What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House

A Surprising Work Of Art Hidden In Todi, Umbria

In the hills above the village of Todi, Italy, is a fascinating work of art. It is the house of la Casa Dipinta or the Painted House of Todi.
Inside The Painted House in Todi, Umbria, Italy

During our stay in Todi, a hilltop town of the province of Perugia in Umbria, perched on a tall two-crested hill overlooking the east bank of the river Tiber, we came across The Painted House while walking along S. Prassede Street, at the junction with Via Delle Mura Antiche. The Painted House is a 19th-century structure located in one of the city’s oldest medieval districts, close to the famous Piazza del Popolo.

The Artistic Owners

Owned by Brian O’Doherty, an Irish-American artist, and his wife, Barbara Novak, an internationally renowned art historian from the United States, The Painted House is a pleasant surprise whose blue and yellow colors stand out against the backdrop of the ancient town. O’Doherty was born in Ireland in 1928 and has lived in New York City since 1960, where he has worked as a self-taught artist. He is regarded as a conceptual art pioneer, having created works such as Marcel Duchamp’s Portrait (1966-7) and Aspen 5+6, an early exhibition in a box. In 1972, he changed his name to Patrick Ireland to protest the killings of civil rights activists in Derry, Northern Ireland.


A Beautiful Surprise in Umbria

While on vacation in Todi, the couple decided to acquire this house in 1975, envisioning it as a beautiful getaway home where they could spend their holidays and spare time, surrounded by nature and greenery. Brian, a naturally artistic individual, began painting the house in 1977 and hasn’t stopped since. During his vacations, he continues to paint the house, transforming it into a work of art known as the “Casa dipinta” (Painted house).

What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet
What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet
What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet

Inside the Painted House, Brian uses his artistic skills to paint all three floors with a replica of the ancient Ogham alphabet used in Ireland until the seventh century. Starting with the three keywords of O’Doherty’s aesthetic language: One, Here, Now (Uno, Qui, Ora), the first floor, consisting of a kitchen and dining area, suggests an Ogham temple. Large artworks of lines, geometries, colors, and vowels adorn the other walls. Each painting has a playful soul and a desire to involve the viewer, who feels like an integral part of the work.

Up the rainbow-colored stairs to the living room is a remarkable piece named “300”, which bears homage to fourteenth-century Italian triptychs. The bedroom and bathroom are on the uppermost level, accessible via a steep stairway. The bedroom has fictitious openings and a chair placed by the artist under one of the windows. Although the house has no apertures overlooking the surrounding environment, Brian constructs an illusion to fulfill his wife Barbara’s desire to enjoy the intriguing Umbrian landscape.

What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet
painted house kitchen

A Testament Of Love

The silhouettes of the two hosts, Brian and Barbara, can be seen on either side of the bed. The Painted House is the ultimate manifestation of the couple’s love and devotion to Todi. In a manner, the house expresses their love for one another uniquely. It is a one-of-a-kind attraction you wouldn’t expect to see in a town like Todi, and it’s well worth a visit. 


For many years, The Painted House was only open to visitors and tourists due to the hospitality of two tour guides, Elisa Picchiotti and Luca Antonini. However, as of August 3rd, 2019, it has been included in the city of Tody’s museum circuit, making this one-of-a-kind work of art accessible to all. Visit Todi Guide for a tour of the house and the city. 


About Todi

Todi, a small Umbrian hilltown popular with tourists, is located midway between Perugia and Terni. Created by the Umbrians circa 2700 BC, it has Etruscan and Roman civilization signs. The latter leveled Todi’s two hilltops to make Piazza del Popolo, the town’s historical center, which today is likely to look very similar to how it did during the Middle Ages. The town’s elevated position on a two-crested hill overlooking the east bank of the Tiber river gives it a stunning view of the surrounding Umbrian countryside. Despite a regular stream of visitors and day-trippers, it appears unaffected by the hustle and bustle of modern tourist activity.

Fast Facts

What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet
What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet
What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet

Getting to Todi

Todi is best visited by car, as public transportation is inconvenient. The town has two train stations on the FCU route between Terni and Perugia; however, both are outside the city, requiring a bus ride to the historical center. From Perugia, buses (Linea E012) run around six times daily and stop in Piazzale della Consolazione. Parking at Porta Perugina, Piazzale della Consolazione, or Porta Romana is recommended.



Important things to see in Todi

Todi’s major attractions are within a few minutes of walking distance and are easily accessible on foot. Don’t miss the magnificent baroque Chiesa della Nunziatina on Via del Seminario 31, The Civic Museum at Piazza del Popolo, and unwind at Roccafiore Winery at Vocabolo Collina 110/A, 06059.

What You Should Know About The Colorful Painted House The Witty Poet

Staying there: 

The central yet calm location of the Residenza San Lorenzo Tre and the breathtaking view make it an excellent choice for anyone seeking a relaxed holiday in the heart of Todi’s old city. For those seeking a bygone period of Italian elegance, staying at the San Lorenzo Tre would be an incredible journey through time. Prices start at €105 per night. Call (39) 075 894 45 55. Visit sanlorenzo3.it


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