Saturday, June 17, 2006


Fabriano's city center

The first Sunday in June had originally been set aside for a caving excursion with the Alpinismo Giovanile kids from CAI: Macerata, the local mountain club. This was something that Antonello had been planning for months--that first Sunday in June and a trip to the Cinque Laghi cave near Urbino. It was at the last minute when we found out that, in fact, the event had been postponed: only one kid had signed up to go, so we decided we'd go the weekend after (which we did). In the meantime, Antonello and I were left with a free Sunday on our hands: a rarity these days. We immediately made up our minds: the Gentile da Fabriano exhibit in the city of Fabriano was a perfect day trip. The next morning, we got up relatively early, got ready, and headed out.

This Gentile da Fabriano exhibit was supposed to be quite a big deal. Its opening day was inaugurated by the president of Italy, and people were supposedly coming from miles around to see the exhibit dedicated to local favorite son Gentile. With good reason: Gentile, in his day, was considered the most important, most famous painter in all of Italy, and his international gothic style is filled with gold embellishments and fancy brushstroke. While I was only familiar with some of his more famous works (namely The Adoration of the Magi found in Florence's Uffizi Gallery), I was interested in finding out what all of the fuss was about.

Antonello and I had never really been to Fabriano before. We had passed through several times, and Antonello had even attended an evening play at the Fabriano theatre years back, but it had never been on our list of places to visit. Fabriano is a main train hub in these parts, connecting Macerata to Ancona and Rome, and I remember many times leafing through postcards at the station while waiting for a train, always finding the same photo of the same stark, empty piazza that, surely, wasn't worth the long walk into town to see.

A sideways view of the main square

So, this early June day, Antonello and I were blessed two-fold with both the city and the exhibit happily surprising us. Fabriano's one "stark empty piazza" ended up being a medieval dream with an elaborate fountain in the center surrounded by charming and elegant palaces of pink stone, as full of life and sunshine as could be (no more judging cities by their postcards for me...). We stopped there for a moment to marvel at the city center and then headed a little way uphill to find the exhibit, neatly housed in a rennovated medieval hospital. Undaunted by the steep ticket price, we got our audio guides, glanced in the gift shop, and began our tour.

I walked away from that exhibit with a real sense of who this great artist was--definitely worth the ticket price. Gentile da Fabriano was an intricate craftsman and an expert painter, using goldsmith techniques to perfect his work, adding detail after detail until the paintings seemed about to brim over with light. I had never looked so closely at his works before. Having them here in front of me--so many of them, side by side--was like paging through someone's family album, each image giving away hints and clues about Gentile's own life. There were paintings that I recognized but many that I didn't. Antonello and I went through the five rooms of his life's work and studied the different pieces, fascinated by his attention to the the most minute details: soft petals on flowers, saints dressed in elaborate gowns, renaissance arches paying tribute to Brunelleschi's Florence situated right beside Venetian-style windows, showing Gentile's love for La Serenissima, where he lived for many years.

As we stepped through the last door, looked at the last painting, our eyes adjusting to the light, I sighed. I felt like I had just seen a whole, intense, lifetime of artwork pass before my eyes, like taking in all of those years at once, one full collection of deeply-loved, carefully decided work. As we left, happy to have seen so much beauty in one afternoon, I bought some postcards. Some were postcards of Gentile da Fabriano's work scaled down to nice, neat, framable sizes. The other postcards, however, were 30 cent snapshots, the best I could find of Fabriano--still looking stark and empty, a fountain and piazza caught in space.

Luckily, this time I knew to look a little further.



At 5:48 PM, Blogger Stelle In Italia said...

What a pleasantly surprising trip, Bella! Erin and I went to Fabriano once, most for the paper factory that a BSU prof had told us over and over again to visit. He didn't even mention the medieval dream of a piazza or Gentile...hmmm, maybe he say the postcards, too? Great adventure, Bella! Miss you!

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Expat Traveler said...

oh that looks so beautiful. I'd love to get back to some cobble stone roads.


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