This summer a Ferrari F8 Spider commemorated one of history's greatest painters by following in his artistic footsteps through central Italy
This year sees the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Raffaello Sanzio – Raphael – one of the greatest ever painters. Driving today through the landscape of central Italy feels like being emersed in one of his Renaissance paintings.
Soft hillsides, fields of slow-dancing sunflowers, yellow patchworks of wheat draped across green ridges: a very similar setting provided the Eden-like background of La Creazione di Eva (The Creation of Eve), in which a deity delicately plucks the rib of Adam in order to form Eve.
This early work was painted in 1500-1502, together with Trinità con i Santi Sebastiano e Rocco for the Santissima Trinità Church in the Umbrian town of Città di Castello, where it is still today conserved in the town’s picture gallery.
Raffaello was born in 1483 in Urbino, Marche. He became a magister - a maestro - in Città di Castello, was captivated by the works of Leonardo in Florence, but died tragically young at the age of thirty seven, in Rome. His take upon Michelangelo-esque themes would inspire the school of manierismo - mannerism.
Journeying today aboard a Ferrari F8 Spider through the artist's training ground of Marche and Umbria is like entering one of the Renaissance master’s own paintings.
‘Wet’ mode, or ‘sport’, along with the added option of ‘bumpy road’, are the most used settings for covering the climbs and descents of central Italy's demanding topography.
UNESCO-recognised Urbino was the cradle of a mathematical renaissance that harmonised Astronomy, Art, and Urban Planning.
Its Ducal Palace hosts Raffaello's La Muta, depicting a noblewoman whose melancholic expression and bejewelled fingers recall La Gioconda - The Mona Lisa - of Da Vinci. There is also his fresco of a Madonna with child, realised when he was just fifteen years old.
The same combination of the sacred and the profane can be found in the town of Città di Castello where the Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera houses its Pinacoteca picture gallery which will host the exhibition ‘The Young Raffaello in Città di Castello - and his vision’ next February.
Between Urbino and Città di Castello, a good hour’s drive from each other, you pass through the tunnels dug into the ancient Roman Via Flaminia (dating to 220 BC), whose limestone rocks were depicted by Raffaello.
The road that slithers like a snake is an irresistible invitation to play with the accelerator on each bend, its immediate response giving the sensation of driving almost by the power of thought.
Entering Umbria the forests become more dense, the wilder hill ridges standing in a blueish hue of a less defined atmosphere. To depict such landscapes Raffaello developed the technique of aerial perspective that was pioneered by Leonardo.
As ancient landscapes rush past alongside, the V8's engine symphony underlines the contemporaneousness of the journey. It has been mapped to create a unique sound, channelled to arrive powerfully between the seats almost like a physical presence enhancing the drive.
Following the Tevere river headed toward Perugia you instead travel back to the year 1501, the year in which Raffaello began working in the Umbrian capital, where his paintbrush would become much sought after amongst the town’s aristocracy. He created five altar pieces, and the Deposizione Baglioni for the church of San Francesco at Prato, completing the latter when he arrived in Florence in the year 1507, as well as the La Madonna Conestabile - Madonna and Child.
In the city there now remains only the large fresco, La Trinità e i Santi - The Trinity and the Saints - realised for the chapel of the Monastero Camaldolese, a cloisters dedicated to San Severo.
All told, an astonishing legacy that fully merits this year’s anniversary commemorations. And what a drive.