Cortona and The Lamentation

Piazza della Republica, Cortona

On the steps of Palazzo del Comune

Last week we went to Cortona for the night.  This Tuscan hill town is right outside Perugia.  We could have gotten there in half an hour if it wasn’t for my lame suggestion to visit The Mall.  “De-mol,” as pronounced by the Italians, came highly recommended by several well-dressed locals we know.  This designer outlet sounded promising, but all four of us quickly melted down as we browsed though Gucci bags, Prada shoes, Valentino dresses and Armani jeans among crowds of bargain hunters.  A good deal was still 300 euros for something small.  We left empty handed after an hour.

We reached Cortona at sunset and found our hotel after several embarrassing wrong turns including one which took us down a pedestrian-only street that intersected the main piazza.   Then immediately after, we took a second turn heading straight into on-coming traffic and dirty looks.  I watched Matt’s confidence behind the wheel quickly deflate.  But when we finally arrived, it was all worth it.  This hotel ties for first place with the one in Taormina.   Our room was bright and colorful, spacious and sweet.  And the best part was the little private terrance in back.  We could have spent the whole trip sitting out there.

Views overlooking Tuscany and Umbria.

Outside the hotel is the central square, Piazza della Republica.  And down the street is the Duomo which faces an unassuming stone building housing the best museum we’ve seen yet.  (When I say “we,” I mean we parents.  Tom hated it.  The only things worse than another museum would be another big church, he said.)   While the paintings were still all religious with lots of gold highlights, something about this place was different.  The pictures were huge and bright and accessible, and we were the only ones there.

The stone courtyard in front of Museo Diocesano

There were two rooms on the first floor, one featuring Fra’ Angelico’s paintings, including The Annunciation.  The other room was devoted entirely to Luca Signorelli.  This was my favorite.  I’m not an art student nor even much of an art appreciator, but I was moved by these paintings, and every time I looked at Matt, I could tell he was too.  He said it best, “It feels like we are looking at something important.”

There was one picture in particular that got our attention.  It was called Lamentation Over the Dead Christ.  It was a scene so desperate and sad and familiar:  Jesus is dead.  His friends just un-nailed him from the cross and are surrounding his body with loving arms and profound grief.  His mother is holding his body, another woman is holding his hand, and another has his legs.  Behind them are others, equally distraught.  One woman is supporting Mary’s head between her hands.  It looks loving as well as hopeless.  Growing up Catholic, I was surrounded by these images in church and school, so much so that I developed an immunity to their drama.  But having distanced myself from the dogma, the rules, and the declarations of faith, I now see the humanity of this event.  It didn’t look like a Christian Bible scene celebrating divinity and salvation, but rather a depiction of the powerful human emotions involving love and loss.

It was a welcome connection with our son Luke and the experience we’ve shared with our friends and family for the past five years.

After standing in front of this painting for a little bit, we saw a sign nearby with a paragraph about Signorelli’s art.  It acknowledged the brilliant anatomical accuracy of Jesus’ body in Lamentation. It further revealed that after Signorelli’s own son had died of the plague, he used the body as a model.  Reading this gave new meaning to the artwork and exposed a degree of catharsis to the painting.  This fact furthermore explained not just the anatomical accuracy, but the emotional accuracy as well.

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7 thoughts on “Cortona and The Lamentation

  1. Another great post. Gads we keep adding to our time there. Must visit Cortona… Before we know it we will have to visit for year to experience all of it. The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ is well described. In my mind I have always thought of Christ’s last moments as a “depiction of the powerful emotion involving love and loss” since he was human. It is only what follows that reflects faith.
    Keep up the fantastic blogs. Love Grandpa John

  2. There’s that Sounders jersey again. Makes us very happy. Miss you all, but reading your writing and seeing your photos makes us feel like we are right there with you.

  3. What a beautiful post! I was in that museum in 2002 and it was also one of our favorites. We stayed with 2 other couples just to the south of Cortona, also on the hillside and could see the museum from our villa. When we were there and up on the upper balcony, you could see our place, La Magnolia with binoculars. I loved Cortona. If you go back and haven’t done so, try the restaurant in your first photo in the yellow building in the upper balcony with the arches. No idea of the name, but one of our best meals.

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