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Paolo Ucello, Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood, 1436, fresco, 820 x 515 cm, Duomo, Florence


Travel guide for Tuscany

Paolo Ucello, Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood, 1436


In 1436 the administrators of the Opera del Duomo in Florence commissioned Paolo Uccello to paint a fresco in the Cathedral, a monument commemorating the English soldier of fortune Sir John Hawkwood (Giovanni Acuto for the Italian) who had died in 1394; Hawkwood had led the Florentine troops to victory in the battle of Cascina (1364). Still in the Cathedral today, the fresco was restored in 1524 by Lorenzo di Credi, who added the elegant frame with the grotesque pattern decorations.

The fresco is a splendid example of how Uccello used the new means of expression (perspective and sculptural quality) in a totally personal way; adding to them the monochrome effect of "terra verde", the painter has succeeded in creating the illusion of a statue, standing on a plinth. The base is shown in foreshortening, so as to be seen correctly from below, whereas the warrior in on his horse is drawn in full frontal perspective. This seemingly contradictory use of the rules of perspective, which has given rise to innumerable debates, is further evidence of the originality of Uccello's language. The unnatural movement of the horse, which is raising both its right legs at the same time, was pointed out as a serious mistake by Vasari, but it is justified by the consistency of Paolo's perspective construction.

In the Monument to Sir John Hawkwood there are also some elements derived from Masaccio's painting, like the trompe 1'oeil perspective of the base, very similar to the base below Masaccio's Trinity, and the sculptural relief of the horse and the rider created with a strong chiaroscuro. And furthermore, as in all Masaccio's works, the light comes from the left and is very natural. But there are just as many elements that clearly distinguish Paolo's art from Masaccio's: Uccello's realism is much more analytic than synthetic, in other words it is more similar to the late Gothic style than to Masaccio's. Uccello's analytic realism blends extremely well with his geometrization of forms, which contributes to the overall effect of abstractism conveyed by his works. In other words Paolo's compositions are more abstract and symbolic than natural: this painting is more a portrayal of the idea of a warrior than of a warrior in flesh and blood.

The administrators of the Opera del Duomo did not appreciate the fresco at all, and ordered Uccello to paint it again, which the artist did. We do not know exactly what Paolo changed, but he probably just toned down the colours, which were considered too bizarre.

n 1436 in the Florence cathedral, Uccello completed a monochrome fresco of an equestrian monument to Sir John Hawkwood, an English mercenary who had commanded Florentine troops at the end of the 14th century. In the Hawkwood fresco, a single-point perspective scheme, a fully sculptural treatment of the horse and rider, and a sense of controlled potential energy within the figure all indicate Uccello's desire to assimilate the new style of the Renaissance that had blossomed in Florence since his birth. Following the Hawkwood monument, in 1443 Uccello completed four heads of prophets around a colossal clock on the interior of the west façade of the cathedral; between 1443 and 1445 he contributed the designs for two stained-glass windows in the cupola.

A British interloper is memorialized in the Italian sanctuary of the Duomo, in Florence. The inscription under the huge fresco reads (translated), "John Hawkwood, British knight, most prudent leader of his age, and most expert in the art of war".

In May of 1364, he led some 10,000 men and 3000 horses and surrounded the walls of Florence in a month-long siege during which they burned surrounding farmlands and homes. Finally, his men were paid a fortune to leave. In July of that year he set out again against Florence, but suffered his first major defeat. This was the beginning of a path that led to being the hero of Florence.

The condottiero John Hawkwood was a veteran of the Hundred Years War, and a ruthless mercenary leader who commanded private armies of thousands, attacking cities in Italy on behalf of the highest bidder. He was known for his cunning and (relative) restraint. In the company of men even more bloodthirsty than him, he seemed a better businessman than most, often extracting enormous ransoms from cities under siege rather than going through the bother of sacking them.

Of course, in order to wield that kind of threatening power, you need a really deadly reputation, which he also had in spades.

Hawkwood rose to power during the lawless years of plague and corruption in Italy in the middle of the 14th century, famously called "the calamitous century" by scholar Barbara Tuchman. Not a country, but a hodge-podge of kingdoms, independent republics, and wealthy walled city states, there was endless bickering and grabs for land and power between them. With the pope up north in Avignon, whatever ability the Holy Roman Empire had to control events in the center of the peninsula disappeared. Enter the mercenaries.

The Hundred Years War started between France and England as a fight over the crown in 1328 came to a pause in 1360 due to a truce. It seemed the war had finally ended (it actually dragged on well into the next century). Out of work, thousands of English soldiers headed home, but others chose to stay and go into business for themselves.

These highly trained military men, their horses, their equipment, and their assorted hangers-on began to form their own private armies, known as "free companies", and went looking for work. Hawkwood first formed the Great Company, then later took over the White Company from another mercenary (basis for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book The White Company), and moved down into Italy. Over the years he fought against the pope, and for the pope, against the powerful Visconti of Milan, and then for them, eventually marrying a Visconti daughter. Finally he started moving around cities in Tuscany, and was employed by Pisa against their nearby enemy: Florence.

For twenty years after his 1364 siege of Florence and subsequent defeat he followed the money from city to city, finally coming into the employ of Florence in 1390. He died there 1394 and was regarded as a Florentine hero. Even before he died, the city was hatching plans for a grand statue to honor him, in the tradition of the Ancient Roman equestrian statues, then very much in vogue. Amidst dithering and plan changes, a first fresco was painted in the (still domeless) Duomo, while the statue plans were sorted out. By 1436 it seems all plans had been scrapped, and the well known painter Paolo Uccello was brought in to give the fresco a proper overhaul.

Uccello was best known for his detailed gothic style, and an obsession with perspective, so it is strange to note that when looking at the fresco the statue appears to be in line with the viewers eyeline, while the base of the horse statue is seen from slightly below. Uccello was asked to repaint his first version of the fresco, possibly to reduce the military stance of the first draft into a more parade-like stance, or possibly to adjust the perspective to make less of the horse's anatomy visible in the church.

The minimal coloring of the painting and the deathly pallor of the rider have led some to speculate that Hawkwood is here intended to be an allegory of Death, the fourth horseman mounted on his pale horse.

After his death, Richard II of England requested that his body be returned to England, but it is uncertain that it ever happened. He may still be interred in an unmarked spot under the floor of the Duomo, his original resting place.

If he was returned to England, he is most likely interred near the small carved memorial arch on the wall in the church in his hometown, St. Peters in Sible Hedingham, England.

Also in the Duomo is another, very similar painting of another condotierro, Niccolo da Tolentino, also by Uccello.


Florence | The Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore

Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects, Volume II: Berna to Michelozzo Michelozzi | Paolo Uccello

[1] Uccello's earliest, and now badly damaged, frescoes are in the Chiostro Verde (the Green Cloister, so called because of the green cast of the frescoes that covered its walls) of Santa Maria Novella; they represent episodes from the creation. These frescoes, marked with a pervasive concern for elegant linear forms and insistent, stylized patterning of landscape features, are consistent with the late Gothic tradition that was still predominant at the beginning of the 15th century in Florentine studios and have given rise to the hope that Uccello's artistic origins may yet be found in some of these studios.
From 1425 to 1431, Uccello worked in Venice as a master mosaicist. All his work in Venice has been lost, and plans to reconstruct it have been unsuccessful. Uccello may have been induced to return to Florence by the commission for a series of frescoes in the cloister of San Miniato al Monte depicting scenes from monastic legends. While the figural formulations of these ruinous frescoes still closely approximate the Santa Maria Novella cycle, there is also a fascination with the novel perspective schemes that had appeared in Florence during Uccello's Venetian sojourn and with a simplified and more monumental treatment of forms deriving from the recent sculpture of Donatello and Nanni di Banco.
In 1436 in the Florence cathedral, Uccello completed a monochrome fresco of an equestrian monument to Sir John Hawkwood, an English mercenary who had commanded Florentine troops at the end of the 14th century. In the Hawkwood fresco, a single-point perspective scheme, a fully sculptural treatment of the horse and rider, and a sense of controlled potential energy within the figure all indicate Uccello's desire to assimilate the new style of the Renaissance that had blossomed in Florence since his birth. Following the Hawkwood monument, in 1443 Uccello completed four heads of prophets around a colossal clock on the interior of the west façade of the cathedral; between 1443 and 1445 he contributed the designs for two stained-glass windows in the cupola.After a brief trip to Padua in 1447, Uccello returned to the Chiostro Verde of Santa Maria Novella. In a fresco illustrating the Flood and the recession, Uccello presented two separate scenes united by a rapidly receding perspective scheme that reflected the influence of Donatello's contemporary reliefs in Padua. Human forms in The Flood, especially the nudes, were reminiscent of figures in Masaccio's frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel (c. 1425), perhaps the most influential of all paintings of the early Renaissance, but the explosion of details throughout the narrative again suggests Uccello's Gothic training. More than any other painting by Uccello, The Flood indicates the difficulties that he and his contemporaries faced in attempting to graft the rapidly developing heroic style of the Renaissance onto an older, more decorative mode of painting.


Podere Santa Pia, a dignified and spaciousholiday house, is located in a spectacular, private and tranquil hillside setting just few minutes drive from the walls of Castiglioncello Bandini in Tuscany, Santa Pia seems to be the ideal choice for those seeking a peaceful, uncontaminated environment.

Holiday accomodation in Tuscany | Podere Santa Pia | Artist and writer's residency



Podere Santa Pia
Podere Santa Pia, garden view, December
San Qurico d'Orcia




The town of Cinigiao is just across the valley, and the Abbey od Sant'Antimo, Montalcino, Pienza and Montepulciano are within easy driving distance.
The house has been beautifully restored to create spacious, stylish rooms combining elements of rustic tradition with modern comforts. It has terracotta tiled floors and beamed ceilings.and breathtaking 300 degree views of the Maremma hills. Podere Santa Pia creates a perfect platform from which to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of this unique part of Italy.

Podere Santa Pia is a beautifully renovated holiday house, located in a panoramic position, offering its guests a breathtaking view over the Maremma hills. On clear days or evening, one can even see Corsica.


Orvieto is one of the principal sights of the region of Umbria, Italy. Its situation is marvelous - perched high above tufa cliffs - showing traces of every phase of history for the past three thousand years, culminating in its magnificent cathedral. Tourists should on no account miss Orvieto if they are visiting Umbria or southern Tuscany. The tufa butte on which Orvieto is located is itself riddled with tunnels and wells dating from Etruscan times to only a couple of hundred years ago. The most spectacular of these subterranean burrowings is the Pozzo di San Patrizio, a deep well with a double spiral stair leading to the water source at its base. It dates from 1537 and is 62 m deep. If you're in need of exercise, it's possible to descend and return. Try carrying up a couple of buckets of water - it'll bring the life of earlier times vividly before you.
The cathedral of Orvieto is one of the most beautiful churches in Umbria, indeed in all of Italy. It was begun in 1285 and is Gothic in style, with three naves. Its tripartite façade was conceived by Lorenzo Maitani and is decorated in its lower portion with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and with mosaics and statues of the Blessed Virgin, the Prophets and the Apostles in its upper part. The walls in the interior are constructed of layers of Travertine marble and of basalt. The choir was frescoed with illustrations of the life of the Blessed Virgin by Ugolino di Prete Ilario, Peter di Puccio and Anthony of Viterbo. The chapel on the right, called Our Lady of San Brizio, was painted by the Fra Angelico of Fiesole ("Christ Glorified", "Last Judgment", and "The Prophets", carried out in 1447) and by Luca Signorelli ("Fall of Antichrist", "Resurrection of the Dead", "Damned and Blessed", etc.). Michelangelo took inspiration from these paintings for his "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel. The "Burial of Jesus" is also by Signorelli, and there are several sculptures by Scalza (1572), among them the group of the Pietà, chiselled from a single block of marble. The chapel on the opposite side, called "of the Corporal", contains the large reliquary in which is preserved the corporal of the miracle of Bolsena. This receptacle was made by order of Bishop Bertrand dei Monaldeschi, by the Siennese Ugolino di Mæstro Vieri (1337). It is made of silver, adorned with enamels that represent the Passion of Jesus and the miracle. The frescoes of the walls, by Ugolino (1357-64), also represent the miracle.

Cortona is a small but fascinating city in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany, central Italy, situated on a commanding hill, and overlooking Lake Trasimeno. Its cyclopean walls reveal its Etruscan origins. It was one of the twelve cities of Etruria and in its vicinity many ruins and Etruscan tombs may be seen. Cortona sided against Rome until 310 B.C. when Fabius Rullianus defeated the Etruscans and took Perugia. Perugia, with other cities, including Cortona, then made peace with Rome. Later Cortona was destroyed by the Lombards but was soon rebuilt. In the 14 C, it was governed by the Casali and afterwards became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Many famous men were born or lived in Cortona, among them Brother Elias (Elia Coppi), the famous companion of St. Francis of Assisi, and later Vicar-General of the Franciscan Order; Cardinals Egidio Boni and Silvio Passerini; the painter Luca Signorelli; the architect and painter Pietro Berrettini (Pietro da Cortona). St. Margaret of Cortona (1248-97) was born at Laviano (Alviano) in the Diocese of Chiusi, and became the mistress of a nobleman of the vicinity. On discovering his body after he had met a violent death, she repented and, after a public penance, retired to Cortona, where she took the habit of a Tertiary of St. Francis and devoted her life to works of penance and charity. Leo X permitted her veneration at Cortona, and Urban VIII extended the privilege to the Franciscan Order. Benedict XIII canonised her in 1728. Her body rests in a beautiful sarcophagus in the church dedicated to her at Cortona.
It is not known whether Cortona was an episcopal see previous to its destruction by the Lombards. From that time until 1325 it belonged to the Diocese of Arezzo. In that year, at the request of Guglielmo Casali, John XXII raised Cortona to episcopal rank, as a reward for the fidelity of its Guelph populace, Arezzo remaining Ghibelline. The first bishop was Rainerio Ubertini. Other bishops were Luca Grazio, who was a distinguished member of the Council of Florence (1438); Matteo Concini (1560) and Gerolamo Gaddi (1562) were present at the Council of Trent. The cathedral and the other churches of Cortona possess numerous works of art, especially paintings of the school of Luca Signorelli and of Fra Angelico.

The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggioreis located 36 km south of Siena in the characteristic "badlands" landscape of the Crete Senesi. The Olivetan community traces its foundation to 1313 and Giovanni Tolomei - who took the religious name of Bernardo - along with two of his friends, from the noble families of Sienna, Patrizio Patrizi and Ambrogio Piccolomini. The Abbey is situated 273 m above sea level at Chiusura, not far from Asciano in the province of Sienna, surrounded by the thick forest that overlooks the Crete Senesi countryside below.
The correct name for the monks of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto, who are part of a number of congregations that make up the Benedictine order, is in fact Monaci Benedettini di Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto. Their particular devotion to the Virgin Mary is visible also in their habit, which is white to symbolise purity.
The approval for the building of the monastery came with the "Charta fundationis" by Guido Tarlati, bishop of Arezzo (26 March 1319), and the monastery took the name of Monte Oliveto «Maggiore» (Major) so as to distinguish it from successive foundations (Florence, San Gimignano, Naples, etc.). Construction of the monastery began in 1393 and was completed in 1526, although the buildings were further modified during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.
An imposing square tower with a drawbridge that was part of the original defences erected to protect the entire complex stands at the entrance to the Abbey. The courtyard of the abbey opens onto a broad avenue of cypresses. To the left is the botanical garden that supplied medicinal plants for the monks. A little further on is the fish pond designed in 1553 by Pelori and used by the monks to provide fish at those times of year during which the Benedictine rule forbade the consumption of meat.
The cypress avenue leads to the impressively austere, late-gothic church of the abbey, built between 1399 and 1417 by order of the Abbot Ippolito di Giacomo da Milano. The single nave interior has a cross plan. The fine carved wooden lector is by Raffaele da Brescia and the inlaid wooden choir stalls are by Fra’ Giovanni da Verona. The transept leads to the Chapel of the Sacrament, whose altar is adorned by an early 14 C wooden Crucifix. In 1772 the church was redecorated in the late-Baroque style by Giovanni Antinori.
The abbey has three 15 C cloisters, of which the most magnificent is the rectangular Chiostro Grande, constructed between 1426 and 1443. It is made up of two passages, one above the other, supported by columns. The portico is decorated with a fresco cycle by Luca Signorelli depicting the life of St Benedict, who began work on its 36 large scenes in 1497. The cycle was finished in 1508 by Sodoma. The Chiostro Centrale is composed of a portico that rests on polygonal columns that lead to the magnificent Refectory, decorated with frescoes by Fra’ Paolo Novelli.
The abbey’s large Library comprises more than 40,000 volumes, pamphlets and parchments that have been carefully restored by the monks. The Library leads to the Pharmacy, which contains an important collection of 18 C spice vases. The abbey still produces honey and distilled herbal spirits made according to various ancient recipes.

Art in Tuscany | Sodoma (originally Giovanni Antonio Bazzi)