Montefalco bears this name, which replaced the ancient Coccorone o Concurionprecisely because Frederick II attributed it to the village around 1249-50, after his stay. Today, no more hawks, but the ancient charm of this place has probably remained intact over the centuries. The hill of Montefalco is the highest (473 m. a.s.l.) of a hill system on the edge of the Valle Umbra between Assisi and Spoleto and crossed by the Clitunno and Topino rivers. The Sources of the Clitumnolatent literary suggestions resurface and lead us back to a series of quotations from Pliny a Byron, from Carducci a Goethe. They are surrounded by willows and poplars, of undeniable charm, even though the river is no longer navigable as far as the Tiber as it once was. The town took on its rational structure in Roman times, and was the site of numerous aristocratic villas such as that of the patrician Marco Curione from whom, according to tradition, the ancient name of the place derives.
It was between the 11th and 14th centuries that Montefalco had its period of greatest splendour: artistic, economic and also spiritual due to the intense activity of the Benedictine, Augustinian and, of course, Franciscan orders, which had an important settlement here. In the 16th century, two scourges: the sacking by the Perugian Baglioni family and a devastating plague epidemic led to the decline of the town, which today, thanks to its intact structure and an intelligent enhancement of its artisan, agricultural and gastronomic traditions, is an interesting stop for the most attentive tourist. The heart of Montefalco, gathered within 14th-century walls, is the town hall squareunusually circular, vast and sober, with the Town Hallbuilt around 1270, to which were later added the loggia (15th century) and the tower (19th century). A visit to Montefalco cannot be separated from the City Museum, housed in theformer church of St Francis (c. 1335); on the central apse are the twelve panels depicting the life of the Assisian saint, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497), the Florentine painter who, after collaborating for a long time with Fra Angelico, began an independent artistic career in Montefalco. His is also the fresco of the Chapel of St Jerome, while the Annunciation and the Cribin front are from the Perugino. The Lapidary Museum houses carved or engraved stones and marbles from a vast surrounding area, in the Municipal Art Galleryworks by Francesco Melanzio of Montefalco, a painter linked to the High School of Foligno and the Alunno. From the Camiano Gate (13th century) one can enjoy the view over the Spoleto valley, while near the Gate of Frederick IIor of St Bartholomew, there is the homonymous little church decorated with shoots and bunches of grapes. And again: the Gothic Church of St. Augustinewhich preserves theCoronation of the Virgin attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti; i convents of Santa Illuminata and San Leonardowith works by Francesco Melanziothe shrine of St Clare (built in the Baroque period over the Chapel of the Holy Cross, where Clare of Montefalco died) which houses 14th-century frescoes of the Umbrian school. Finally, a one-kilometre walk through the countryside leads to the convent complex of San Fortunato where many archaeological finds from Roman times are preserved.
Up through the ancient gate a steep, narrow, dark street, and everywhere you look, wherever you pass, everything is ancient, medieval, stony cold and hard. Tiny alleys carved out between tall rough stone houses, ancient towers, portals, castles, churches and walls. At the top I was greeted by a cold, sharp wind. Bundled in my cloak, I had a beautiful and touching vision: beyond an ancient wall, the Umbrian landscape, green and bright, enclosed within a mighty circle of high, still snow-capped mountains. Near or far, there is no sight that does not touch an ancient, famous, sacred place; there it is Spoleto, Perugia, Assisi, Foligno, Spello, Terniand in between hundreds of smaller places, villages, churches, courtyards, monasteries, fortresses and farmhouses: a land rich in history, Roman and pre-Roman monuments, crossed by the small river Clitumno, which we often read about when we studied Latin... Dumbfounded with wonder, I crossed the square, exited the city through one of the gates, re-entered through the next, walked along corners and steep streets. Outside the city I found a magnificent garden surrounding a solitary villa, now uninhabited and somewhat dilapidated; there I rested under old cypress trees, watching the alternation of broad patches of shade and thin streaks of sunshine in the green valley. I saw Assisi and, nearby, the Porziuncolasacred places, transfigured by the grace and enchantment that St Francis and ancient Umbrian art have infused into this land. And then I set out to follow the traces of this Franciscan art beyond Assisi, no place offering better opportunities than Montefalco. Inside churches and chapels, above portals and altars, I discovered ancient frescoes populated with delicate figures pervaded by joyful devotion: beautiful merciful madonnas, graceful young saints. Sacred images taken from biblical history and hagiography, some mournful and severe, others aflame with devotion, others still laughing with childlike joy...
Where the history of Sagrantino has never suffered a setback In Montefalco, you can feel the deep breath of the past, which joins with that of the present. Between the walls of rosy ashlars, along the narrow alleys, stretching out to gain the great light of the Vallata, a few Sagrantino vines.
Tenacious, they remain to mark, in the continuity of gestures and traditions, the suture between eras. Still opulent at every harvest, they tell of an ancient presence of domestic vines surrounded by the high walls of vegetable gardens, testifying to the uninterrupted and constant love, the enduring predilection of Montefalco for this vine that is its symbol, its wealth, its pride. To follow its traces through the tangle of houses tightly clinging to the buttresses shrouded in haloes of shadow, is to enter an ideal territory and find there, in the rare symbiosis between vine and stone, the suggestion of human presence, as if restored to the everyday of Time. In the luminous wide of the 'Castellina' strong shrubs, living creatures, preserved by the careful will of man. In 'via de' Vasari' On the walls, as in a thirteenth-century sinopia, is written the continuous change of man's project, his sense of self, his aspirations. The houses are lined up almost in silent procession, alternating with shy vegetable gardens with walls of stone and limestone from which shadows of green escape, with "closed"from which the overbearing vegetation overflows onto the warm pink brickwork. Behind the small antique-painted porticos, scourged by the sun and the frost of mute seasons, one can guess the generous vineyards of yesteryear, the memory of which remains in short rows of vines. In this village, the union between the life of the fields and that of the craftsman was a happy one. The intimate nature of Montefalco is made up of humility, rigour, strength, tenacious ties with the land, which has always been its vocation. In front of an ancient well, from which the area has long quenched its thirst, clinging to the façade of nearby houses, more Sagrantino vines. Next to the oldest ones, spreading their centuries-old arms on the walls, young vines that have recently been renewed, carefully supported by painless supports: they suggest the reassuring idea of a youth ready to take the place of old age to guarantee the continuity of existence, that of a parallel path between man and land, capable of perpetuating that empathetic relationship that in the past man knew how to live with the environment, keeping it intact for posterity like a work of art.
Central apse of the former Church of St. Francis, now the Civic Museum of Montefalco Benozzo Gozzoli, Stories from the Life of Saint Francis, Saints and Characters of the Franciscan Order, frescoes, 1452. State of preservation and restoration. Benozzo's cycle has faced a long and adventurous history of neglect, misunderstandings, and damage, which have seriously endangered the survival of this pictorial text, one of the most important in early Renaissance Italian painting. The 1997 earthquake accentuated the state of instability of the vault, causing the partial detachment of a rib, but did not damage the frescoes. In general, the original parts of the cycle are largely preserved.
Sources. Called upon to illustrate the life of St. Francis, Benozzo used the great Giottesque model, but departed from it, as, at the probable suggestion of Friar Jacopo himself, he referred to two well-known Franciscan texts: the Legenda Maior by Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, which became the official biography of the saint from 1266, and the Legend of the Three Companions, which, focusing above all on the events in Assisi of Francis, was often an important source of inspiration for the depiction of the related scenes. The cycle. The life of the saint, from birth to death, is illustrated in twelve scenes arranged in three registers. The narrative proceeds, like an ideal elevation, from bottom to top and culminates in the vault with the glory of Saint Francis. The leitmotif of the cycle is the identification of Francis as the 'new Christ' (alter Christus), a central concept of Franciscan spirituality. The second register shows in a panel the scene of a dinner, whose protagonists are St. Francis and the Knight of Celano, by whom the saint had been invited. Two bottles are depicted on the table, one of water and one of red wine, and since there are frequent references to contemporary events and local characters, as in the scene of the Blessing of Montefalco and its people, the detail of the red wine could also be interpreted as a precise reference to the production of Sagrantino di Montefalco, a wine whose name derives precisely from its use in the imparting of the sacraments. Style. Benozzo found himself directing a painting site for the first time after having been employed by Angelico for many years in Florence, Rome and Orvieto. The great master's lesson is fundamental for the organisation of the cycle. In the adoption of particular compositional modules, in the predilection for certain human types and in the balance of colour, the memory of the years in which he was closest to Angelico guides Benozzo in this undertaking. However, as had been the case in his early Montefalco works in San Fortunato, the barely thirty-year-old Benozzo reveals absolutely original qualities in the Franciscan cycle: a more particularistic taste for narrative, a use of colour in a function that is both expressive and decorative. Criticism. Benozzo's Umbrian activity, completely forgotten by Vasari, was particularly appreciated during the 19th century, when a mystical interpretation was attempted. Benozzo's Franciscan Stories in Montefalco were of significant importance for the transformation of figurative culture in Umbria in the Proto-Renaissance sense.