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The Frescoes of Tuscany

The Paintings

Among the pleasures of this world the frescoes of Tuscany occupy a special place. Distributed throughout a most human European landscape the monasteries and churches that house them are uncrowded if not empty. No long ticket lines or tour groups harass the visitor. Small hotels and restaurants make the journey a delight - one or three leisurely weeks will allow you to see only one place at a time.

These paintings are the beginning of the Renaissance: S. Francesco in Assisi, two churches one on top of the other, their walls covered with murals, is one of the birthplaces of European art: Cimabue and Giotto's earliest paintings are here Not all are eclectic: the bucolic frescoes of Mommo di Filippuccio and Lippo Memmi in San Gimignano, Bartolo in the Spedale Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, or Il Sodoma's cloisters in the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore may not be comparably high art but are a graceful variation and give a lively picture of the tre- and quattrociento.

Florence, the treasure house of Tuscany, requires a week of its own, even if one were only to see its frescoes: The Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Uccello's badly damaged haunting paintings in the Green Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella, Fra Angelico's minimalist paintings in the Convent of San Marco are counterbalanced by Gozzoli's colorful picture-book cycle of the Magi in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi and Ghirlandaio's superb portraits of the members of the Tornabuoni family in Santa Maria Novella.

Two painters stand by themselves Piero della Francesca and Potormo. The first, because he is such an obstinate individualist as to tax the imagination of the beholder - yet his frescoes are among the greatest creations of all times. The second, Jacopo Potormo, does not really belong into this collection - and is virtually unknown, despite we all have walked by Santa Felicitá in Florence innumerable times.

Why today? Some of these paintings have been around for 700 years. Most can be found as marginal notes in the guide books, and they have long been examined by the art historians. The reason for my excitement is that the majority has been superbly restored during the past two decades. They are in better condition than many a panel painting in the famous museums.

The Painters

in chronological order

Giovanni Cimabue 1240 – 1302

Assisi, S. Francisco

Giotto del Bondone 1266 – 1337

Assisi, S. Francisco
Florence, S. Croce

Duccio di Buoninsegna 1260 – 1319


Lippo Memmi 1285-1361

San Gimignano, Palazzo Publico

Spinello Aretino 1345-1410

Florence, San Miniato al Monte

Taddeo di Bartolo 1362-1422

Siena, Spedale Santa Maria della Scala

Paolo Uccello 1397 – 1475

Florence, Santa Maria Novella

Masaccio 1400 – 1428

Florence, S.Maria del Carmine

Masolino da Panicale 1400-1447

Florence, Santa Maria del Carmine

Fillipo Lippi 1457-1504

Florence, Santa Maria del Carmine

Fra Angelico 1400-1455

Florence, Convent of San Marco

Piero della Francesca 1416-1492

Arezzo, Basilica San Francesco
Sansepolcro, Museo Civico
Cemetery Chapel, Monterchi

Benozzo Gozzoli 1421-1497

Montefalco, S. Francesco
Florence, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
San Gimignano, St. Augustin

Domenico Ghirlandaio 1449 – 1494

Florence, Santa Maria Novella

Il Sodoma 1477 – 1549

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Luca Signorelli 1450 – 1523

Orvieto, Duomo

Jacopo Potormo 1494-1557

Florence, Santa Felicitá

Google-Earth Map of Tuscany

Map of Tuscany
(Florence is unresolved)

This Google-Earth map, copied from my GE post Frescoes and Painters of Tuscany, shows the locations of the paintings in this essay. To open the kmz-file you need to have Google-Earth installed on your computer.

The essay presents an illustrated survey of the Renaissance frescoes in Tuscany between 1200 - 1600. Each painter is briefly introduced together with a representative selection of his work. The excuse for this choice is that many of the most notable frescoes have recently been superbly restored: A feast for the eyes. Paintings other than frescoes, altar panels and paintings in the museums, are only shown in a few cases for illustrative purposes.

On the other hand, I did include a few places outside Tuscany, because they are of importance to the development of fresco painting in that area.

Despite its size and compass this guide is not complete, neither are the commentaries. I am open to suggestions and correction. My thanks go to Noisette and Bebop of GE-BBS for their help in editing this presentation

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