The landscape seekers: Rosetta Borchia and Olivia Nesci

The landscape seekers

How did this search start

"For more than 500 years, art historians from all over the world have been trying to locate the landscapes that inspired Renaissance painters such as Piero della Francesca, Rafael, Leonardo da Vinci and their colleagues. They were looking for the background landscapes of their works of art."
While most of them decided that those landscapes were merely imaginary, Rosetta Borchia and Olivia Nesci, two landscape seekers from Urbino, managed to find them hidden away in the hills of the Montefeltro area: "those crags, those hills, those painted rivers, had always been there for us and for those great painters, just none could see them. It feels like having given every hill or mountain, every river, every valley a name and an address".
The first landscapes to be discovered, in 2007, were the ones depicted in the three paintings of the Diptych of the Duchess and Duke of Urbino by Piero della Francesca (Florence, The Uffizi Gallery). The background landscapes of these first two portraits were hidden in the area of the Metauro River, whereas the third one was located far from there, on the old borders of the Duchy between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.
The results of this first research work are presented in a book, "Il Paesaggio Invisibile" ("The invisible landscape"), in a travelling art exhibition and through the participation to several national and international conferences and scientific meetings on the subject.

"Those who become enamoured with the practice of the art without having previously applied to the diligent study of the scientific part of it are like mariners who board a ship without a rudder or compass and therefore cannot be certain of arriving at the whished-for port. Practice must always be founded on good theory; to this, Perspective is the guide and entrance, without which nothing can be well done."

Leonardo da Vinci (A Treatise on Painting)


The research project "Piero della Francesca: INVISIBLE LANDSCAPES" was possible thanks to the collaboration between an artist, Rosetta Borchia, paintress and landscape photographer, and Olivia Nesci, professor of geomorphology at the University of Urbino. Their different expertise, one focusing on art and poetry, the other on science, gave life to a new and peculiar job, that of the landscape seeker. Rosetta, who is very intuitive thanks to her good memory for Renaissance landscapes, and her knowledge of the area as it is today, during one of her excursions, in October 2007, realizes that the landscape she was looking at was part of the background landscape in Federico da Montefeltro's portrait. Thanks to her collaboration with Olivia she managed to find scientific evidence of her intuition. That's how the adventure of the two seekers of Piero della Francesca's landscapes started.
"I found Federico's landscape! It's in the Metauro valley" her voice full of emotion, Rosetta tells her friend Olivia about the discovery.
A thrilling adventure has led them to walk, for years, in the hills Piero portrayed in the Diptych of the Duchess and Duke of Urbino. Today, each hill has a name and an address. Those landscapes can now be seen by everyone who is willing to admire them, not only by Piero and by the two landscape seekers.
> Rosetta Borchia

She graduated in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts of Urbino, in 1976 pursuing her career as hyper realistic painter of the Urbino area.
She organized several personal exhibitions and took part in collective ones, winning an important award.

In 1989 she undertook a research, in the Montefeltro area, aimed at studying and discovering ancient roses and at organizing two international conferences on the subject. The roses she managed to rescue, some of them in danger of extinction, are now preserved in a huge garden-museum. This garden of ancient roses is located on a hill facing the city of Urbino and it was conceived and planned directly by Rosetta.

In October 2007, while she was completing a promotional video, she ran, by chance into a panoramic view on the area. Once downloaded it on her computer she realized that the hill she was looking at was exactly the one on the back of Federico da Montefeltro in the famous Diptych of the Duchess and Duke of Urbino portrayed by Piero della Francesca.
> Olivia Nesci

She's Associated Professor of Physics and Geomorphology at the department of Science and Technology of the University of Urbino.
Her scientific activity, with over 120 publications on a national and international level, focuses mainly on geomorphology, thematic cartography and quaternary geology. In the above mentioned research fields she was the scientific coordinator of four projects supported by the Italian Ministry for Education and Research (MIUR), and received several research grants and PhDs.
She is an expert in the genesis and evolution of physical landscapes with a specific focus on the central-northern segment of the Apennines and the Adriatic Coast.
She has been fighting for years for the protection and the promotion of the geological and geomorphological heritage of the Region of Marche. She contributed to the drafting of geological guides, hiking maps and educational programs. She worked together with the board of Archaeology of the Region of Marche and with the Institutes of Archaeology of the Universities of Urbino and Bologna on compatible archaeology projects for the areas of Montefeltro, Metauro and Cesano. She participated, together with other researchers in the field of history, to the drafting of several books and she wrote two essays on the landscapes of the Region of Marche. She is a member of the Italian National Association of Geography, Physics and Geomorphology, of the International Association of Geomorphologists (AIG), of the Italian Association for Quaternary Studies and of Progeo (European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage). After discovering Piero della Francesca's background landscapes she devoted herself to the study of historic landscapes through Cultural Geomorphology.