santi's workshop

Madonna and Child with Sts Peter and Jerome. Deposition of Christ. Attr Giovanni Santi’s workshop. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.

Looking at the fresco, I can see what she’s getting at. There are some Santi-esque elements: – the characteristic tilted oval of the Madonna’s face, with the almond-shaped eyes, as in the Buffi altarpiece below.

Giovanni Santi: Buffi altarpiece for the church of San Francesco in Urbino, now in the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.

Giovanni Santi: Buffi altarpiece for the church of San Francesco in Urbino, now in the Palazzo Ducale, Urbino. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.

The dead Christ is also reminiscent of Santi’s Dead Christ, now in the Ducal Palace in Urbino.

The Dead Christ supported by two angels.

The Dead Christ supported by two angels. Thanks to .

Whether or not you are convinced by Valazzi’s attribution, and hence the existence of Santi’s workshop after 1494,  it is likely that between 1494 and 1500 Raphael was learning his craft from local artists, who may or may not have been managing Giovanni Santi’s workshop on his son’s behalf.

Top candidate for his master is the elusive Evangelista di Pian di Meleto, an artist who certainly existed, (see, eg, Falcioni above, p 277) but none of whose works survive and to whom no works have been indisputably attributed. Just so you know I’ve done my homework, other possibilities are Girolamo Genga and Timoteo Viti, but these are less convincing.

Evangelista appears in 1483 as Giovanni Santi’s famulus or servant (Henry in Raphael from Urbino to Rome, cats 15,16). He then pops up from time to time in various legal documents unconnected with Raphael, but Evangelista’s most important link with his late master’s son is their joint commission in 1500, to paint the Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino for the Baronci chapel of the church of Sant’Agostino, in Città di Castello. This only survives in a fragmentary condition: below are two fragments joined together, now in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

Raphael and Evangelista: Fragments of the Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita' Culturali.

Raphael and Evangelista: Fragments of the Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.

The Virgin’s head is tilted and she has heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes, in (as Kenneth Clark would have it) dear old Mr Santi’s typical style.  Significantly, in the commission Raphael is named first and as a master (magister). So we can assume (again!) that from 1500 on he was responsible for his own workshop. Referred to as both illustris and magister, he had already gained recognition as a considerable and  independent artist at the age of 17.

If you want an idea of just how good Raphael was at 17, having been taught by the worthy Evangelista, look at his drawings for the Coronation.

Raphael: Studies for the Baronci altarpiece, Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino recto

Raphael: Studies for the Baronci altarpiece, Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino, recto. Thanks to the National Gallery.


Raphael: Studies for the Baronci altarpiece, Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino, verso

Raphael: Studies for the Baronci altarpiece, Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino, verso. Thanks to the National Gallery.


Now we come to my favourite example of his father’s influence on Raphael: the crown. For the Baronci altarpiece Raphael kept and re-used the crown which God the Father is holding. It came originally  from his father’s workshop, and appears more than once in Giovanni Santi’s work, for instance in the Buffi altarpiece above, and in the Tiranni Chapel altarpiece below.

Giovanni Santi: Tiranni chapel altarpiece, San Domenico, Cagli. The crown is hanging above the Virgin's head.

Giovanni Santi: Tiranni chapel altarpiece, San Domenico, Cagli. The crown is hanging above the Virgin’s head. Thanks to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita’ Culturali.

So we leave Raphael in 1501, having completed his first documented commission. His work is still derivative, but from his draughtsmanship we can tell that no ordinary artist is waiting to burst forth.

For this post I have relied heavily on two exhibition catalogues: Raphael: from Urbino to Rome, London, 2004 and Raffaello e Urbino, Milano, 2009. I am pleased to acknowledge my debt to them.


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Blogger Awards | ITALY Magazine

Blogger Awards | ITALY Magazine.

You can use the ITALY Magazine Blogger Awards to nominate your favourite blog about Italy in a range of categories. I’d love it if you nominated me, but the more nominations and nominators the better – there are so many good blogs out there. For example, I’ve nominated Marche for Kids in the Travel category. So please follow the link in the title!

Potete usare gli “ITALY Magazine Blogger Awards” scegliendo il vostro blog preferito sull’Italia in parecchie categorie diverse. Se volete scegliere me, sarò contenta, ma più candidati sono, meglio è. Per esempio, ho scelto Marche for Kids nella categoria Viaggi. Dunque, seguite il link nel titolo!

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How to fill up with petrol/gasolene in Italy.

Do this on the autostrada whenever you can. It’s open 24/7 and attended.

Failing that, try to fill up on the superstrada, i.e. a toll-free highway with two lanes in each direction. But be warned! It was in a superstrada filling station that we met an angry Dutchman (almost a contradiction in terms). He had been charged extra by the attendant for “helping” him to fill up, without his permission. She had just grabbed the dispenser from him. I tried to find out what one was supposed to do by talking to the attendant, and it turned out that three of the pumps were permanently unattended. The staff had no access to them and you had to pay by machine. The other pumps were officially self-service, but you could ask the attendant to do it for you and that would cost extra (I think). Or were some of them designated “self-service” and others “assisted service”? Anyway, she was so busy talking that she forgot to charge for filling up for us.

Only use filling stations on other roads if they are attended. Do not, repeat do not, attempt to use the pumps and pay by machine when there is nobody there. First of all your credit/debit card probably won’t be accepted. Secondly, you need to have new, clean notes. Thirdly, it’s quite a complicated process. Fourthly, and this is important, the pumps sometimes run out of petrol/gas and you have to keep your receipt and come back next day. How you are supposed to do this, when you have run out of petrol/gas and are desperate by the roadside in the dark, I do not know. Also, you are not likely to come back next day if you are driving a long distance.

Oh, and it’s illegal to have a jerrycan of petrol/gas in the boot/trunk.

Happy motoring!

For tips on how to survive Italian mosquitoes, rain and tea, see the relevant posts.

Posted in Driving, Holiday, Survival, Tourism, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Surviving mosquitoes in Italy.

Do you have a fantasy of drinking or dancing in a smart Italian venue on a warm evening, wearing a glamorous dress to show off your tan and a pair of high-heeled strappy sandals? Well, forget it, unless you want to spend the following evening showing off your mosquito bites.

The little creatures come out at 7 pm, aperitivo time, and get everywhere. They particularly like your ankles, the tops of your feet, and your ear-lobes. You need to cover up from ankles to wrist to neck, and wear closed shoes. We’re usually in Italy in time for the summer sales, and I buy lightweight trousers and long-sleeved blouses. It’s difficult to find anything cool and protective in England.

Spray all over with a strong mosquito repellent. Probably best to buy it airside if you are travelling by plane, or go into a farmacia as soon as you can and ask for Autan Tropical. There are probably other good brands; I mention this one because it’s well-known and easy to ask for.

All this applies in spades to children. One year we couldn’t face forcing our daughter to rub on the mosquito lotion, and then she was covered in suppurating bites and we looked like Bad Parents.

Finally, mosquitoes don’t seem to like cool, rainy weather,  so you won’t have to put up with both at once.

For tips on how to survive Italian filling stations, rain and tea, see the relevant posts.

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