Monday, May 07, 2007

A Madonna della Cintola in Montefalco

GOZZOLI, Benozzo (b. ca. 1420, Firenze, d. 1497, Pistoia)
Madonna della Cintola 1450
Tempera on panel, 133 x 165 cm
Pinacoteca, Vatican

GOZZOLI, Benozzo (b. ca. 1420, Firenze, d. 1497, Pistoia)
Madonna della Cintola 1450 (detail)
Tempera on panel, 133 x 165 cm
Pinacoteca, Vatican

The town of Montefalco presented the painting to Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) in 1848. It is now in the Vatican Museum.

Previously, it had been on the high altar of the church of San Fortunato in Montefalco, Umbria. Benozzo Gozzoli had painted it for the church in Montefalco in 1450.

Montefalco is today a small town in the central part of the Italian province of Perugia, (Umbria). It can easily be overlooked. To overlook it would be a pity.

The town has been actively settled since the times of the Umbri. It has been under the successive domination of the Romans, Lombards, being called Coccorone in the Middle Ages. In 1249 it was sacked by Frederick II, but was soon rebuilt with the modern name. from the 13th century it had been a free comune under the domination of local nobles and merchants.

Gozzoli had been a pupil of the Blessed Fra Angelico. Some of the works in the convent of San Marco in Florence were executed by Gozzoli from Angelico's design. In Rome, he assisted Fra Angelico in the Cappellina Nicolina in the Vatican for Nicholas V (until June 1448). He also collaborated with Fra Angelico in decorating a number of other important churches in Rome.

But his stay in Montefalco marked the beginning of his independent career as an artist.

Montefalco still has a number of his early major works. For the church of S. Francesco, the Franciscans commissioned from him the fresco cycle with Scenes from the Life of St Francis (1450-52).

As regards the altar piece above, it depicts St Thomas receiving the Girdle of the Virgin, and shows the affinity of Gozzoli's early style to Angelico's.

In the New Testament Apocrypha, Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, doubted Mary's Assumption. The Virgin appeared to him and, as proof, gave the doubting apostle her girdle. hence in many pictures of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin. St. Thomas is often seen below holding the sacred girdle in his hand.

During the 14th century, the arrival of the relics of the Holy Virgin's Belt in the Cathedral of Prato in Tuscany led to the take off of the cult in Tuscany. The theme becames not merely as an incident in the scene of the Assumption, but in a manner purely mystic and devotional.

The Madonna della Cintola was a favourite theme of the Franciscan order.

The pillars at the side of the altar panel contain depictions of saints, Sts Francis, Fortunatus and Anthony of Padua being on the left, Sts Louis of Toulouse, Severus of Montefalco, whose remains are kept in San Fortunato, and Bernadine of Siena are standing on the right side.

The predella contains six scenes relating episodes from the life of Mary.

Other facts about Montefalco ?

Other artists represented by their works in the town include: Perugino, Melanzio, Pier Antonio Mezzastris, Antoniazzo Romano and Tiberio d'Assisi.

St. Clare of Montefalco, a mystic and ascetic, sometimes known as St. Clare of the Cross, was born in Montefalco and died there in 1308. Clare's body was embalmed and to this day lies in state, incorrupt, in the church of the Augustinian nuns of Montefalco, Italy. Her body bears the marks of the Passion, the Cross, and the instruments of Christ's Passion.

If you do not like beautiful quiet Italian medieval villages, works of art, saints (San Fortunato is another saint who was a native of the town), then maybe the Montefalco wines might tempt you to visit.

Other references:

Town of Montefalco (Official website) (Italian)

Bill Thayer`s site

Italian visits


St Clare of Montefalco