Anghiari from Busatti Brochure

What a surprise this little southern Tuscany town turned out to be.  We set out for it to find the Busatti linen showroom, at least that was one of Kris’s main goals for our stay in Umbria.  We had read about Busatti in a magazine and their goods looked sufficiently unique to seek it out.  I was able to envelope Anghiari in an agenda to see the frescos of Peiro del San Francesco in Sansepolcro and Arezzo – but the surprise was in the middle.

 We left Deruta in the drizzly rain and it just intensified, letting us know it would be gray and wet all day.  The clouds were hugging the hills and only occasionally could we see the majesty along the highway as we headed north to Sansepolcro, our first stop.  Our target was the Museuo Civico to see their collection of Piero’s work, but especially a single work of art, his famous Resurrection.  We got a relatively early start after lingering too long over Anna’s far-too-good breakfast cakes.  We needed enough time to see the museum and make it over to Anghiari to visit the Busatti shop, all before 1:00pm when we know everything would close down for lunch. 


  Sansepolcro is on the western edge of the Valtiberina, the bowl-like plane of the upper Tiber River.  Being flat, a modern city has grown around the ancient medieval-walled core, providing an interesting juxtaposition for a working city.  Just before entering the ancient city gate, there is a small park with a war memorial.  You see these in almost every Italian city, constant reminders that this little peninsular has been a battleground for much of its history.  This is one of those that wrenches my emotions.  It is a partial bronze wall with very Fascist sculptures in deep relief in a triptych design.  In the middle, tormented and fearful devils in army helmets are reining horror on the world; on the left a man in a suite with his hands tied behind him is hanging from an invisible rope. A partisan. Murdered by the Nazis.  The image of the partisan really moved me.  The heroism of civilians fighting for their liberty is truly moving.  Constantly in Italy we are confronted by people who tell us that the United States is very important to them, because they will never forget that many of our young men gave their lives in order to give them freedom.  They really believe the Americans liberated them from their own maniacal government and the total tyranny of the occupying Germans.  I tried to get a picture, but the rain and fog made it too dark and the figures flat and lifeless.  Fascist art is not appreciated enough.  It is very emotional and deserves more serious consideration.  Maybe enough time has past for the stigmata to be lifted and for people to look more seriously at it independent of the horrors its philosophy delivered.   Sure it can be grandiose, even flamboyant or vulgar, but it can also be stirring and clean and simple.


The Resurrection didn’t disappoint, and was certainly worth the special trip.  The Museuo Civico is a delightful, small museum with an impressive collection of Pieor’s works – appropriate as Sansepolcro was his home town.  The Resurrection occupies the end wall of a generous long gallery uncluttered with much to distract from this fresco.  A really marvelous gesture: the wall opposite the fresco has a large grand exterior doorway.  The door is left open during business hours and the doorway is glassed-in, allowing the general non-paying populace to climb the exterior staircase and view the Resurrection.  There are several other marvelous Piero frescos in the room, including the beautiful fragment of St. Julian, but the Resurrection is totally captivating. 

The thing that struck me about it was the obvious use of geometry and the contrived painterly placement of the figures.  This is not verismo and could never be mistaken for a Caravaggio, for instance.  But as you look at the images of the figures, you are captivated, almost mesmerized, by their haunting faces.  Starting with Christ, straight frontal, staring straight at you.  Then as your eyes move to the soldiers sleeping below – almost a separate painting, the amazingly strong neck of one of the sleeping solders grabs your attention.  Actually, I was particularly struck by a resemblance to the murals of Maxfield Parish, especially King Cole at the St. Regis bar in New York. Art experts will probably laugh as such a comparison, but I wonder if Parish admired Piero. The Resurrection is a wonderful painting. 

The Resurrection

St. Julian
Both images from The Web Gallery
A truly wonderful European Art resource


The Polyptych of the Misericordia
My illegal photo

Detail View

The other great Piero at the museum is the Polyptych of the Misericordia, with its lovely image of the Virgin enfolding the patrons in her robes, flanked by prominent saints, including a wonderful image of St. Francis and an almost completely nude St. Sebastian.  A wonder of traveling at this time of year, we had this museum and almost every other one we visited to ourselves.  Literally, rousing attendants as we entered galleries to turn on the lights.  As we entered this room, however, a photographer was setting up a very elaborate array of equipment to take official photographs of the polyptych.  I took out my little digital and motioned to him.  He shrugged, so I snapped a picture it, summoning a polite official informing me that this was not to be done.  After, the photographer told me he would prefer to have my simple camera with the digital preview, and he would gladly trade his large format 4 x 5 view camera!  I should have taken him up on it.  I collaborated with him by noting that the polyptych was extremely difficult to photograph because of all the gilded background, making it almost impossible to light without getting monstrous reflections.  “Exactly!  They don’t understand this!” waving his arm at the invisible administrari.   


One of my guide books mentioned a bit of history that enticed me even more to visit this small museum.  During the second World War, this town was occupied by the Germans near the end of the war (the memorial mentioned earlier testifies to how folks felt about that!).  The command came down to bomb the town.  The RAF officer in charge was an art buff and know of the existence of the Pieros – especially the Resurrection - and delayed the order until the Germans had retreated to the outskirts of the town.  So.  There it is, for all of us to see.  A painting from 1465 that saved a lovely town from destruction.

On to Anghiari!