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Wouldn't it be fun to own a house in Spello?

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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!)

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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.

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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:

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Comments (10)

Living in a town of only 8,000 people sounds wonderful to me and then, having it be in Italy, even better! I love the idea of walking more, driving less, popping into churches all the time...

The jewel-tone colors in those frescoes are just incredible, and that's a gorgeous angel! And I love how baby Jesus is reaching his arms out (for Mary?).

I'd heard of Spello but had no real sense of what it was like, so thanks for another great post!

I know just how you feel! I still have not decided just where I would want my house or apartment to be located, but definitely somewhere in Italy!! I am so glad you enjoyed Spello. Too bad it was rainy when you were there. I love your photos!!!

chiaro:

sandrac,
Those frescos are very well preserved! The colours are very vibrant compared to The Last Supper we saw in Milan which is very much faded.

Looks like you had a wonderful trip and got around to see quite abit.

chiaro

sandrac:

Annie, the frescos really are stunning -- and the baby Jesus does look as if he's reaching up for his mother! I think you'd love Spello. I know I could live happily there without a car. And wouldn't it be wonderful to wander into these churches whenever you wished!!

Girasoli, you're so kind. My photos (with or without a flash) are shabby compared with your art -- and you have some wonderful photos of Spello.

Chiaro, I'm sorry to hear The Last Supper has faded so badly. I guess it's a victim of its own popularity. Still, I'd love to see it for myself someday!

That was a fantastic read! I had a brief time in Spello when the boys were small. :)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, I enjoyed reading this post. Spello sounds like a wonderful town and I hope to one day visit there. And when I do, I'm going to make sure to visit Santa Maria Maggiore.

The frescos are so well preserved and I agree that the colors are very vibrant. I would love to see them in person. It was very interesting to also read the history on the Baglioni family.

Thanks for the great read this morning.

nim:

Hey Sandra,

My roommate, who is an artist, ticked off people who were snapping pictures of art with the flash of their cameras turned on, during our very first trip to Italy recently. He can look quite intimidating, and scared some of the offenders. Me, I took the coward's way out and pretended I didn't know him!!

I love how vibrant the colours are in your pictures.

nim

sandrac:

Leslie, I wonder if Spello has changed much since then...probably not! That's part of its charm.

Hi Kathy, the chapel really is extraordinarily rich -- I was amazed at how well-preserved it was after so many hudnreds of years.

Nirmala, I have such a vivid mental picture of your roommate telling off thoughtless tourists! Good on him -- using flashes on great art is insane.

I love the misty rain image...that weather definitely has texture to it. I'd love it there, I'm sure!
Thank you for posting these photos for us!
Ciao,
Brenda

Liam :

Spello truly is a wonderful town. The surrounding countryside and particularly Subasio, the mountain of St. Francis is well worth visiting. Thanks for the lovely photos which bring it all back. Ill be there again this year!

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