The unique Val d’Orcia is the new Chiantishire
Painting and cinema: usually these two representations related to the image of places we dream of visiting or living in, introjected and set in our minds. If we think of Italy, one of the most classic, unmistakable representations is that of a Tuscan landscape with its gentle hills covered with chestnut and olive groves, vineyards and here and there, on the hilltops, medieval villages, towers and isolated farmhouses. This peaceful and heavenly image, rural but also social, is at the heart of some of the most famous paintings in the history of Italian art: between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, to exalt the values of the City-State, the painters of the Sienese school practiced based on what was before their eyes, namely the Val d’Orcia. The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, the fundamental fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti preserved in the Hall of the Council of Nine in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, depicts the invention of the perspective of the Val d’Orcia. Like Picasso’s Guernica, this fourteenth-century painting transcends its undoubted artistic value to represent one of civil commitment and historical testimony. In the course of the 20th century and up to the present day, the timeless landscape of the Val d’Orcia has become a cinematographic subject: it has been the setting for L’armata Brancaleone by Mario Monicelli, Brother Son, Sister Moon by Franco Zeffirelli, The English Patient by Anthony Minghella, The Gladiator by Ridley Scott, Stealing Beauty by Bernardo Bertolucci and Nostalgia by Andrei Tarkovsky. And then there is advertising: there is no car brand that has not set its commercial along the scenic zig zag roads bordered by cypress trees. Today, finally, the Val d’Orcia has become a popular backdrop for Instagrammers, with all those white roads that wind between Pienza, Bagno Vignoni and isolated chapels, in the setting of the Eroica, an extraordinary cycling competition on vintage two-wheelers. Since 2004, this valley between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto, crossed by the Via Francigena and known for the production of one of the finest Italian wines, Brunello di Montalcino, has been recognized by Unesco as a «World Heritage Site». The first rediscovery of Val d’Orcia in the twentieth century, following centuries of marginalisation and abandonment, was due to a rich and cultured American-Anglo-Irish woman, Iris Cutting, born in 1902. At the end of the 19th century, her mother, who had become a widow, had bought the splendid Villa Medici in Fiesole. The great art historian Bernard Berenson, a neighbor, the young Iris and her mother’s new husbands (an art historian and, later, an essayist) devoted themselves to the appreciation of entire areas of art history not yet studied, eventually «inventing» Anglo-Saxon tourism in Tuscany. From there, from those studies and conversations, the brilliant Iris, who had married Marquis Origo, set out to re-create the Val d’Orcia. In fact, the couple bought an immense estate, La Foce, in that area that was suggestive but underdeveloped: too cold in winter and too hot in summer, with the suggestive arid clays, unsuitable for agriculture. In a mixture of American-style philantropism, taking advantage of the land reclamation put in place by Fascism, they dedicated themselves with a pioneering and creative partnership to the aesthetical development of the Val d’Orcia, in the wake of the representations of Sienese painting. It was Iris Origo who had the rows of cypresses planted on the avenue leading to La Foce, pruned, designed and stylized as in the paintings, so that they would not clutter the landscape background with disorderly foliage. The image of that avenue is the basis of the tourist and holographic success of the Val d’Orcia in the twentieth century. More recently, another very international couple - Ilaria Pallavicino, an art history graduate, and Giorgio Miani, passionate about agriculture - contributed to the fame of the Val d’Orcia. Exploring it by motorcycle in the early 1980s, they began buying abandoned farmhouses. For years they restored ruins and semi-framed dry stone walls, in a philological way and with a taste for landscaping. These farmhouses have since become the holiday destination of celebrities, movie stars, and established professionals. Some American tycoons have also contributed to the tourist development by buying and restoring abandoned villages. Among these, the lawyer and philanthropist Michael Cioffi, who bought, house after house, the medieval fortress of Castiglioncello del Trinoro. The restoration of the village, commissioned to the Miani couple, has created Monteverdi, an evocative and ideal citadel, In fact, the Val d’Orcia has become the new «Chiantishire».
A collectors’ paradise Montalcino is where the most cited Italian wine in the international rankings is produced: Brunello (Barolo is second, Chianti third). The very best, according to the most influential classification, the one of «Wine Spectator», is Brunello di Montalcino Le Lucère 2015 produced by San Filippo winery. In the 2021 ranking , it comes in third place among the world ‘s top ten, first amongst Italian wines. Given that 2015 and 2016 were extraordinary vintages
for Brunello, Le Lucère is a fantastic collector’s wine: deep ruby red, full-bodied and persistent, with silky tannins and aromas of blackcurrants, blueberries and porcini mushrooms.
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Abandon all prejudice, ye who enters the Mendrisio Art Museum. At least until February 13, just in time to tour the A. R. Penck (24.10.2021-13.02.2022) exhibition.