Where did I go?
In May 2012, I travelled to the village of Chuisi della Verna in the Tuscan Apennines and made a photographic study of the landscape surrounding the Franciscan monastery and the Sasso Spicco rock formation on which the monastery sits.
My journey was partly inspired by a lecture given by Michael Rosenthal on the Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini. I remembered how he introduced me to Bellini's works and we discussed ideas about the processes the Renaissance painter may have used to gather landscape imagery in his religious paintings. One painting was particularly striking and has always intrigued me for the close similarity between the painted landscape and photographs of the rock morphology of Sasso Spicco which Michael had taken.
There is a strong visual similarity between the site, a huge double layered rock form that loops back into the hill side, and Bellini's description of a large rock face. The site can be reached through a gully from the square, but my walking took me first through cyclamens woods, and then thanks to a strangers advice, through a gap in the wall that surrounds the meadow from the other side of the hillside.
We may not have any archival evidence to support the possibility that Bellini visited Mount La Verna and the Sanctuary, or more imaginatively, sat below the Sasso Spicco and drew it's rocks, but visual links between the painting and the site are strong and therefore worth examining at length.
The rock is pale and smooth, much like Bellini's description, and the fact that Bellini describes the Saint as inhabiting the rock, standing outside a cave entrance, next to his study desk, suggests strong links with the site and the legend of St Francis which tells us that the Saint received the stigmata within the hillside, in a dark grotto. We can't be certain of Bellini's landscape routes, but we do know from looking at his paintings that he was fond of recording architecture and landscape dialogues that were contemporary to his world, such as the castle of the Rocca di Gradara in Padua and Veneto hill towns, which I will explore later in this film project. However, we do know from the archives that he had made a trip to Pesaro that almost certainly took him through Rimini. It seems very likely therefore that he visited Mount La Verna which is very near Rimini and that his drawings, if he made them on route, may have included landscape as well as architecture.
The following survey shows my exploration of the site in 2012. I remember this trip extremely fondly as the first journey I made in search of possible links between Bellini's St Francis painting and landscape sites in Italy. My search felt revelatory at points for the closeness I felt between the site and the painting. Certainly the landscape of La Verna would have changed considerably since the Renaissance, but there is a strong link not only between the morphology of Sasso Spicco but botanical details and smaller landscape contexts surrounding the site.
Copyright The Frick Collection
St Francis in the Desert, Giovanni Bellini
ca. 1476- 78, Oil on Panel
Panel: 49 1/16 x 55 7/8 in. (124.6 x 142 cm)
Image: 48 7/8 × 55 5/16 in. (124.1 × 140.5 cm)