Secret History of Art

Volterra and Rosso’s Deposition

One of the greatest works of 16th century Mannerism

/ by Noah Charney

Palazzo Priori, Volterra.
Vola terrae, the flying land, as it was known to the Romans is one of the most striking towns in Italy, a plateau that seems to float in the sky above the Tuscan landscape. Like so many central Italian towns, it began as an Etruscan settlement called Velathri, though the natural protection afforded by its position attracted residents as early as the 8th century BC. For sheer geological majesty, especially when first glimpsed from a distance, Volterra and perhaps Orvieto vie for most memorable. It has been the seat of bishops and an important outpost of the Florentine Republic and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. And it appears with unusual frequency in works of literature, from the erudite (Jhumpa Lahiri, William Stendahl) to the popular (the Twilight series).


The first time I saw Volterra, I was leading a group of student of university students as their art history professor. I’ll admit that I didn’t really know much about it, but had to pull an hour’s on-site lecture out of my hat, so was frantically boning up on the bus ride over from Florence. I knew that it has long been a center of the alabaster trade—I still keep two souvenirs from that first visit. I have a perfectly-formed, ivory-colored egg that could easily be mistaken for real, but which is made from milky alabaster, as well as a nearly-finished head of a horse, expertly carved but, for whatever reason, discarded incomplete, and the more charming for it. And of course I knew of the “big gun” of Volterra, the masterwork that puts it on the artistic map: the Deposition (1521) by Rosso Fiorentino.


Poet of the Week
Anna Axfors
Twitter time

all ”clickbait” touches me


am I the only one who hates princess madeleine’s kids?


Brush off the ash from the lips


Can someone give me peace in my soul????


Damn I should get interested in science like space n nature. Anyone know a good documentary about this?


Everyone who wants to shorten my poems are fascists


Everything should be punk


God how you enjoyed crying as a kid. And your mom said ”sorry” & tried to comfort but you kept crying because it was so nice being powerful


how would I do without twitter? like the sun without the moon. would be fine that is


I am Zlatan


I’ve forgotten you all because that’s the way I am. living in the present


if I happen to die vry soon I want you to know that I loved you all, boys & girls, adults & kids, black & white, I liked everyone equally


I met an auschwitz survivor yesterday. he said that I looked like the woman in the

tv series bron


I want someone to favorite my tweets. now.



I want to tattoo something from the sea


It’s twitter time. It’s that time of day


just cooked some fucking meal that some fucking farmer in the country could’ve cooked


Life feels like a nightmare


Looking down at my phone


lying at the cemetery while writing, it feels symbolic


Now I’m going to estimate how many ppl that are in love with me, I think

it might be ten ppl. Don’t know if it’s an over- or underestimate


One of the most chillingly cheesy things I know: sayin that someone is your grandpa though he isn’t, just bc it’s an old man that you know


Poets are like models but within text


Something happened a couple of years ago


The title of my autobiography:

I’m half dog half wolf


The train has been standing still in the woods 4ever…always scared it’s war when that happens.

”The train is standing still due to war”


This tweet is sponsored by my brain


Trying to come up with stuff to tweet

that doesn’t infringe on my integrity


Ultrasound, that’s child pornography to me


watching a documentary about metallica,

on mute


what are you supposed to bring to the beach? anyone know?


what if a book was published containing everything that has been written and then deleted. I would like to read that book.


What if bus driver was to be the new high-status profession


what if you have misunderstood a lot of people?


When I get home I wanna watch a documentary


when I saw a guy today it felt like I had dated him in my previous life


why aren’t beds designed more like hospital beds? height adjustable with one of those tables attached to it


why do people hate on those animal click links? they’re usually very cute/entertaining/touching!!!


wonder how it feels to kill someone.


Wonder if God sent all people to earth just so he could get free porn

every day

I wound up spending the whole hour in front of the Deposition. One of the greatest works of 16th century Mannerism, it has to be seen in person. I had no idea how large it was, with nearly life-size figures removing the body of Christ from the cross. I had notes on the work (students always love the fact that Rosso kept a pet monkey, which he trained to play pranks on an annoying monk who lived next door), but did not refer to them. I was in a sort of goose-bumpy trance. What struck me immediately was how modern the painting appeared—even Cubist. It was clearly comprised of blocks of colored, layered on in chunks, almost like a mosaic of cutout gem-toned paper. The composition looks like a nocturne, but is actually a solar eclipse, as ten windblown, mourning bodies seek to remove Christ from the cross. We are confronted with the logistical difficulties of moving a body in rigor mortis from an elevated position, with four people perched like birds on ladders, one of whom is falling off the ladder as Christ’s body slips down. The work is shocking in its brilliance, color, drama and size. Worth a journey, worth a pilgrimage, worth a move.


Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Volterra the Citadel.
After that first visit I, like so many entranced by Volterra’s combination of grandeur, position, culture and charm, thought about buying a home there. I have no Italian roots, only a love for all things Italian (art and food above all), but had long fantasized about settling down there. I’m far from the first—there are thousands of Anglophone expats with vacation or retirement homes in Italy, with Tuscany as the preferred spot, and Umbria not far behind. My family wound up choosing the other “floating land,” the town of Orvieto, for our domicile, but Volterra ranked high on my wish list. Its size (11,000, half that of Orvieto) means that, while there is plenty to do, it feels like a big small town. Its proximity to cities (Florence, a 90 minute drive, or Pisa, one hour) mean that action is available when you’d want it. But the rural life that beckons in Volterra’s surrounding, wine-rich hills has intoxicated many a foreigner, and very nearly won me over. I would have happily moved there just to be able to pop in and see Rosso’s Deposition whenever I liked. Who knows, I might have even acquired a pet monkey, to keep the neighbors in line.

Noah Charney

is a professor of art history and best-selling author of, most recently, The Art of Forgery. You can learn more about his work at or by joining him on Facebook.