Colour in the historic centre
A journey through colour, among palaces and works of art
Since ancient times, our civilisation has developed dyeing techniques by exploiting the great variety of plant species found in Europe. Reseda made yellow, madder made red and woad made blue and these were the plants from which the primary colours used in textile dyeing were extracted until the 19th century. However, there were a multitude of other medicinal essences used for dyeing purposes, including sumac, saffron, broom, safflower and nettle.
Natural organic colours, originally derived from plants, flowers and animal secretions, were first used in the late Neolithic period, with the discovery of spinning and weaving. These natural substances are able to make pigments penetrate into the fibres without them being released when washed and without causing them to fade over time. These methods and techniques were used until the end of the 19th century, when they were replaced by synthetic methods based on the use of petrochemicals.
The Flemish Tapestries of Fermo are exhibited at Palazzo dei Priori. The most important of these is, without doubt, the one depicting The Annunciation, created around the end of the 15th century and inspired by a drawing by Flemish painter Justus van Gent. The great importance of this artefact does not only lie in its refined figurative aspect, but also in the execution techniques used. In fact, there are laminated weft threads, as well as a brilliantly-resolved attempt to create nuances through “colour wedges” created by mathematically grooving the number of wefts, resulting in one colour giving way to another and almost fading into it. The colours used were entirely plant based, with the blue coming from woad and the red from madder.
Herbaria were indispensable tools for the knowledge of medicinal plants and Fermo Herbarium Codex, kept in the ancient collection in Romolo Spezioli Library, has been digitised. In fact, it can be consulted by the public via the three touch-screens positioned along the city’s tourist route. Inside, there are about twenty vividly-depicted plates: the name of each specimen is accompanied at the bottom by a note on its therapeutic properties. These are described in a language that is somewhere between science and myth. Of particular interest is the handwritten note – dated 8 January 1558 – attesting to the fact the herbarium belonged to Gherardo Cibo, a well-known herbalist and plant illustrator, who was born in Genoa and lived for a long time in the Marche region in Rocca Contrada, now Arcevia.
The Diocesan Museum is located next to Fermo Cathedral, which stands on top of Girfalco Hill, one of the city’s most panoramic sites with views of the Adriatic Sea and Sybilline Mountains. Inside, in the Sacred Vestments Room, visitors can admire the colours of the robes and in particular, a visit is reserved for the Chasuble of St Thomas Becket, the result of textile art of Arab origin dating back to 1116, donated to the Church by the Bishop of Fermo Presbyter, who had received it as a gift from St Thomas when they were fellow students in Bologna. All the colours in the textile collections on display were made from natural pigments, in other words, from dyeing plants and animal secretions. In the exhibition, visitors can also admire the De Firmonibus Missal illuminated by Ugolino da Milano in 1436 using mineral tempera and plant lacquers.
In the district of Campoleggio, traces of Roman, medieval and Renaissance artistic heritage can be found. Prominent among these is the Oratory of St Monica, built around 1425. Inside, religiously-themed Gothic-international frescoes are visible. The wall paintings were initially attributed to the Salimbeni brothers, but their authorship has not been ascertained. In the numerous painted scenes, particular attention should be paid to Herod’s Banquet – the elegantly-dressed characters bear witness to the use of plant colours in the clothing of the time. Also of interest in the oratory is the iconographic representation of St Blaise, the patron saint of wool carders, holding the instrument of his martyrdom.