Actually, wouldn't it be wonderful to live almost anywhere in Umbria? That is perhaps my greatest dream -- to some day live in Italy. And perhaps even own property. Just a little apartment would do very well. I noticed, when I visited Spello last month, that there were several "For Sale" signs dotting the residential streets inside the city walls. It was pouring rain the entire day that I was there, so I didn't explore as much as I would have liked. But it didn't really diminish my pleasure in Spello. (Obviously, the sunny photo of Spello shown above is not mine, but comes from Wikipedia!)
Perhaps because of the rain (shown in my photo here), Spello's very narrow streets were not crowded, I had ample time to admire one of my new, very favourite fresco cycles and enjoy other art by two of the Renaissance's greatest artists Pinturicchio and Perugino. I even found a half-empty parking lot just outside the city walls (which was was crucially important since I was driving the somewhat scratched up, big-ass BMW rental car.)
I had a wonderful lunch, looked in some lovely shops but most importantly of all, saw some magnificent art. I was particularly impressed with Santa Maria Maggiore and its extremely well preserved Cappella Baglioni, with frescos painted in 1501 by Il Pinturicchio. As quiet as Spello was on this particular fall day, there were still periodic waves of tour groups through the church, all stopping to marvel at the roped-off chapel. Several were snapping photos and while I'm not sure this is good for the frescos, I took a few shots of my own -- without a flash (I believe it's the cumulative flashes of light from millions of cameras that eventually takes its toll on frescos.) Instead, I fed a steady stream of euros (the church's little gift shop will make change) into the light box to better see and record the art in the chapel.
I have posted a few times recently about Spello, but hadn't had the time before now to post my own photos (such as they are) and to talk a bit more about what I loved about this very hilly town of 8,000 fortunate souls.
My favourite sight, of course, was Santa Maria Maggiore. I really was agog at how very beautiful and how very well-preserved its frescos are. On one wall of the Baglioni chapel is Pinturicchio's spectacular take on the Annunciation (which includes a self-portrait by the artist, hanging on the wall behind the startled Virgin.) The chapel also contains Pinturicchio's Adoration of the Child, and on the third wall, Christ among the Doctors.
Pintoricchio is often regarded as a disciple of Perugino although the two Renaissance masters were only about 10 years apart in age. The two men's works are found all over Umbria, particularly in Perugia. But Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello also gives both artists some room to exhibit, as the church also boasts two of Perugino's large paintings, flanking the high altar.
But back to the famous Baglioni chapel. It takes its name from Troilo Baglioni, who as bishop of Spello was the commissioner of the project, according to art scholar Neil Moore. He says the Baglioni family was actually a very powerful clan that controlled Perugia for much of the 15th century, and whose bloody feuding had become legendary throughout Italy. In fact, I've blogged about the family previously, in the context of Perugia's great papal fortress, the Rocca Paolina.
In the very year that these frescos in Spello were being painted, a young Baglioni went on a rampage in Perugia and, in one of the most savage episodes in the city's history, this Baglioni exterminated most of the rest of his family following an extravagant wedding party, only to be killed in his turn by the survivors. As Moore points out, they were not to know it, of course, but the remaining members of the family would shortly be strangled in prison by the agents of Pope Paul III Farnese at the end of the Salt War of 1540, and their houses used as the foundation for the Rocca Paolina. It's still possible to walk through this underground city, one of the many interesting (and deliciously creepy) sights to see in Perugia.
And this certainly wasn't the only art that I was able to admire in Spello. From S. Maria Maggiore, I next popped into Spello's delightful little Pinacoteca Comunale which has a small but rich collection of Umbrian art. Just a short way up the street I found that there are also some wonderful, if somewhat damaged, frescos in Sant'Andrea. It also boasts a couple of Pinturicchio pieces. Most notable is a still life which shows an important letter resting at the feet of the four saints and Virgin and Child on a beautiful altar piece. The letter is from Cardinal Baglioni and in it he begs Pinturicchio to return to work in Siena, a town which thereafter – the letter is from 1508 - became the artist's home and where he spent the last part of his life, according to art scholar Moore, who is a staunch defender of the legacy of Umbrian artists.
While in Spello I also poked around some great shops, including a lovely ceramics store called Baiocco, which had been highly recommended by Slow Travelers and is located right on Via Cavour almost directly across from S. Maria Maggiore. I came away empty handed which may be just as well since only a few days later, I bought some really beautiful pieces at a shop in Deruta highly recommended by Bevagna native and fellow blogger Mary T.
I also had a wonderful lunch at Il Cantina, a Slow Travel favourite with really great Umbrian dishes.
I really, really have to return to Spello. Maybe to live there, someday......?
Here are some more professional shots of the Baglioni chapel: