Sansepolcro boasts a handsome old town but the only outstanding sight is the Museo Civico, housed in the 14th-century Palazzo dei Conservatori. An outdoor staircase runs to the former main entrance, now a glassed-in doorway where you can see into one of the museum's main halls. There you can gaze on Piero della Francesca's masterpieces at any time of day or night -- regardless of whether you buy a ticket to the museum. If you have more time, take a break from art at the Aboca Museum, Via Aggiunti 75 (tel. 0575-733-589, www.abocamuseum.it; Apr-Sep daily 10am-1pm and 3-7pm; Oct-Mar Tue-Sun 10am-1pm and 2:30-6pm; adults 8€, 4€ children 10-14 and 65 and over, free children 9 and under), a slickly presented history of medicinal herbs, replete with fittingly rich aromas and pots of dried chamomile, mustard, and the like.
Beauty in Geometry -- On the Trail of Piero della Francesca
One of the leading lights of the early Renaissance, Piero della Francesca took the perspective obsession of Florentine masters Masaccio and Paolo Uccello and mixed it with the ethereal posed beauty of the Umbrian school to create a haunting style all his own. Piero's figures are at once hyper-posed masses of precision Euclidean geometry and vehicles for a profound expressive naturalism and astute psychological studies. His backgrounds, even those of the countryside, are masterpieces of architectural volume. His painting has so fascinated the modern world that the connect-the-dots loop of cities preserving his works has become known as the Piero della Francesca Trail, a pilgrimage route of sorts for art lovers. Arezzo and Sansepolcro are the main sites, but some 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Arezzo lies Monterchi. This is the home of Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto, which you can see in the Museo della Madonna del Parto, built especially for it at Via Reglia 1 (tel. 0575-70-713). This psychologically probing fresco depicts the Virgin Mary 9 months pregnant with Jesus, shown to us by a pair of angels who hold back the intricately embroidered flaps of a tent. Mary here is heavy with child, with one eyelid drooping and a hand on her swollen belly. She emanates a solemnity that's at once human yet regal, reflecting the grave import of becoming the mother of the Savior. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm and 2 to 7pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 7pm (until 5pm daily Oct-Mar). Admission is 3.50€ for adults and 2€ for students over 14; children under 14 are free.
When Piero's eyesight began to fail later in life, he wrote two treatises, On the Five Regular Bodies and On Perspective in Painting, which together set the rules for his universe of perspective and logic, broke down the human body into a geometric machine of perfect proportions, and became required reading for almost every Renaissance artist. He died near his hometown of Sansepolcro in 1492.
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