Tag Archives: Pinturicchio

In the Gallery with the Artist Elvio Marchionni

Elvio Marchionni, detail

Elvio Marchionni: Detail of Mother and Child

The small Umbrian hill town of Spello has produced two remarkable artists. The first was Bernadino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio (“little painter”), one of the great painters of the Renaissance. The second was Maestro Elvio Marchionni. Elvio Marchionni attended the Art Institute of Bernadino di Betto in Perugia, where he explored medieval painting techniques, the classics and the past masters. His palette is one of subdued colours, and many of his works resemble frescoes ravaged by the effects of time. He has exhibited all over Italy, including at the Venice Biennale of Sacred Arts, as well as in Paris, Madrid, Germany and the US. I spoke to him about his work and his inspiration.

Do you come from an artistic background?  No, I come from a family of farmers. My parents had no real concept of what art meant.

When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist?  Ever since I can remember. I have always drawn, even as a very small child of two or three.

Which artists do you most admire? Michelangelo is for me the greatest of all artists, better even than Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael, although I respect them both. I particularly admire Michelangelo’s drawings. In terms of modern artists, I was very inspired by the work of Alberto Burri, the Italian abstract artist. He reduced his colour palette and incorporated textures in his work, using sacking, iron, wood and plastic. He would also scar and burn areas of his canvas to add layers of interest.  Without Burri, I would not have developed my own textural techniques.

What artistic techniques do you use?  I like to use different textures in my work. For example, I use the crumbling plaster walls of old buildings to extract colour and texture. I take layers of gauze which I stick to the walls. When the layers are dry I pull them off, and traces of the pale colours and plaster remain on the material. I then use this as my canvas. The paintings produced in this way are known as strappi, from the Italian word strappare meaning to tear off or extract. For me, the canvasses contain memories of the past and of colours that have changed through time.

Elvio Marchionni with silk screen print frame

Elvio Marchionni with silk screen print frame showing the image.

I also use the serigraph or silk screen process. After creating an image, the silk is stretched across a frame and treated with a gel that is sensitive to light. A single colour is forced through the fine mesh of the silk material. When it is placed under a strong light, the image is fixed. Additional colours are added separately, drying well between each coat. It is a very long process.

Do you see yourself as following in the tradition of the great Renaissance artists?  No, not specifically. I love Renaissance art, but my art comes from using all of the artistic knowledge that I have from both the past and the present. I continue to learn every day. My favourite colours are those you see in the ancient frescoes, although some of their shades have changed over time. For example, the Madonna was usually depicted dressed in a deep blue, but this would originally have been much lighter. As the blue pigment was very expensive, artists diluted it to make it go further. The dilution agents slowly evaporated, resulting in a darker colour.

So you paint every day?  A good musician plays his instrument every day. It is the same for an artist. It is not enough to say you will only paint when you are inspired: you must practice, practice, practice to improve your art. Even now, when I am talking to you, you will see that my hands are never still; I always have a board or sketch pad close by. Sketching helps me to concentrate.

Elvio Marchionni - Sketches

Elvio Marchionni – Sketches

Do you ever paint outdoors?  Rarely now. When I was a young boy I often painted in the fields and mountains, but now I prefer to paint in the studio. That does not mean that I do not get inspiration from the landscape, because I do.

I understand you were born in Spello.  Yes, during the War, in 1944. In fact it was during an air raid. It was such a confusing time that my mother wasn’t sure whether I was born on the 16th or 17th of January. She settled on the 17th.

And you still live in Spello?  Yes, I love this town deeply and I still live in the centre. I also have a house close by on the mountain. I know the mountains so well, and enjoy walking on the slopes, picking wild asparagus and herbs and hunting for truffles.

When you are away from Spello, where do you like to visit?  I am happy to be in Spello even when I am not working! If I do go away, it tends to be to places that remind me of my home town, with mountains and olive groves. I love Puglia; when I go there I like to stay in a small village. The area is very beautiful. I also love to eat the fresh fish.

Many of your paintings have a religious theme – why is that?  Well, I myself am an atheist, but I consider myself to be a friend of the Church. Many of my works are in churches and therefore depict religious themes.

You paint women often, and these women have the most beautiful, serene expressions. Yes, I love women! I like to paint them looking serene, calm and beautiful.

The depiction of a mother and child is a theme you return to frequently.  I have painted the Madonna and Child frequently but also many other works showing a mother and child. My aim always is to portray them for any generation; an eternal mother and child relationship if you like.

You recently produced a beautiful painting of Pope Francis. How did that come about?  It was a commission from a consortium of Umbrian banks. I actually went to the Vatican to present it to the Pope personally. I think he was pleased with it! The Pope took his name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, so I included the Saint and the basilica built in his name in the background. I also produced 500 serigraph copies – one of which hangs in my house – and a regional newspaper printed 50,000 posters of my portrait.

Portrait of Pope Francis and Saint Francis by Elvio Marchionni

Portrait of Pope Francis and Saint Francis by Elvio Marchionni

The Marchionni Foundation (Fondazione Marchionni) was recently inaugurated in Spello, in the former church of Saint Michael the Archangel. Why did you set up this organisation and what is it intended to do? The Foundation aims to encourage people – particularly, but not exclusively, children – to produce art and to grow as artists. It is about creativity and experimentation, allowing people to try out different techniques and materials. As well as trying to ensure that our rich artistic traditions are perpetuated, the Foundation will also manage my body of work. It is difficult for me to lay the responsibility for this on my family; through the Foundation my work can be managed independently.

Can you teach anybody to draw? I don’t teach people to draw. Through my Foundation, I put myself at the disposal of both adults and children when they are trying to solve problems with their art. Children know what they want to draw, even at a very early age. What might look like scribbles to us is something definitive in a child’s mind. Sometimes art lessons in schools drive children down particular routes. I want to undo this sort of teaching; children are able to express themselves through their paintings and they should be free to do this without necessarily having to conform to accepted art forms. I think that anyone can draw or paint to some degree, but without natural talent and training it is not possible to be a true artist.

Elvio Marchionni at work

Elvio Marchionni at work

Aside from art, what interests you? Women, children and cooking. I am told I am a pretty good cook! Also, as I mentioned earlier, being at one with nature in the fields and mountains.

What are you currently working on? I am producing a series of eleven pieces for the Baptistry of Folignio Cathedral.

From Maestro Marchionni’s house we crossed the street to the former church of Saint Michael the Archangel, home of the Foundation. Here I saw the work in progress for Folignio Cathedral and an exhibition of childrens’ art from the most recent junior workshop. We then strolled up the street to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore to see one of his works, a Madonna and Child. We walked around the Renaissance Baglioni Chapel with its rich paintings and decoration by Pinturicchio completed around 1501: perhaps his finest works. We admired the two pale paintings by Perugino from 1521. Finally, we visited the Chapel of the Sacrament where Elvio Marchionni’s four panels decorate the splendid 16th century tabernacle. Today’s artist is justifiably proud of his work, that of the local Renaissance masters and of his town.

Of what are you most proud? Every day when I wake up I feel good to be alive. I am proud that I succeeded in becoming what I always wanted to be. I also love freedom; I am a free spirit.

Painting by Elvio Marchionni

Painting by Elvio Marchionni

With sincere thanks to Maestro Elvio Marchionni for his time and his generosity of spirit. Thanks also to Francesca Carbonini for her patience and help with translation.







Blah, blah, blah


In previous posts I have written about some of the artists of Spello and Umbria. These artists have one thing in common: they are all dead. Unsurprising, of course, as they painted largely in the medieval and Renaissance periods. You may think, therefore, that living artists have nothing to contribute, and maybe cannot compare with the sheer genius of those who have gone before. But there is an artist born in Spello in 1944 and still living and working here who creates works of art so beautiful that perhaps he really does bear comparison to past masters. The artist in question is Elvio Marchionni.



Elvio Marchionni attended the Art Institute of Bernadino di Betto of Perugia (the “little painter”, Pinturicchio), where he explored medieval painting techniques, the classics and the great past masters. His palette is one of subdued colours, and many of his works resemble frescoes destroyed by the effects of time. He has exhibited all over Italy, including at the Venice Biennale of Sacred Arts, as well as in Paris, Madrid, Germany and the US.

His works can be seen in nearby Foligno, both in the Cathedral and in the apse of the church at Scopoli. In Spello there is a painting by Elvio Marchionni in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and another of St Veronica on the facade of one of the buildings in the main street.

Spello town

We had seen numerous posters around town advertising an event on behalf of the Marchionni Foundation at the former church of Saint Michael Archangel. We were not entirely sure what the event entailed, but we had seen canvasses being prepared and chairs being set out, so not wanting to miss anything we decided to go along.


The little church was full; all around were hung lovely art works, large and small. There were TV cameras and interviewers, photographers and local dignitaries. We managed to find seats and sat back to observe proceedings. We had thought that there might be a few words said about Signor Marchionni, then we would have a chance to view the paintings.

Well, the dignitaries stood up one by one and talked, and talked and talked…..An hour later they were still going strong, emphasising their points with lots of arm-waving and rousing finales.

We have been a bit smug about using our Italian and were proud of the fact that we can understand at least part of the conversations around us. But we came back to earth with a huge bump that evening when we could only extract something along the following lines. “Blah, blah Caravaggio. Blah, blah Perugino. British Museum, blah, blah. Pinturicchio blah, blah. Maestro Elvio Marchionni, blah, blah.” I exaggerate for effect, but not by much.


At last, the artist himself stood up to speak. He is a quietly spoken man who clearly prefers to let his art do the talking. He is passionate about art and equally passionate about sharing his knowledge with others, particularly young people. Encouraging tourists, school children and artists alike to understand the creative process and how works of art are produced is part of the Foundation’s plan.

With an allusion to the past, through his Foundation he is also aiming to recreate the relationship between the artist and his disciples, moving from theory to practice, learning the trade, inspiring each other, exchanging ideas and creativity.

We never did get to see all of the beautiful art works on display, but judge for yourself from the small selection included here how stunning they are. Elvio Marchionni, you are an inspiration.





Higher and Higher

DSC_0101 - Version 2

Sometimes someone gives you a bit of advice that changes your plans for the day for the better. “Take the scala mobile” he said; “saves all that walking”.

Spoleto, in common with other Umbrian hill towns, does not allow cars (other than residents’ vehicles) to be parked within the city walls. We drew to a halt close to the town gate, and asked a man at the tabaccaio if we were legally parked there; we were. Drawing himself up to his full height he welcomed us to Spoleto, exhibiting a pride in his town we have seen in so many places here. Then he added “Take the scala mobile (escalator) – saves all that walking.” We had intended to march straight through the main gate like a (very small) triumphant army and conquer the town piazza by piazza, hill by hill, but he pointed in the opposite direction so we took his advice; good move.

La Rocca, Spoleto

La Rocca, Spoleto

The town was built on the slopes of a steep hill, crowned by a military fortress, La Rocca D’Albornoziana, built in the 13th century to protect the Papal territory. A system of 8 huge escalators carried us to the foot of the Rocca’s walls from where there are impressive views.

To one side of the fortress is the 14th century Ponte delle Torri (Bridge of Towers), its ten arches spanning a deep gorge. It was likely to have been constructed over the foundations of a Roman aqueduct. Spoleto has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and its Roman remains can be spotted throughout the historic centre.

A little light lunch...

A little light lunch…

So much to explore, but first we stopped for lunch. This miniscule cafe had just 2 tables, but the food was local and freshly cooked on a tiny stove inside the adjoining shop. A delicious platter of Umbrian fare for me: bruschetta, cheese, salami and roasted vegetables, and a dish of pasta with truffle for mio marito, washed down with a glass of the local wine.

Such a beautifully designed menu.

Such a beautifully designed menu.

The view from our table was down a scenic stairway to the Duomo (Cathedral) square. Built and consecrated in the 12th century, the Romanesque facade was remodelled during the Renaissance; with its 8 rose windows and gold mosaics glinting in the sun it was an impressive sight.

The Duomo, Spoleto

The Duomo, Spoleto

Mosaic of Solsternus, 1207, Duomo facade, Spoleto

Mosaic of Solsternus, 1207, Duomo facade, Spoleto

The interior of the church is equally impressive and houses several important works of art. The Capella del Vescovo Constantino Eroli was built in 1497, and is entirely decorated with frescoes by Pintoricchio. Unlike the Pintoricchio frescoes in Spello’s Santa Maria Maggiore church, you are free to get close to the paintings and revel in their detail and colour.

Madonna and Child, Pintoricchio, Duomo Spoleto

Madonna and Child, Pintoricchio, Duomo Spoleto

Fresco detail, Pintoricchio, Duomo Spoleto

Fresco detail, Pintoricchio, Duomo Spoleto

There are other wonderful frescoes in the apse by the monk Filippo Lippi, painted in 1467-69 and portraying subjects including the Annunciation, Transition of the Virgin and Coronation of the Virgin.

Spoleto, Duomo, Filippo Lippi frescoes

Spoleto, Duomo, Filippo Lippi frescoes

Spoleto, Duomo, Filippo Lippi frescoes

Spoleto, Duomo, Filippo Lippi frescoes

The sarcophagus of Lippi is also in the cathedral, although the whereabouts of his remains is unknown. The story goes that shortly after he had completed the frescoes in the Duomo he was poisoned because he had seduced the daughter of a local nobleman. The people of Spoleto were delighted to have the body of the famous painter in their cathedral: the chronicler of the Italian Renaissance, Vasari, remarked that the cathedral was “poorly provided with ornaments, above all with distinguished men”, so he was interred in a tomb designed by his son. The corpse disappeared during restoration two centuries later, perhaps spirited away by the descendants of the unfortunate girl.

The cathedral’s facade provides the backdrop to the annual Festival of the Two Worlds where theatre, opera, painting, music and sculpture are featured. The Festival was initiated in 1958 in an attempt to bring together the new and old worlds of Europe and America, and it remains a huge draw for renowned artists and visitors.

The Roman theatre, constructed in 1AD, is still used as a venue for the Festival.

Spoleto, Roman Theatre,

Spoleto, Roman Theatre

The theatre is now part of the Archaeological Museum which houses Bronze age, Iron age and Roman exhibits, including some fascinating Roman gravestones. The museum is beautifully laid out, and gentle classical music accompanied our visit. It was a shame we were the only 2 visitors!

Roman busts, Archaeological Museum, Spoleto

Roman busts, Archaeological Museum, Spoleto

Fragment of mosaic from the  Roman baths. Archaeological Museum, Spoleto

Fragment of mosaic from the Roman baths. Archaeological Museum, Spoleto

A thoroughly enjoyable day, made even better by that little piece of advice!