Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Tuscany in the off-season

Arezzo and the neighborhood in February and early March, 2015


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Arezzo was at the top of our list when we based ourselves in Lucca a few months ago, but we never made it this far south. So here we are now, based in Arezzo this time, with lots to see roundabout.

But first, the road trip southward: Pavia, and its Certosa (II)

The second half of our brief visit to Pavia. Just a little more background: Lombard Pavia suffered a lengthy siege during Charlemagne's rampage through northern Italy, and after it surrendered in 774, Charlemagne took over the city as the capital of his Kingdom of Italy, part of the Holy Roman Empire. Which it remained until, like other northern Italian cities, it gained the status of a commune in the 12th century, electing its own oligarchic officials, and continued thus, with vicissitudes, until finally falling under the domination of the Visconti dynasty of Milano in 1359.

Not that the Visconti were horribly cruel overlords -- they founded this, the University of Pavia, for example, in 1361, built the Certosa di Pavia just north of town, and left their mark on the city in many other ways as well.

The University occupies a huge area within the northeast quadrant of the Centro Storico, and it's very beautiful.

Still within the university area (that's the aula on the right), here are three medieval urban towers, relics of the northern Italian period of disagreeably competitive families and their hangers-on.

These three, in the Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, for one reason or another, have escaped the subsequent era of urban towers being lowered or slighted as civic governments became more self-confident.

One of them, probably for good reasons, has more modern braces than original bricks in it.

After a nice little lunch at Il Voltino, a café facing the towers, we're walking back through the university.

All the young people with backpacks full of improving books, all that potential knowledge, no doubt, jabbering away about fairly profound subjects, perhaps, or about Friday night.

And cramming for tomorrow's midterm exam

Back out onto the Corso Strada Nuova, here's the provincial administration building, dating from a less elegant architectural era.

We're back up to the north end of the old town, because that's where most of the stuff we want to see is presently reposing. At the south end, there's a must-see Covered Bridge over the river Ticino, but however must-see it may be, we won't. Anyway, it's a replica built in 1949 after we -- I say "we" -- blew up the 14th century original in 1945, perhaps for very good reasons.

The Castello Visconteo, looming large in its spacious park, and looking very like a Visconti castle.

The fortress, or fortified residence rather, was built by Galeazzo II Visconti in 1361, shortly after he'd taken over the city for the Milanese dynasty, by which time the three Visconti brothers had similarly taken over much of northern Italy.

When brother Matteo II died (supposedly poisoned by his siblings), Galeazzo and brother Bernabò carried on the family tradition of dominating formerly-free communes of the region, and in 1359 Galeazzo took advantage of Pavia's authorities' dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor's nominee as imperial vicar in the city to grab the whole place for himself.

Galeazzo II and his appalling brother Bernabò, squabbling more and more often, split the Visconti heritage between them, with Bernabò keeping Milan for himself and Galeazzo building his capital and family residence in Pavia, i.e., here, beginning in 1361.

The classic Visconti look. Galeazzo, though a thug (and inventor of seriously innovative 'enhanced interrogation' protocols), was also a cultured sort of chap -- founded the University, as mentioned above, patronized famous artists and scholars like Petrarch and, evidently, Geoffrey Chaucer, and built up a library that attracted scholars from all over Europe.

Perhaps Galeazzo's greatest contribution to history was his son Gian Galeazzo, the 1st Duke of Milan, who overthrew his uncle Bernabò in 1385 and reunified Milanese domination and troublemaking in northern Italy, fought resolutely against the territorial ambitions of the Papacy all his life, and built, not only the Certosa di Pavia, but also the Duomo of Milan and a catalogue of other attractions throughout the Po valley.

We can't find the museum and there's no one around. Galeazzo married his son Gian Galeazzo to a daughter of John the Good, King of France, in 1360 (at which time John was living a life of luxury as a prisoner in England), and his daughter Violante to the huge Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the English King Edward III's son, in 1368, providing a legendarily ample dowry and entertaining Geoffrey Chaucer amongst Lionel's entourage. Lionel enjoyed the wedding celebrations in Milan for a few months, then went over to Alba and dropped dead at the age of 30. Some party! Though captious souls whispered that Galeazzo himself might have had something to do with that.

Following the awful Battle of Pavia of 1525, which took place in the huge palace hunting reserve that extended northward from here as far as the Certosa, and in which the united Holy Roman Empire/Spanish (i.e., Habsburg) forces blistered the French army and captured its king, François I, the 'Spanish wing' of the quadrilateral fortress was added (we were told) and later turned over to the elements.

Subsequently, Pavia remained under Spanish control to 1713, and then Austrian control to 1796, then Napoleon's French army to 1815, then the Austrians again until Italian independence in 1859 and 1860.

The palace presently houses the city's museums, and we're dashing all round trying to get anyone we can find to open them up and sit in their chairs knitting and watching us intermittently for security reasons.

Here we go: in the Pinacoteca Malaspina. Can't wait.

We're making a collection of representations of the Last Supper, seeking to find the art world's consensus about what the holy chaps were dining upon. Usually it's rats or an unidentifiable biomass, but in this case it's a fish. A very little fish. Why not? Fisher of Men, etc.

-- Aww, Ma.

Oh, poor St Agatha (patron of breast cancer patients), another awkward early Christian martyr. Very popular, evidently; we're building up an estimable collection of St Agathas as well. (This is by Giovanni di Pietro of Pisa, ca. 1420.)

The cult of St Agatha over the centuries (Ortensio Crespi, 1616)

Not a Last Supper, this is the resurrected Christ appearing to the Apostles over a nice lunch, early mid-15th century, and it's definitely another fish. Just one.

This Madonna and awkward little Bambino with Saints Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria, attributed to Bernardo Zenale of Milan, has got a distinctly unpenitential Magdalene and a discreet Catherine happy to use her horrible Wheel as a handrest.

The Pinacoteca Malaspina: a truly wonderful layout, and you can take your time . . .

. . . as long as you don't feel too bad about the poor lady who's had to leave her friends in the coffee room and sit down there with her iPhone until you've properly viewed and contemplated everything you need to.

St Catherine of Alexandrine, and the Wheel's not an armrest this time. (This is attributed to the "Pseudo Giampietrino B"!)

A fascinating study in Ugly, by the German Hans Sebald Beham (1517) -- Madonna etc. with St Catherine of Alexandria (note the Wheel down in the left corner) and St Barbara with her chalicey sort of thing. (The traditional food for St Barbara's day includes boiled barley, anise, raisins, pomegranate, and sugar, and walnut or almonds to taste.)

A Mary Magdalene in the "Penitent Magdalene" tradition (Workshop of Giampietrino, early 16th century)

This is often referred to as a portrait of Anne Boleyn but it isn't; it's nice, though (by the portraitist Frans Pourbus the Younger, early 17th century).

François I, King of France, by 'Bottega di Jean Clouet', which is virtually a detail from the canonical full-size portrait of the king by Jean Clouet and his brother François, ca. 1535. It's perhaps ironic to see the king here in Pavia's collection, since he was captured here by the Spanish and Austrians during the Battle of Pavia in 1525 and spent a year in the slammer in Madrid before treatying himself out.

Worth the price of admission (by Bernardino Luini, ca. 1520)

The "Man of Sorrows" (L'Uomo dei dolori), and no wonder; his head's on backwards (by Pietro Maria Bagnatore, ca. 1590)

The Last Supper: finally something a little more substantial for 13 growing boys than a loaf of bread, a fish, or a rat. This looks like meat loaf, or a broiled badger (by a painter from Cremona, late 16th century) [This fellow solved the classic 'halo problem' by just leaving the halos off. Except for Jesus, of course.]

Amongst pitiable female martyrs, after St Agatha, poor St Apollonia is right up there, with her iconic pliers wrongly suggesting that she pulled her own teeth out (by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone from Milan, 17th century)

Another Penitent Magdalene. Get over it! (by Francesco Cairo of Milan, who specialized in ecstatic females, frequently with turbans on, but who also did altarpieces at the Certosa di Pavia)

A less ecstatic, less penitent, but more thoughtful Mary Magdalene (and no skull!) by Carlo Cornara, also from Milan, and also a contributor to the Certosa di Pavia

And now back to the ecstatic and very penitent Magdalene tradition, with skull and crucifix (by Domenico Piola of Genoa, 17th century)

Oh, poor St Agatha (perhaps by Giacomo Paravicini, called 'il Gianolo', early 18th century)

The Pinacoteca Malaspina is only one of the museums in the Castello Visconteo . . .

. . . and here's another.

The day is declining, and so are we, so we're heading back out onto the street . . .

. . . if we can find our way out.

In the castle's public park, here's the "Villaggio Happy Meal".

Our last must-see of the day, the Basilica di San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro, not far from the Castello at the northern end of the historic centre. That's a carabinieri post at the far end, so moderate your behavior.

There was a St Peter's church here from the 6th century, renovated in the 720s by the Lombard king Liutprand, but the present edifice was inaugurated in 1132. Simple brickwork façade, with only one door, and surprises within.

The nave, with side aisles, looking towards the altar

The crypt, wherein we expect to find Boethius awaiting us. More or less.

There he is. An idol of my youth, actually. A learned chap from a high-ranking Roman family, Boethius was adopted by the brilliant scholar Symmachus, whose daughter Rusticiana he married, and served as consul and chief advisor to the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great.

In the early 520s, however, as he was working on behalf of his employer to reconcile the Roman and Constantinopalian churches, politics in the increasingly paranoid court of the aging Arian king Theodoric brought about his downfall (in his early 40s) -- after imprisonment in a church in Pavia, during which time he consoled himself by writing his famous On the Consolation of Philosophy, he was executed in 524, and the brilliant Symmachus the following year. And followed in the next year after that by Theodoric his own good self. The end of an era (i.e., the Byzantines came back).

Spoiler: His philosophical consolation in extremis, for a lifelong Christian diplomat, is refreshingly pagan Platonic.

That's him, or some bones, at any rate -- and it's one famous set of bones that may really be what it purports to be: Dante in the Divine Comedy (Paradise) describes Boethius' presence here "beneath Cialdauro" [Ciel d'Oro; the church's name refers to gold-leaf mosaics that formerly covered the ceiling of the apse].

Next up, guess who? St Augustine of Hippo in North Africa (City of God, etc.) died at home in 430, and non-Arian bishops fleeing the Arian Vandals who were fast claiming northern Africa for their very own carried the master's remains to Sardinia with them. When the Saracens overran Cagliari, the bishop of Pavia (Luitprand's uncle) spirited the remains away and stowed them here in this church in about AD 720.

This beautiful "Arca di Sant'Agostino", with relief carvings of the saint's life, was made in 1362 and the sacred Augustinian remains were stowed within. Perhaps. They'd been lost, actually, but luckily some workmen turned them up, we're told, under the floor in the crypt, so that's good. When the Augustinian friars were thrown out in 1700, they took the blessed remains with them to Milan (they said), and this church fell into disuse. Napoleon's army used it to store gunpowder and shot, as it did most churches.

But happily, in the late 19th century, the church was salvaged and the Bishop of Hippo came home again. Well, not home, really; home was in Algeria, but anyway, to where he's most appreciated. And that is one amazing piece of work, that is.

And by the way, the trifecta: there under the altar in front of the Ark of St Augustine lies the Lombard king Luitprand himself, the guy who made all this possible. The guy who conquered nearly all of Italy in the early 8th century, throwing the Byzantines out of most of it, and who in 737 helped Charles Martel throw the Moors out of southern France, but who for some reason that may have sounded good at the time, in 728, gifted the then Pope with a number of tiny towns in Latium (called the 'Donation of Sutri') and thus began the long unfortunate tradition of the territorial claims of the Papal States.

Scammers are everywhere, and the church does not like it one bit.

The beautiful church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro . . .

. . . and its beautiful front door. Back now to Certosa di Pavia and another go at the restaurant in the Hotel d'Italia. (Things went much better this time.)

The Squirrel has been waiting patiently but somewhat resentfully.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 28 March 2015.


Arezzo trip,
Feb.-March 2015