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Territorio: Montefetro Renaissance Sights

The Mona Lisa and the Montefeltro area

The landscape you can glimpse on the back of the Mona Lisa is the Montefeltro area. A geomorphologist from the University of Urbino, Olivia Nesci, and the artist-photographer Rosetta Borchia, are hundred percent positive: this is the Mona Lisa´s background landscape. The two landscape hunters, as they have been dubbed, present their findings in a book 'Codice P' (which will probably be translated as `Code P´ in English). According to the two hunters´ research studies, Leonardo da Vinci used a specific compression technique to squeeze a huge geographical area into a single painted landscape of only 77x53 centimetres.

The Mona Lisa and the Montefeltro area

On Friday 4 January 2013, at 9.00 pm, in the theatre of the little town of Pennabilli, Rosetta Borchia and Olivia Nesci gave a lecture whose title was “Mona Lisa’s landscape”. The lecture presented their four year research project and book “Codice P. Atlante illustrato del paesaggio della Gioconda' (‘Code P. The illustrated Atlas of the Mona Lisa’s background landscape’)

By comparing zoomed photographs of real and painted landscapes, Rosetta Borchia, painter and landscape photographer, and Olivia Nesci, geomorphologist and professor at the University of Urbino, found out that the landscape behind the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci corresponds to very specific spots in the Montefeltro and the Valmarecchia area, including the town of Pennabilli and the Senatello River valley. The two scholars, today nicknamed “landscape hunters”, will explain how Leonardo used a complex code to compress and expand the real landscape in a painted one. The results are amazing and provide scientific evidence that the background Leonardo da Vinci chose for his most famous painting is actually the one we admire everyday in this beautiful valleys.
Pennabilli’s major, Lorenzo Valenti, is thrilled: “From an art history perspective, this research study is innovative, especially in its method, and proves that there is a link between Pennabilli and the Mona Lisa, promoting our peerless landscapes” he states. “This is wonderful news for our city, it’s like winning the lottery. We intend to support the project in every sense of the term.  For tourism, this is absolutely a great chance we have and, thanks to a financial contribution from the province of Rimini, we are willing to set up balconies on Leonardo Da Vinci’s observation points. It’s a significant discovery and we will support it by all means” he added.
The Province’s councillor, Fabio Galli, confirmed the body’s support to the promotion of Rimini’s hinterland areas and to the project itself. “Our local government has been funding this research project for quite a long time now, as we immediately understood its full potential when the two scholars were still investigating on Piero della Francesca in the area around San Leo. Unveiling the Mona Lisa’s backdrop proves, once again, how important the whole area between Urbino and Rimini was during Renaissance, a cultural hub of utmost importance. The government I represent is willing to support the project at an institutional level whenever it has a chance to!” He declared.
Local tourist Councillor, Cristina Ferri, added: “The discovery, also supported by late Tonino Guerra, is amazing. It is going to be presented in Paris soon, and this will emphasize the importance of our region from a cultural and tourist point of view. It will be a unique opportunity for tourist promotion as well therefore  Pennabilli’s town council is committed to fully support Rosetta Borchia and Olivia Nesci’s discovery”.
The two “landscape hunters”, Olivia Nesci and Rosetta Borchia had already located seven background landscapes by  Piero della Francesca in the Montefeltro area in 2007. In 2009, historian Roberto Zapperi revealed the true identity of the Mona Lisa, a painting already attributed to Leonardo in the late 50s by famous historians such as Chastel, Pedretti, Perrig, etc.
The woman in the painting, as confirmed by the two scholars, is Pacifica Brandani, a court lady in Urbino and Giuliano De' Medici’s lover, who died giving birth to his son.
On her back we can catch a wide glimpse of the old Dukedom of Urbino from the hills of the Valmarecchia region, an area scattered today among Marche, Emilia Romagna and, partly, Tuscany.
The two landscape hunters were not looking for the Mona Lisas’s backdrop. “We weren’t looking for Pacifica, she came looking for us” they declared.
In order to understand and identify that specific landscape, we needed the key Leonardo da Vinci used to interpret it. That key – declared Borchia and Nesci – is called ‘compression’, a technique of perspective representation used to catch and synthesize beauty. We are talking here about a new conception of landscape, a truly innovative one”.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote many codes, one of the most famous of them is Code Arundel, held at the Royal Library in London. In the code the two scholars found sketches of that specific landscape, unbeknownst to the great public.
The sketches were drawn either in 1502, when he was Superintendent in charge for military fortifications in the region on behalf of Cesare Borgia, or in 1516 when he travelled from Rome to Bologna with Giuliano de’ Medici and Pope Leo X. From Tuscany, the only possible road to Bologna was the one called Ariminensis, right through the landscape he later painted. Many curiosities will be revealed during the book presentation, featuring no less than 164 tables (aerial and satellite pictures, panoramas, geomorphologic tables) and comparing the landscape in the painting with the one we can see today.
Interview to the landscape hunters
Interview at radio RAI (Italian National Radio)


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