ill. 1 - The "Rocca di Spoleto"
The Tales of the “Camera Pinta” (painted room) in the Rocca of Spoleto (Italy) (ill. 1) are pictorial interpretations of Provencal or Breton tales which stimulate a powerful evocative raction. Personally I was quite fascinated by them. Notwithstanding the fact that we have become well acquainted with icons through the Media, these paintings in the Camera Pinta still make a strong impact on the visitor. As for me, never before, watching a work of art, had I experienced such an emotion. While I was taking in all this, it came to my mind an episode that had occurred many years ago in a small Italian country town.
The Second World War had finally ended, leaving behind nothing but ruins. In that village there were no cinemas, no TV, and the local people were not getting any sort of intellectual stimulation from the world outside.
My family and I were spending our summer vacations in that forlorn place. I had my books to keep me company; one of them was a large picture book with many colorful illustrations as well as some reproductions of ancient miniatures. I remember how pleased were some of the village people when I showed them the these pictures and what simple words they used to show their admiration.    continue...

It is just the memory of their reaction that made me wonder what would have been the reaction of some humble people living in the XIV century had they been confronted with the paintings of the “Camera Pinta” . I tried to picture myself in a similar situation. Certainly in those days I would have received a different impact than one I was receiving today. It would need a thorough and scientific research on the subject to come to any conclusion. Infortunately I have no instruments to help me apart from the icons which are the starting point, as one can learn from Cennino Cennini , and from may thime-makers of thr XIII century as well as from the poets of “Dolce Stil Novo” . It is too vague a nd useless an exercise to try to imagine the emotional reaction of any person in front of a work of “arte profana “. I can only make an attempt to achive some kind of result.
Arte profana is the extraordinary clue which “Camera Pinta” contains, since it offers one of the few examples of such paintings, int that period, in central Italy.
These paintings present something original and give us the opportunity to understand the value of an answer to a new form of art. Something different from the holy pictures to be found everywhere in churches, chapels, street-corners-niches, and religious communities.
I have no intention to offer here a scholarly essay concerning the paintings in the Rocca of Spoleto, but only to give an idea of the state of mind of those people – a state of mind which I call the “Archeology of emotion”. Why the word “archeology”? Because in order to find traces of the past one must dig, an dig a lot. Now if we consider the emotional layers that have buried the emotions of a man from the XIII or XIV century , if we think of all the social, political economic changes,, the scientific discoveries and their technical applications that have changed the way of seeing oue world since then, we must agree that in order to partially interpret their feelings we must remove a great deal of the layers.

In order to make it easier to understand this idea I am going to introduce a virtual situation which well portrays the historical reality of that social environment.
Suppose that in 1410 one of my ancestors from Umbria had an urgent matter to deal with in Rome, at a time of the year not ideal for travelling – let’s say in the month of November.
This gentleman was neither a nobleman nor a wealthy citizen. He was not even a doctor, only a good surgeon. In other words he was “de chirurgia peritus” , that is a professional man skilled in the art of removing kidney stones. Doctors were called Phisici and obtained their degrees at the Universities of Padova, Bologna, Paris. Their profession was only theoretical, in fact they had only a vague knowledge of human anatomy, a science they achieved in later years. They were expert philosophers and used doctrinal principles to treat their patients.
Cola had studied and worked at the Abbey of St. Eutizio which housed the famous School of Surgery of Preci, well known in Europe. He used to travel on horseback and dressed simply usinf a black cloak against the cold. His journey has an inerest for uas regarding thwe colours and the shapes that he was looking at during his riding trip.
Okra, and grey were the colors of the rocks and the mud. The tree leaves had turned a rusty color, the sky above was blue with white and grey clouds. The grazing fields were a pale-green color in the sun, a deeper green in the shade. He would have to wait for Spring to see red, yellow orange blue colors. However, every time he arrived to a small town surrounded by its walls, a wonderful sight was expecting him. Every simple Italian town, small or large, had a church, in fact, more than a church, and often a cathedral, some of them of enormous size compared to the inhabitants’ small dwellings. Those churches were all decorated with frescos and pictures of saints, and in addition were endowed with precious tabernacles and urns containing holy relics. All these interiors had very rich decorations in gold, enamel and other precious materials. Nowadays it is difficult for us to imagine the emotions of people living in the XIV century who only knew the colors of nature and above all,, had hardly ever seen pictures of human shapes other than in paintings of holy subjects.
At this point we must try to identify ourselves with our traveler.
At the end of the first day of the journey he has arrived, at dark, at the doors of the town which are about to be closed. He is tired. But, before heading for the inn where he will find food and a bed, he will first offer your thanks to the Virgin Mary and her Saint for having protected him against the dangers of the road. The church is open and its beautiful interior makes him feel he has arrived in Heaven. The sun is about to set and its light falls upon the high windows decorated with legendary scenes. At first he is unable to distinguish the outline of the figures which will tell him their stories. Immediately he will take in the colors: red – blue – emerald green – reflected on columns and aisles, but most of all he will be impressed by the golden decorations of the altar. The colors he had seen during the day had been so monotonous that he had not even noticed them. Now these colors are so bright and exciting he almost feel intoxicated. Soon he become aware of the paintings. He doesn’t need any explanation to understand what they represent. The instruments of torture of martyrs are there; an animal next to a human shape which represents a Saint.

In all the towns ho crosses he will find frescoes, bas-reliefs, goldsmith’s shops. Everything is connected with religious themes. Religion filled people’s life at every section of the day: Morning, Noon and Vesperus. The latter marked the end of work and called for the evening prayers. In those days there were no means of communication between places. People received news from travelers. Merchant, artists, soldiers were the only source of information apart from the town-cries. News were rather scant. Popular culture was confined to the Holy Readings in church; to the various stories handed-down from fathers to sons; to popular songs; to the poems and legends which ballad-singers went reciting from one village to the other. In order to change reality into fantasy you needed a different mental effort from ours. Usually people lived a short life, mainly because of lack of hygienic precautions and uncontrolled spreading of germs and diseases. In a state of ignorance like that it was normal to have recourse to superstition. They believed in magic and easily perceived anything that was fantastic ad supernatural.
To reach Rome our traveler has chosen a route along the ancient Flaminia way. From Preci he goes to Norcia from there to Triponzo, he then crosses over Forca di Cerro and reaches Spoleto. From Spoleto through Narni, Otricoli, Civita Castellana he will finally arrive in Rome.
But let us go back to our traveler who has arrived at Spoleto where he decides to pay a visit to a relative. – a curator rei familiaris (in other words a butler) This way Cola has an opportunity to visit the Rocca when the owner is away. This relative feels that his own status is far superior to Cola’s and accompanies him with a certain degree of haughtiness through the many rooms and halls of the Manor. Then, to make a final impression n on his visitor takes him up a great staircase to Loggia on the first floor. Once there, he pulls a key out of his belt and opens a door, all the time giving Cola a triumphant and ironic look, and enters the master-bedroom, the room which we know today as “Camera Pinta”. Cola follows him and stands their totally flabbergast. He cannot understand the meanings of those pictures that do not represent any Bible or New Testament stories, nor those of any Saint of his knowledge. But he is totally fascinated. The novelty of these paintingsis a great surprise and hi starts looking at them one after the other. Taddeo cannot explain exactly what those stories represent, however he knows for sure that they are a homage to Love and are inspired by “Amore Cortese” . In point of fact there were many tales and songs brought into Italy by singers coming from beyond the Alps, and taken up and elaborated by Italian Story tellers. These works were highly enjoyed by the nobles unlike the plebs who preferred to listen to the deeds of the Carolingian cycle and the King Arthur’s Round Table epics. But because of Cola’s cultural background he much appreciated the heroic Saga Longobarda as applied to Italian ears, and the fantastic legend of the Sibillini Mountains, where he comes from.
His happiness to find himself in that room stems also from the fact that in those days only the rich could enter the mansions of the rich, and only the noblemen had access to other noble folks’ castles. The scenes he is looking at are worlds apart from those violent and coarse representations. These are full of grace and sadness. Cola finds a comparison with the elegance of the miniatures he had admired in the Abbey of St. Eutizio, with their details of flowers, herbs, birds; and he wonders too whether it is right to paint scenes that are so distant from the prevalent religious principles. However he continues looking at these wonderful pictures. On the left wall he sees some beautifully dressed ladies who are listening to the music, almost certainly trobadours’ music. These troubadours used to travel from town to town reciting their legends and fairly tales and playing attractive music. A sort of entertainment that had popularized through the centuries le poems of chivalry. It was quite clear, in those paintings, that the enchanting tales of those musicians were received with great pleasure by those ladies.

ill. 2 - Knight’s rest
On the next painting a knight is resting on a meadow. His helmet is at his side while he seems lost in his dreams (ill. 2). A fountain is at the centre of the scene and it is quite possible that he has been drinking its water, while his white horse, beautifully harnessed with a precious red saddle is grazing on the grass. In the background a few deer are also grazing. A man, probably his squire or else the knight as he sees himself in his dream, is offering a gift to his beloved lady… Cola doesn’t know those painted tales but knows the symbolism they represent, whose meaning escapes us today, and he can attempt to give them his own interpretation. The resting knight has just returned from the Holy Land or else from a tournament. He has drunk some water from the fountain of love which awakens his passion for a beautiful girl who is waiting for him in her castle in a far away land. The knight will have to cover a great distance to reach her, a much longer journey than the one Cola is taking. Perhaps the white horse that no doubt has also drunk at the same fountain will take his rider to his destination with the speed of lightning… The fountain is the most prominent element and one can see it again in other paintings; it is the “essential source of love”.


ill. 3 - Seated girl
Underneath, on a larger frame, Cola watches a violent fight between several men, or maybe a fight between two groups of armed men. (ill. 4) There is an oval arena not unlike the Colosseum where many fighters are engaged in a tournament, watched from above by noble ladies and gentlemen. There are also a few children engaged in their own games and Cola is pleased that the painter had chosen to portray both the games of carefree innocent children and those of wicked adults. In many towns in those days you could witness similar performances. All this he can easily appreciate. What hi is at a loss to grasp is their link whit love. However, he must move on because there is more to admire.
Cola is deeply moved by one of the scenes of the Cycle he is watching. In a corner of the Camera Pinta by an arch he notes a girl seated on the grass making a garland of leaves (ill. 3). She looks pensive. Cola is moved because she reminds him of a girl he had once seen on a field by the walls of Norcia, also wearing a similar garland, and had fallen in love with. On this fresco you can see the walls of a city and a castle. Cola does not notice that those buildings are lacking in perspective because he doesn’t know it yet. The perfect perspective is just taking shape in Florence thanks to some brilliant artists of the moment.
Cola is not a naïve man. He knows that in order to survive one had to accept the hard, brutal reality of life, the tough social limitations. The difference between reality and the milieu of the chivalry. Between the behaviour of the greedy, brutal land owners and the moral ideals of chivalry. A loyal knight should be the advocate of justice in the name of God, the champion of wisdom and heroism. But Cola knows he violence, and the deceptions of the higher classes, and despises them. But in that room reality becomes the
black shadow of a horse. What is the meaning of all that? Cola used to see armed men carrying shields and spears

ill. 4 - Tournament
just like the ones painted on the wall. Norcia had its own armed force. But what a difference between the real soldiers and the ones painted in that room. A horse had weight and substance, but the shadow of a horse in without weight. It is only a black silhouette which he had once tried to draw around the edge with a piece of charcoal. Only that black decoration was his own creation, his horse had looked like a fairy horse and although it stayed forever on the wall it would fly above the trees and take him to an unknown country where there was ho hunger or violence. Likewise the soldiers on the wall were of the same nature as the black horse: no connection with real soldiers. This way, Cola could imagine all kinds of heroic deeds that fascinated and enchanted him. Obviously the colours were brighter in those days than they appear today, and lent these figures a kind of vibration and expression such as Cola had never seen elsewhere.

ill. 5 - Detail of "Camera pinta"
We must now consider Cola’s intellectual background. At the beginning of the XV century Italian painters and sculptors were developing a realistic way of art which we call “arte italiana”. On the same period another aesthetic tendency was popular in Europe: the international gothic art. These two stemmed from a determination to overcome the schemes of Bizantine Art, but the two schools were following different paths. While the Italian Art School was trying to give volume and realism to the figure, the Gothic Art was not particularly interested in realism as such as in decorative elegance. It was more interested in enchanted worlds, in human figures drawn with graceful sinuosity and sumptuous decorations. In one word Gothic Art wanted to describe life in a refined way. In those days in some Italian regions like the Marche, for example, the “stile cortese” was well accepted while in Florence the Renaissance Revolution had already begun.
There is another consideration to be done about Cola’s forma mentis. His concept of distance and of mystery. In this time America had not been discovered, nor had Australia and parts of Africa. As for Asia, even though Marco Polo had produced a detailed account of his famous journey, it still remained a legendary an fabulous country. From those unknown worlds any kind of natural phenomena such as flying snakes, mermaids, striped horses, etc. could be believable and real. This explains why Cola can “see an enchanted world” beyond the paintings on the wall as a natural reaction which couldn’t have today. All the same we cannot help being fascinated even now. (ill. 5)
It is time to leave Cola to continue his journey. Once he reaches Rome he will admire more paintings, mosaics and ancient works of art, all of which have contributed to the birth and development of Italian Art.
But let’s come back to our time. Let’s ignore here anthropological culture questions and consider only the chance of visiting this singular Room, this rare document which is the “Camera Pinta” .
Above all it is a rare exemplar of art for an elite that knew how to appreciate the “new” literature art and music. And after that, comparing the infinite number of sacred images found in all Italian churches, museums and galleries , it is a rare statement of secular art of that period.


Traduzione a cura di Francesca Wagner Piero Angelucci - abarcheo@inwind.it