Sketch for the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci

We didn’t do this pretty town justice.  It was getting late when we arrived and we were getting tired of the rain, but we did get to spend lots of quality time with our goal: the amazing fresco cycle The Legend of the Cross by Peiro del San Francesco in the church of San Francisco.  We found a parking spot real close to the church and then walked right by it.  The façade is one of those that never got the facing marble, and it is easy to not notice.  The Legend was recently restored and attracts great crowds so they have organized viewings in 15 min. groups.  We got our 4:00pm tickets from the gift shop next to the church (I understand it is best to get then in advance if you are going in the summer), and showed up at the church 5 min. before the appointed time.  It was empty, save for a janitor with a dry mop cleaning the floor.  There was no sign indicating where the group would assemble.  Just some gorgeous frescos and other works of art to distract us.  This church has lots to see in addition to the Legend.  We finally asked the janitor where to go and he pointed to the apse.  It was empty, save a sole attendant who outfitted us with English dialogue listening devices.  She took us around to the back of the alter and Oh My Gosh!  The cycle covers the 3 sides of the apse floor to ceiling (we’re not talking 10 feet here) and is gorgeously lit.  Italy is literally moving out of the dark ages when it was necessary to carry flashlights and lots of coins to light the frescos. 

 This fresco cycle is definitely worth making a special trip to see.  The colors are brilliant.  The figures are engaging, and the work is one of the most significant in the history of art for its use of realism and perspective. This picture is from the Web Gallery of Art's great article on the the fresco cycle.  The pictures on that site, including this one, are pre-restoration and don't do the now real thing justice.

 After spending over half an hour with the cycle, we walked in the rain up the hill to see the Piazza Grande.  It is quite grand and imposing, and a bit strange because it is very heavily inclined.  One side of the Piazza has an elegant logia designed by Vasari in the 16thC.

 Vasari and Anghiari end up being connected in a kind of serendipity.  When I returned home, I was anxious to find out more about Anghiari so I did some searching on the Internet.  Up popped lots of copies of sketches or cartoons for a grand but long lost fresco by Leonardo Da Vinci of the Battle of Anghiari.  Seems in 1503 the city of Florence commissioned Leonardo to cover a huge wall in the now Salon de Cinqucento of the Palazzo Vecchio with this fresco commemorating the Florentine’s victory over Milan in June of 1440.  They commissioned none other than Michelangelo to fresco the opposite wall with another victory scene.  (A kind of battle of the battles of  the titans of the art world.)  This wall never got underway as Michelangelo was busy with the Pope doing some famous ceiling in Rome, but Leonardo completed much of the Anghiari depiction.  In 1560 the city asked Vasari to transform this room and replace the frescos with something more in keeping the new political climate.  Vasari was a great historian of art and admired Leonardo very much.  Even so, his remodel included his own fresco.  Scholars believe that Vasari bricked over Leonardo’s fresco in order to preserve it.  He did this on some other remodels including a Giotto fresco.  Attempts to verify this have eluded all, but a few months ago the city of Florence announced a new campaign using modern instruments to see if Leonardo’s fresco is behind Vasari’s work.  Many believe he left a big clue: one of the flags in his image has the inscription: Seek and you shall find. 

 Anghiari was our wonderful find.


(Now there’s a pun)

A few weeks after returning from Italy we received a shipment from Gianni Basso in Venice with the exquisite calling cards he prints on his hand-set presses.  Right there among the stamps he used on the plain paper wrapper was the special Jubilee Year stamp with Peiro del San Francesco’s Resurrection.  Last year I wouldn’t have even noticed it.  Now I can smile and remember.


All text and photos © Copyright Howard Case 2000-2001
Photos attributed to other sources are so noted.