Le Marche's hidden art

Rebecca Winke on important masterpieces in The Marches

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Rebecca Winke

Rebecca  Winke 
HomeAway travel expert

Old Urbino, Italy, cityscape at dull day. Horizontal toned and vignetted imageMost visitors to Le Marche come for its beachside resort towns, which line the almost 200 kilometres of coastline lapped by the waves of the placid Adriatic sea – but this pretty (and largely unsung) central Italian region has much more to offer. The dramatic Sibilline mountains which border the region to the west boast some of Italy’s most breathtaking scenery, and the rolling hills which tumble eastward toward the sea are covered with tidy vineyards, pretty villages, and isolated castles. 

Besides its landscape and beaches, Le Marche is also home to a number of important masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art, which are tucked away in its tiny, quiet museums and monuments. These bite-sized art excursions are perfect for those who want a balance between culture and relaxation, as it’s easy to break up a day of walking the countryside or lazing on the beach with a quick pop in to see one of Le Marche’s artistic treasures. 

Though Le Marche’s economy is now dominated by tourism (a modern shift from centuries of agriculture), many of its more important cities were once ruled by powerful noble families who were often active patrons of the arts, commissioning pieces by local painters and attracting important artists from as far afield as Venice. Many of these works were taken from the region over centuries of invasions and sackings, but a number of remarkable paintings can still be visited across the region if you know where to go. 


Rebecca's verdict on must-see architecture in Le Marche

Le Marche’s understated towns hold more than artistic masterpieces. Here are a number of untrumpeted architectural jewels to visit on your next trip through this pretty region:

 Urbino. The Palazzo Ducale (home to the Galleria Nazionale) is one of the most important architectural monuments in Italy, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Reknowned for its famed studiolo decorated with intricate trompe l'oeil inlaid wooden panels, twin chapels, and stately inner courtyard, this 15th-century palace also has a vast warren of underground service rooms—including the kitchens, laundries, stables, and baths—recently renovated and now open to the public.

 Pesaro. This pretty seaside town’s bustling Piazza Del Popolo is lined with a number of Medieval and Renaissance palazzi, including the 15th-century Palazzo Postale. Built by the powerful Sforza family and then used as the city’s main post office, the building is now a centre for events and conferences. The piazza is also home to the porticoed and crenellated Palazzo Ducale, and an octagonal central fountain rebuilt after World War II in its original 16th-century form.

 Recanati. Birthplace of one of Italy’s most important poets, Giacomo Leopardi, this pretty hilltown above the Adriatic and Palazzo Leopardi is home to a small collection of the poet’s memorabilia and manuscripts. The town has a number of small and interesting churches, but be sure to stop in at the Cathedral of San Flaviano and admire the breathtaking 17th-century wood ceiling.

 Ascoli Piceno. Elegant Ascoli-Piceno is said to have once had more than 200 Medieval towers jutting above its rooftops, though today only a few still remain. What the city does have is one of the most beautiful Renaissance piazzas in all of Italy. The Piazza del Popolo, lined with elegant travertine marble palazzi, portici, and the Church of San Francesco, is especially beautiful after a rain, when the smooth marble pavement mirrors the harmonious architecture above.




Hidden Art in Le Marche


Urbino Urbino

By far the most important art collection in Le Marche is the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino’s Ducal Palace. The Renaissance Palazzo Ducale is a great destination in itself, but most visit Duke Federico III da Montefeltro’s former home to view Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca’s two masterpieces: The Flagellation of Christ and the Madonna di Senigallia. 

The former is testimony to this humanist’s gift for rational geometric perspective, as the composition’s single vanishing point is considered to be one of the best renderings in the history of art. In fact, the rather small work may seem familiar to anyone who has taken an introductory art history class, as it is a mainstay in most textbooks. 

The Madonna, instead, highlights della Francesca’s dramatic use of light and shade and intimacy of facial expression, almost certainly inspired by the Flemish works the artist saw during his time in Rome. Both of these paintings were stolen in 1975, only to be recovered the following year and proudly displayed in the Galleria Nazionale since.

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Pesaro Pesaro

In Pesaro’s central Palazzo Mosca, the small Civic Museum holds an immense treasure: Giovanni Bellini’s Coronation of the Virgin. The Venetian painter was commissioned by the powerful Alessandro Sforza to complete this imposing altar piece in the 1470s for the city’s Church of San Francesco – it was to celebrate the consolidation of Sforza’s political control over Pesaro (Sforza’s Castle of Gradara is pictured in the scene’s background).

By the time of this commission, Bellini was well into his forties and his style had matured into the richly colored and sensuous, sculptural style which marks this composition. His masterful use of light and shading and natural scenery greatly influenced his pupils in the Venetian school, including Giorgione and Titian.

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Recanati Recanati

Bellini wasn’t the only painter to make his way from Venice to Le Marche during the Renaissance. In Villa Colloredo Mels, the Pinacoteca displays some of Venetian Lorenzo Lotto’s most important works, including the San Damiano Polyptych, Transfiguration, and Annunciation.

Though catalogued in the Venetian school, Lotto spent most of his working life outside Venice and his eccentric style, marked by his figures’ idiosyncratic poses and distortions, was a departure from the more sensuous Venetians and marked a move toward Mannerism. Overshadowed by his Venetian colleagues during his life, and almost forgotten after his death (partly because the bulk of his work is housed in provincial churches and museums), Lotto was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century and his religious paintings are now appreciated for the very same stylistic individuality which marked him as an outsider during his career.

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Ascoli-Piceno Ascoli-Piceno

Much of Italy’s great art is in its churches, and Le Marche is no exception. In Ascoli-Piceno’s elegantly geometrical Duomo (Catedrale di Sant’Emidio), the work of yet another Venetian master, Carlo Crivelli, is displayed gloriously in the Cappella del Sacramento. Crivelli was born in Venice, trained in Padua, and spent most of his career in Le Marche, where many of his works are still tucked away in small provincial towns.

Commissioned in 1473, the Polyptych of Sant’Emidio is Crivelli’s only polyptych which has remained intact over the centuries and is an excellent example of his late Gothic style. His contours are not the shaded lines of Bellini, but clear and definite, and the use of trompe l’oeil architectural details, decorative festoons of fruit and greenery, and minute attention to detail are all characteristic of his religious works. 

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Urbino by Ham
Pesaro by webart gallery

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