Sketching People in Action at the Cortona Flag Tossing Festival : Repost with real scans!
During this summer of 2015 we were in Tuscany on a painting expedition that happened to coincide with the Cortona Flag Tossing Festival. This event is a festival of color, a patriotic display, and athletic competition rolled into one. We were there for a week of plein-air painting, but some of us took the opportunity to take in the action with a small sketchbook.
I had blogged about the event on the day using cellphone photos – but we’ve finally found some spare moments to make real scans, so we’re able to bring it to you again with real color and sharper images.
Before the Flag-Tossing Teams marched in to the sound of trumpets and drummers, there was kind of a pre-game show. A troupe of medieval minstrels played bagpipes, and a team of falconers showed off their birds. The crowd started to gather – a mix of tourists in stands and the local citizenry coming out in costume to support their teams and be part of the show.
The flag event was the culmination of a three day historic festival including a crossbow competition and a recreation of a renaissance wedding – which I think was an important alliance between Cortona and a neighboring town. The cast of the recreation are all locals, drawn from the approximately 800 residents. Amusingly, the groom was played by a tall handsome gentleman who owns one of the local art galleries, and the bride by his beautiful daughter.
Earlier in the week we’d met the Cortona crossbow team. They were out early in the morning taking practice shots at a wooden plank leaned against the doors of the towns basilica. That seemed a little odd to me, but they were having a good time and nobody was stopping them. You wouldn’t see that over here in the Americas!
The flag tossing event itself was full of enthusiasm and intense competitive spirit. Each nearby town sent a delegation, their star performers marching in through a phalanx of crossed trumpets – like gladiators into the arena.
The event itself was a mix of tossers juggling flags 30 feet in the air while synchronized sprinters wove silk rivers of color around them. Every so often dueling pairs matched their talents in a kind of Kung Fu dance off. A squadron of drummers provided a dramatic martial soundtrack while flagpoles clacked like quarterstaves, whipped over ducked heads and below leaping feet.
In the final spectacle all the teams ran a tight double spiral, filling the small square with upraised 12 foot flags, then peeling back out a huge iron studded gate.
This night was a terrific unexpected bonus to cap our week of sketching in Cortona!