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  7. Expulsion of the devils from Arezzo

Expulsion of the devils from Arezzo

One of the best-known episodes in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, the “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo” is depicted at various times in various parts of Italy. Walls of churches, cloisters of convents, museums and libraries depict the story first narrated in the “Leggenda Maggiore” (Major Legend) by Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, a biography of the saint written between 1260 and 1263, according to which Arezzo was freed from the demons that sowed discord, causing continuous internal struggles.

The scene usually shows Friar Sylvester in front of the city, raising his hand to order the devils that fluttered in the sky over Arezzo to leave, and behind him Saint Francis in prayer.

The most famous paintings are to be found in Umbrian territory, in Assisi and Montefalco.

In the upper Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, between 1296 and 1300, the great Giotto painted the “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo” as the tenth of the twenty-eight scenes of the cycle of frescoes dedicated to the stories of the saint. To the left of St. Francis and Friar Sylvester is the Gothic-style cathedral, while the turreted city is depicted on the right.

At the choir of the Basilica of St. Francis in Montefalco, the Florentine painter Benozzo Gozzoli created a cycle of frescoes with the stories of St. Francis in 1452, in which another splendid “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo” is depicted.  As with the work in Arezzo, the city full of towers and protected by mighty walls is an idealised representation of the Tuscan capital.

Faithful to reality are instead the representations that can still be found in Arezzo of the Franciscan episode. One of these can be found in the external chapel of the Villa degli Orti Redi, today the Monastery of Saint Teresa Margaret owned by the Discalced Carmelite nuns, along today’s Via Redi. The oratory was built by Jacopo Fossombroni in 1602 and was frescoed by Teofilo Torri and Valerio Bonci with some Franciscan stories.

The vault features the episode of the “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo”, showing one of the most famous views of the city at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in which the ruins of the thirteenth-century Palazzo del Popolo, dismantled in 1539 to clear the field of vision of the Medici Fortress under construction, can still be seen.

The Fraternita dei Laici Museum in Piazza Grande houses another “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo”, from the oratory of the ancient Lebbrosario di San Lazzaro (Leper colony of San Lazzaro) along Via Romana. The canvas was painted in 1636 by Bernardino Santini. Again, behind St. Francis and Friar Sylvester can be seen the city skyline with the remains of the Palazzo del Popolo.

A third depiction, now almost illegible, is present – or rather was present – on the left wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Via Vittorio Veneto, an XI century building but renovated between 1778 and 1779. The “Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo” painted by Liborio Ermini dates back to this period. The scene is also described by a long inscription engraved on the stone.

The Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo, Giotto, Upper Basilica in Assisi (1296-1300)

The Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo, Benozzo Gozzoli, Basilica of St. Francis in Montefalco (1452)

Villa degli Orti Redi built by the Fossombronis at the end of the sixteenth century, Arezzo

The Expulsion of the Devils from Arezzo, Teofilo Torri, Arezzo (1602)