(left) Cathedral and Episcopal Palace: (right) 1595 monument to Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany by Pietro Francavilla, a pupil of il Giambologna; the pedestal shows the coat of arms of the City of Arezzo, a rampant horse
Arezzo is a neat and well paved city with good streets. (..) In the middle ages during the feuds of the Guelphs and Ghibelines Arezzo contended against Florence, but at length fell under her power. (..) The Cathedral in the Upper Town is an imposing specimen of Italian Gothic. The piazza in which it stands recalls in many characteristic features the English cathedral close.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in central Italy - 1853
Margaritone, having returned to Arezzo in the year 1275, in the wake of the Court of Pope Gregory X, who passed through Florence on his return from Avignon to Rome, there came to him opportunity to make himself more known, for the reason that this Pope died in Arezzo, after having presented thirty thousand crowns to the Commune to the end that there might be finished the building of the Vescovado (Cathedral), formerly begun by Maestro Lapo and little advanced.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
The cathedral was begun in 1277. The west front is unfinished, and its statues are rude and broken (see a detail of its XXth century new portal).
Augustus J.C. Hare - Cities of Northern and Central Italy - 1876
Cathedral - southern side
Work being resumed on the building of the Vescovado, Margaritone carried it very far on, following the design of Lapo; but he did not, however, deliver it finished, because a few years later, in the year 1289, the wars between the Florentines and the Aretines were renewed, by the fault of Guglielmino Ubertini, Bishop and Lord of Arezzo, assisted by the Tarlati da Pietramala and by the Pazzi di Valdarno, although evil came to them thereby, for they were routed and slain at Campaldino; and there was spent in that war all the money left by the Pope for the building of the Vescovado. Vasari
In 1289, the Florentine Guelphs, having established their own power, assisted the popular party at Arezzo in gaining the bloody Battle of Campaldino, in which Dante, who had been received into the Guild of Doctors, fought amongst the Guelphic troops. Hare
Dante had harsh words for the citizens of Arezzo:
(The River Arno) Then descending, it reaches the Aretines, curs that snarl more than their power merits, and turns its current, scornfully, away from them.
Dante - Purgatorio - Canto XIV - translation by A. S. Kline
Cathedral: (left/centre) southern portal and detail of its decoration depicting Justice and a bishop; (right) apse
On the south is a very fine door with a high gothic canopy, but the crumbling nature of the stone has done much to annihilate its sculpture. Hare
I will yet not forbear to say that Margaritone, according to what I find, made the design and model of the Palazzo de' Governatori in the city of Ancona, after the Greek manner, in the year 1270. (..) He made in sculpture, on each window of the principal front, a scene in half-relief. Vasari
In addition to being an architect and a sculptor, Margaritone was a highly reputed painter (see one of his works at Castelfiorentino).
Cathedral - interior: (left) apse with stained windows by Guillaume de Marcillat: (right) vault of the main nave with frescoes depicting stories of the Genesis by the same artist
At this same time, wherein our arts were endowed by God with the greatest felicity that they could possibly enjoy, there flourished one Guglielmo da Marcilla, a Frenchman, who, from his constant residence in Arezzo, and from the affection that he bore to that city, may be said to have chosen it for his country, insomuch that all men considered and called him an Aretine. And, in truth, among the benefits that are derived from ability, one is that from whatever strange and distant region and from however barbarous and unknown a race a man may come, be he who he may, if only he has a mind adorned with ability and practises some ingenious craft with his hands, no sooner does he make his first appearance in each city to which he turns his steps, demonstrating his worth, than the skill of his hand works so powerfully, that his name, passing from lip to lip, in a short time waxes great, and his qualities become very highly prized and honoured. And it happens often to a great number of men, who have left their country far behind them, that they chance upon nations that are lovers of ability and of foreigners, where, by reason of their upright walk of life, they find themselves recognized and cherished in such a manner, that they forget the country of their birth and choose a new one for their last resting-place. So was Arezzo chosen as a final home by Guglielmo. He resolved to adopt that city as his
home, and to change himself from a Frenchman into an Aretine. Afterwards, reflecting in his own mind that the art of glass-painting, on account of the destruction that takes place every moment in such works, was no
lasting one, there came to him a desire to devote himself to painting,
and he therefore undertook to execute for the Vescovado three very large vaults in fresco, thinking thus
to leave a memorial of himself behind him. (..) I must relate that after having drawn in my first years all the good pictures that are about the churches of Arezzo, the first rudiments were taught to me with some method by the Frenchman Guglielmo da Marcilla. Vasari
The interior of this majestic edifice is characterised by a gloomy magnificence which gives it a sombre effect. The compartments of the vaulted roof are covered with biblical subjects in fresco and its brilliant painted windows were executed early in the 16th century by Guillaume de Marcillat, called Guglielmo da Marcilla by the Italians, a French Dominican monk. Murray
These two fine pulpits were made in 1563 and 1573 by Sebastiano e Antonio di Giannone Bencivenni, sons of Antonio Bencivenni, a joiner who is known for having worked at Perugia. As a matter of fact the trade of their father shows up in the design and decoration of the pulpits. It is thought that the marbles came from the first cathedral of Arezzo which was located outside the walls. In origin they might have embellished an ancient building, perhaps the Roman baths of the town. You may wish to see S. Giuseppe dei Falegnami, the church of the Roman guild of joiners.
When the Cathedral of Arezzo was building with the design of Margaritone, Giovanni Pisano was brought from Siena to Arezzo by Guglielmino Ubertini, Bishop of that city, where he made in marble the panel of the high-altar, all filled with carvings of figures, of foliage, and other ornaments, distributing throughout the whole work certain things in delicate mosaic, and enamels laid on plates of silver, let into the marble with much diligence. Vasari
Today statues and reliefs are attributed to a team of late XIIIth century sculptors including Giovanni Fetti from Arezzo and Betto di Francesco from Florence.
High Altar. The magnificent Shrine of S. Donato made for Bishop Ubertini. "During the persecution of the Christians under Julian the Apostate, S. Donato fled from Rome to Arezzo, of which he became bishop and after his death patron saint. As he stood one day, according to the legend, before the altar, with a sacramental cup in his hand, some rude Pagans attacked him and shattered it to fragments, which he miraculously reunited, without losing a drop of its contents. Transported with fury at this sight, the aggressors seized the unoffending prelate, and hurried him away to death. The Gothic shrine designed and sculptured in honour of this martyr is oblong in shape, and richly adorned with statuettes, leaves, arabesques, intaglios, enamels, and bas-reliefs. (..) Around the top of the shrine runs a row of Gothic arches (filled in with half figures of apostles and prophets) which are invaluable as giving an air of lightness to the massive structure. Hare
Arca di S. Donato: detail of the front
In the middle is a Madonna with the Child in her arms, and on one side S. Gregory the Pope, whose face is the portrait from life of Pope Honorius IV; and on the other side is S. Donatus, Bishop and Protector of that city, whose body, with those of S. Antilla and of other Saints, is laid under that same altar. (..) On the breast of the said Madonna is a bezel-shaped setting of gold, wherein, so it is said, were jewels of much value, which have been carried away in the wars, so it is thought, by soldiers, who have no respect, very often, even for the most holy Sacrament, together with some little figures in the round that were on the top of and around that work; on which the Aretines spent altogether, according to what is found in certain records, 30,000 florins of gold. Vasari
Above the altar, which occupies the front of the shrine, and beneath a canopy supported by angels, sits the Madonna smiling tenderly upon the Infant Saviour, whose head rests upon her shoulder. On either side of this really pleasing group are statuettes of SS. Donato and Gregory. Hare
Arca di S. Donato: view of the rear with (above) three reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin, including her Dormition, and (below) six reliefs depicting that of Donato; the image used as background for this page shows a relief portraying the head of a bishop
And because the said altar stands out by itself, round it and on the sides there are small scenes in low-relief from the life of S. Donatus, and the crown of the whole work are certain tabernacles full of marble figures in the round, wrought with much subtlety. Vasari
The series representing actions of S Donato and the Dormition of Mary are very fine. Murray
In the year 1327, Guido Tarlati da Pietramala, Bishop and Lord of Arezzo, died at Massa di Maremma in returning from Lucca, where he had been to visit the Emperor, and after his body had been brought to Arezzo and the most magnificent funeral honours had been paid to it, Piero Saccone and Dolfo da Pietramala, the brother of the Bishop, determined that there should be made for him a tomb in marble worthy of the greatness of so notable a man, who had been a lord both spiritual and temporal, and head of the Ghibelline party in Tuscany. Wherefore, having written to Giotto that he should make the design of a tomb very rich and with all possible adornment, and having
sent him the measurements, they prayed him afterwards that he should place at their disposal the sculptor who was the most excellent, according to his opinion, of all that were in Italy, because they were relying wholly on his judgment. Giotto, who was most courteous, made the design and sent it to them; and after this design, as will be told in the proper place, the said tomb was made. (..) Agostino contrived to bring Agnolo, his brother, who acquitted himself in this work in such a manner that when it was finished he was found to have equalled Agostino in the excellence of his art. (..) Agostino and Agnolo finished this tomb in the space of three years, executing it with much diligence. (..) Over the sarcophagus, which rests on certain great consoles carved more than passing well, there is stretched the body of that Bishop in marble, and at the sides are some angels that are drawing back certain curtains very gracefully (see an earlier monument by Arnolfo di Cambio at Orvieto with the same detail). Vasari
The fine tomb of Guido Tarlati Pietramala, the warrior bishop of Arezzo and chief of the Ghibelines, excommunicated by the pope whose life was one of the most dramatic in the history of the times, is another specimen of early monumental sculpture. It was executed between 1327 and 1330 by Agostino and Agnolo da Siena from the design, as Vasari supposed of Giotto; it appears doubtful however whether the great painter gave the design; he certainly recommended Agnolo and Agostino as the fittest sculptors for the work. Murray
Monument to Bishop Guido Tarlati: four reliefs of the lower section
There are carved in half-relief, in compartments, scenes from the life and actions of that Bishop, with an infinite number of little figures. (..) And in truth they deserve nothing but infinite praise, having made therein so many figures and so great a variety of sites, places, towers, horses, men, and other things, that it is indeed a marvel. Vasari
The history of the ambitious prelate is represented in 16 compartments in which the figures although short are worked out with singular delicacy and precision, surprising works for the time worthy of the highest place among early specimens of art after its revival. Murray
Left of High Altar. The splendid tomb of Guido Tarlati, the military prince-bishop of Arezzo, who when deposed and excommunicated, placed the iron crown of Lombardy on the head of the Emperor Louis of Bavaria in Milan cathedral. May 30, 1327, but having afterwards lost the Emperor's favour, declared him excommunicated and became himself reconciled to the Church. Hare
The Aretines in memory of the said Pontiff, also ordained that a tomb of marble should be made for him by Margaritone in the said Vescovado. Putting his hand to the work, he brought it to completion, including therein the portrait of the Pope from nature, done both in marble and in painting, in a manner that it was held the best work that he had ever yet made. Vasari
The painting above the statue of the Pope has almost entirely faded away. You may wish to see other similar funerary monuments of the Popes (gisants) in a page covering this topic.
Berna (aka Barna, a painter from Siena) painted a great Crucifix in a chapel of the Vescovado of Arezzo for Messer Guccio di Vanni Tarlati da Pietramala, and at the foot of the Cross a Madonna, S. John the Evangelist, and S. Francis, in most sorrowful attitudes, together with a S. Michelagnolo (St. Michael the Archangel), with so much diligence that it merits no small praise, and above all by reason of having been so well preserved that it appears made only yesterday. Below, moreover, is the portrait of the said Guccio, kneeling in armour at the foot of the Cross.Vasari
Right. Tomb of Gregory X., 1276, by Margaritone, and further on, a sarcophagus containing the remains of Arretine saints collected by Bishop Albergotti. Above, is a fresco of the Crucifixion with saints. Hare
Vasari attributed the Crucifixion to a painter from Siena of whom no reliable records of his work at Arezzo have been found, so today the fresco is attributed to an unknown local painter (see a similar fresco by Parri Spinelli at S. Domenico).
The lovers of good poetry and good wine should not forget that in this cathedral lies buried Redi, the author of "Bacco in Toscana" (a poem praising the Tuscan wines).
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in 1847-1848
Among other tombs of eminent natives is that of Redi, the natural philosopher, poet and physician celebrated for the purity of his language and style. He died in 1698. (..) The red sparkling wine of Arezzo formerly enjoyed great celebrity. Redi thus noticed its fine qualities "O di quel che vermigliuzzo Brillantuzzo Fa superbo l Aretino". (Of that vermilion charmer And heart-warmer. Blooms so bright and lifts the head Of the toasters of Arezzo) Translation by Leigh Hunt. Murray
In 1799 the Aretines set the French at defiance, and cut down the tree of liberty before it was firm in the ground. Armed with some muskets, two swivels, and a few wooden cannon bound with iron hoops, they began what the other Tuscans, in defence of their own pusillanimity, called insurrection. They assumed the imperial cockade, they expelled, imprisoned, or killed the patriots, and repulsed the Poles on their march to Florence. They chose the Virgin for their generalissima, raised her an army of 25,000 men, scoured the country, pulled down bridges, and intercepted provisions. When Macdonald had left Florence, they summoned the city to surrender, terrified the senate into capitulation, and entered in triumph, headed by a lady, la Signora Mari. Convinced that the terror of their arms alone had expelled the French army from Tuscany, they had the temerity to oppose its return. Four hundred Aretines, secure under the standard of the Blessed Virgin, marched to Prato Antico, and gave battle to 7000 victorious troops. They fired and fled. Mounier pursued them to Arezzo, and entered the town.
J. Forsyth - Remarks on Antiquities, Arts and Letters in Italy - 1803 (publ. 1813)
Here is the entrance of the truly charming public walk, planted with elms, and reaching to the walls, over which there is a beautiful view of the surrounding country. Adjoining the public walks is the gothic Cathedral, built of yellow stone. Hare
The French dismantled the fortress built by the Medici near the Cathedral; part of it was turned into a public walk and part was farmed.
Passeggio del Prato: view towards the mountains which separate Arezzo from the Upper River Tiber Valley
The situation of Arezzo is very beautiful, and as we came out of the cathedral the setting sun was breaking out of the clouds, and covering the broad landscape with rich, golden lights and long shadows. A space behind the cathedral is laid out as a public walk, from which the eye ranges over a region of country large enough to make a German principality. Hillard
I spent the next day at Arezzo, (..) It seemed to fall in with the cheerful Tuscan mildness for instance (..) that the ruined castle on the hill had been converted into a great blooming, and I hope all profitable, podere or market-garden. (..) I had seen Santa Maria della Pieve and its campanile of quaint colonnades, the stately, dusky cathedral - grass-plotted and residenced about almost after the fashion of an English "close"; I had seen the museum and its Etruscan vases and majolica platters. These were very well, but the old pacified citadel somehow, through a day of soft saturation, placed me most in relation. Beautiful hills surrounded it, cypresses cast straight shadows at its corners, while in the middle grew a wondrous Italian tangle of wheat and corn, vines and figs, peaches and cabbages, memories and images, anything and everything.
Henry James - A Chain of Italian Cities - 1874
Porta Stufi leading to the Cathedral
The walls of Arezzo were erroneously supposed to be Etruscan; they are not older than the middle ages and it is generally admitted that the town occupies not the place of the Etruscan city but that of the Roman colony founded after the site on the hill above had been abandoned. Murray
The walls were built by the Florentines in the XIVth century. They were pulled down in the XIXth century to facilitate the expansion of the town, exception made for the section behind the Cathedral which stood on very steep ground.
(left) Walls and an arch which supported the external walkway; (right) Porta Postierla leading to S. Domenico
A peculiar aspect of this section of the walls is that the walkway for the passage of the soldiers was external to the wall. It was a timber structure supported by some brick arches. In 1650 it was in such a poor state that it was dismantled. Some of the brick arches were left as a sort of ancient monument.
Today the palace does not retain much of its original XIVth century aspect. In 1650 the fašade of the medieval building collapsed and it was rebuilt in the fashion of the time. In 1930 it was given a more medieval aspect by adding merlons and machicolations.
Arezzo is a charming place with a bright Tuscan aspect, and it will strike travellers coming from the south by the cheerfulness of its broad pavements and the green shutters of its houses. Hare
The Albergotti were the biggest Guelph family in Arezzo for the role they had in the political, religious and military life of the city. In particular two consecutive bishops of the town (in 1371-1375 and 1375-1390) belonged to this family. Giovanni Battista Albergotti was one of the leaders of the 1799 revolt against the French.
Move to Ancient Arezzo or to Piazza Grande or to a page showing other monuments or go to:
Orvieto - Medieval Monuments
Orvieto - Cathedral and Papal Palaces
Orvieto - Renaissance Monuments
Orvieto - Museums
CittÓ della Pieve
An Excursion to Chiusi
Castiglione del Lago
An Excursion to Cortona
An Excursion to Montepulciano
An Excursion to Castiglion Fiorentino