If you came to this page directly, you might wish to read a page with an introduction to this section and a map of Val di Chiana or a page on ancient Arezzo first.
This is a very ancient town, and the see of a bishop suffragan of Florence. It is pretty well built, but indifferently inhabited. There is a fine piazza in the town, and some inscriptions in the portico.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
S. Maria della Pieve; behind the church, is the exceedingly picturesque Piazza Grande, in the centre of which stands a statue of Ferdinand III. by Stefano Ricci. The brown apse of the church with its pillared arcades overhangs a fountain. Beside this is the charming Palace of the Confraternita della Misericordia, dating from the fourteenth century.
Augustus J.C. Hare - Cities of Northern and Central Italy - 1876
At Arezzo one was far from Rome, one was well within genial Tuscany, and the historic, the romantic decoction seemed to reach one's lips in less stiff doses. There at once was the "general impression" - the exquisite sense of the scarce expressible Tuscan quality, which makes immediately, for the whole pitch of one's perception, a grateful, a not at all strenuous difference, attaches to almost any coherent group of objects, to any happy aspect of the scene, for a main note, some mild recall, through pleasant friendly colour, through settled ample form, through something homely and economic too at the very heart of "style," of an identity of temperament and habit with those of the divine little Florence that one originally knew. Adorable Italy in which, for the constant renewal of interest, of attention, of affection, these refinements of variety, these so harmoniously- grouped and individually-seasoned fruits of the great garden of history, keep presenting themselves!
Henry James - A Chain of Italian Cities - 1874
(left) Passage between the Corso and Piazza Grande which was designed by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), architect, painter and art historian from Arezzo; (right) 1911 monument to him (in page four a description and images of his house at Arezzo)
Having discoursed hitherto of the works of others, with the greatest diligence and sincerity that my brain has been able to command, I also wish at the end of these my labours to assemble together and make known to the world the works that the Divine Goodness in its grace has enabled me to execute, for the reason that, if indeed they are not of that perfection which I might wish, it will yet be seen by him who may consent to look at them with no jaundiced eye that they have been wrought by me with study, diligence, and loving labour, and are therefore worthy, if not of praise, at least of excuse; besides which, being out in the world and open to view, I cannot hide them. And since perchance, at some time they might be described by some other person, it is surely better that I should confess the truth, and of myself accuse my imperfection, which I know only too well, being assured of this, that if, as I said, there may not be seen in them the perfection of excellence, there will be perceived at least an ardent desire to work with great and indefatigable effort, and the extraordinary love that I bear to our arts.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - chapter about himself - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
Without Giorgio Vasari of Arezzo and his all-important work, we should perhaps to this day have no history of northern art, or of the art of modern Europe, at all.
Jacob Burckhardt - The Civilization Of The Renaissance In Italy - 1860
is in general well built, and has some, though few
remarkable edifices, among which are the public
palace on the great square, and the cathedral. (..) The former displays a vast and very
J. C. Eustace - Classical Tour of Italy in 1802 (publ. 1813)
In the Piazza Maggiore are the fine Loggie constructed by Vasari and considered his masterpiece in architecture.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in central Italy - 1853
The fame of Vasari as an architect is mainly due to the public buildings he designed and in particular to the Uffizi (Offices) of Florence which housed the administrative activities of the Duchy of Florence and the headquarters of its guilds. Cosimo I de' Medici entrusted Vasari, who was his courtier and trusted architect, with the task of renovating in a Renaissance way also the public buildings of other towns. The Logge were designed by Vasari in 1572 and were completed after his death, so they are not mentioned in his book. A similar building can be seen at Castelfiorentino, very near Arezzo.
Confraternity of S. Maria della Misericordia. A certain number of good and honourable gentlemen had begun to go about collecting alms for the poor who were ashamed to beg, and to succour them in all their needs: and in the
year of the plague of 1348, by reason of the great name acquired by
these good men for the Confraternity in assisting the poor and the sick,
in burying the dead, and in doing other similar works of charity, so many
were the legacies, the donations, and the inheritances that were left to it,
that it inherited the third of the riches of Arezzo; and the same came
to pass in the year 1383, when there was likewise a great plague. Spinello (a XIVth century painter),
then, belonging to this Company, it was often his turn to visit the sick,
to bury the dead, and to do other similar pious exercises, such as the
best citizens of that city have ever done and still do to-day. (..) Over the principal door of the brotherhood's house, which is in the piazza, he painted a Dead Christ (PietÓ), with a San Giovanni. Vasari
The FraternitÓ di Santa Maria della Misericordia built in the 14th century has a very fine Gothic front and porch of exceeding richness flanked by 2 lancet windows; it was founded originally for the relief of the poor and as a provision for widows and orphans. (..) With these objects are now combined a museum of antiquities (in 1936 its collections were moved to a former convent) and natural history and a library containing upwards of 10,000 volumes. Over the entrance is a fresco by Spinello of Christ, the Virgin and St John.
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in central Italy - 1853.
Confraternita di S. Maria della Misericordia: part of the fašade which is attributed to Bernardo Rossellino; the image used as background for this page shows a detail of the central relief, i.e. the head of either St. Lorentino or St. Pergentino
Bernardo Rossellino, an architect and sculptor, who wrote the History of Florence was a very learned man, as all the world knows. (..) He was much esteemed for his knowledge of architecture by Pope Nicholas V, who loved him dearly and made use of him in very many works that he carried out in his pontificate, of which he would have executed even more if death had not intervened to hinder the works that he had in mind. Vasari (who did not mention S. Maria della Misericordia among the works by Rossellino).
Brotherhoods similar to that of Arezzo existed in other cities of Tuscany and the Florentine community of Rome had their own Misericordia; its church was decorated by Vasari himself. Paintings or reliefs portraying a Madonna protecting people under her mantle can be seen in buildings of similar charities. e.g. Spedale degli Innocenti in Florence.
Marchionne, in the year when Innocent III died, finished the building of the Pieve of Arezzo and likewise the campanile. Vasari
We reached Arezzo; an hour before sunset, and had time to walk about the town and see the house in which Petrarch was born, the fine loggie of Vasari, author, painter, and architect; the Palazzo Publico, covered all over with the armorial bearings of the Podestas; the singular church of Santa Maria della Pieve; and the cathedral.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in 1847-1848
The Via Cavour, in which the hotels are situated, leads immediately into the Corso. Here, on the right, is the great Church of S. Maria della Pieve, founded by Bishop Aribertus between 980 and 1000, but chiefly built in 1216 by the native architect Marchionne. Hare
Front view of S. Maria della Pieve
Marchionne made in sculpture, for the fašade of the said church, three rows of columns one above the other, with great variety, not only in the fashion of the capitals and the bases, but also in the shafts of the columns, some among them being thick, some slender, some joined together two by two, and others four by four. In like manner there are some twined in the manner of vines, and some made in the shape of figures acting as supports, with diverse carvings. He also made therein many animals of diverse sorts that support on the middle of their backs the weights of those columns, and all with the most strange and extravagant inventions that can possibly be imagined, and not only wide of the good order of the ancients, but almost wide of all just and reasonable proportion. But with all this, whosoever sets out well to consider the whole sees that he went on striving to do well, and thought peradventure to have found it in that method of working and in that whimsical variety. Vasari
The Ch of Sta Maria della Pieve, the most ancient in the city, dates from the beginning of the 9th century and is supposed to occupy the site of a temple of Bacchus. It was repaired in 1216 by Marchionne, a native architect with the addition of the front and campanile. The whole building presents a singular mixture of facility of style with irregularity of detail. Murray
S. Maria della Pieve: detail of the top row of columns
The fašade has 3 open colonnades like the Duomo of Pisa containing no less than 58 columns some of which are round, multangular and some twisted; indeed the whole church bears evidence of being composed of fragments from other buildings. The middle column of the 3rd story is a Caryatid. Murray
Towards the end of the twelfth, or beginning of the thirteenth century, the taste for extravagant or capricious ornament in architectural sculpture showed itself in the fašade of the Pieve or parochial church of Arezzo. It has three rows of columns, one above the other, bound together in groups of two, three, and four, varying in size, shape and length, twisted like vines, or fashioned into human forms, based upon extravagantly conceived animals, and covered with capitals fantastically ornamented. Hare
S. Maria della Pieve: main portal
Marchionne made in sculpture only the arch that is over the door of the said church, in barbaric manner, a God, the Father with certain angels, in half-relief and rather large. Vasari
The doorway is round headed resting on 6 columns with Corinthian capitals and various bas reliefs and statues. Murray
S. Maria della Pieve: small statues of the twelve months in the main portal, after a lengthy restoration which revived their colours: (left) July, August and September (above) June, May and April (below); (right) October, November and December (above) March, February and January (below)
In the arch Marchionne carved the twelve months, placing his own name underneath in round letters, as was the custom, and the date-namely, the year 1216. Vasari.
The statues depict the agricultural activities which typically take place in each month. There are however some exceptions: January is portrayed as a man with two heads in line with the Roman tradition. May is represented by a knight because wars usually started with the good season. December shows the killing of a pig to prepare the meat for Christmas. The first month is March because in Florence the year started on March 25 (this until 1749). The sequence of the months is a case of boustrophedon, i.e. with two triplets in the traditional order and two triplets in reverse order (see a boustrophedon Greek inscription).
The other three portals of S. Maria della Pieve which show a variety of medieval designs and decorations
The more perfect history of architecture in Italy results, no doubt, in great measure from the superior
standard of education there, and from the records being in civil hands and not solely in the cloister. But the
strong civic feeling of each commune had also much to
do with it, and the pride which each little State felt in
the prowess of its sons in arts no less than in arms. In small States the individual counts for more: each
citizen of the commune felt a sense of proprietorship in
its public buildings, and an interest in his fellow-citizens
who designed them. In so small a society each artist
would be widely known, and his career from apprentice
to master watched by friendly eyes. (..) One more characteristic of the Italian school is
brought out by our closer acquaintance with the individual artist. We find constantly that not only were
the decorative arts of painting and sculpture allied to architecture in close co-operation, but the practice of more than one, sometimes of all three, was united in one artist.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Gothic architecture in France, England, and Italy - 1915
The Interior has three aisles separated by tall pillars with richly sculptured Corinthian capitals. It is very simple and severe, and was restored 1874-75. Hare
The Interior, now undergoing restoration, consists of a nave and aisles with a dome.
Karl Baedeker - Italy; handbook for travellers - 1883
The "restoration" was meant to highlight the assumed medieval aspect of the church by creating a crypt and by removing all additions which were felt not to be consistent with it. In particular the complex altar designed and painted by Giorgio Vasari for his family chapel was removed to the church of Badia, together with some Renaissance paintings.
S. Maria della Pieve: (left) polyptych by Pietro Laurati: (right) reliquary of S. Donato
Pietro Laurati was commissioned to make in distemper the panel for the high - altar of the aforesaid Pieve; wherein, in five parts, with figures as far as the knees and large as life, he made Our Lady with the Child in her arms, and S. John the Baptist and S. Matthew on the one side, and on the other the Evangelist and S. Donatus, with many little figures in the predella and in the border of the panel above, all truly beautiful and executed in very good manner. This panel, after I had rebuilt the high-altar of the aforesaid Pieve completely anew, at my own expense and with my own hand, was set, up over the altar of S. Cristofano at the foot of the church. (..) Pietro and Paolo, goldsmiths of Arezzo, who learnt design from Agnolo and Agostino of Siena (see their monument to Bishop Tarlati in the Cathedral), were the first who wrought large works of some excellence with the chasing-tool, since, for an arch-priest of the said Pieve of Arezzo, they executed a head in silver as large as life, wherein was placed the head of S. Donatus, Bishop and Protector of that city; which work was worthy of nothing but praise, both because they made therein some very beautiful figures in enamel and other ornaments, and because it was one of the first works, as it has been said, that were wrought with the chasing-tool. Vasari
A very interesting Gothic altar piece painted in compartments by Pietro Laurati is described by Vasari in his Life of that early painter and was restored by Vasari himself. Murray
Reliefs inside S. Maria della Pieve: (left) Presepio (Crib); (right) Adoration of the Kings
There is a curious bas relief in this ch representing the 3 Kings in Adoration before the Infant with their names over their heads, said to have been found under one of the pillars. Murray
The interior houses two interesting XIIIth century reliefs of approximately the same size, but not otherwise related. That representing the Nativity and Infant Jesus being washed was donated to the church in 1912; it was found at Orto dei Sodacci, a small farm outside the town. The Adoration of the Kings was placed on the wall of the aisle in 1878.
On the front is a curious series of armorial bearings of the successive PodestÓs amounting to many hundreds and including some historical names. Murray
Opposite the church, beyond the entrance of the Via degli Albergotti, is the Palazzo Pubblico, of 1332, covered with arms of Podestas, a perfect museum of local heraldry. Hare
In 1384 the Republic of Florence bought Arezzo from Charles of Durazzo who had conquered the town in 1380 at the head of an army of Hungarian mercenaries on his way south to oust his cousin Joanna from the throne of Naples. Charles was in bad need of money to pay his troops and Florence was the banking centre of Europe. Initially the Florentine representatives had the title of podestÓ, a medieval magistrate, usually a foreigner, who was appointed for a very short period of time, and later on of commissari; their actual role was more that of an overseer than of a governor. The high number of coats of arms shows that they were rotated very often. You may wish to see a similar display of coats of arms at Castiglion Fiorentino and at Cortona which Florence bought in 1411.
Monuments to: (left) Grand Duke Ferdinand III (1822 by Stefano Ricci) formerly in Piazza Grande, now near Palazzo Albergotti delle Statue; (centre) Vittorio Fossombroni (1863 by Pasquale Romanelli) near S. Francesco; (right) Grand Duke Cosimo II in Corso Italia
In modern times Arezzo has produced one of the most eminent men of Italy, Count Fossombroni, for many years prime minister of Tuscany during whose administration the country enjoyed a degree of prosperity and tranquillity unknown elsewhere in Italy. Murray
In front of the church is the statue of the patriotic Count Vittorio Fossombrone - "Idraulico, Politico, Economista" - by Romanelli of Florence. Hare
The monuments to Ferdinand III and Fossombroni were erected to celebrate their action to complete the reclamation of Val di Chiana.
Move to Ancient Arezzo or to the Cathedral 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