Piero Della Francesca (1416-1492)

Piero di Benedetto dei Franceschi, was a  painter whose serene, disciplined exploration of perspective  came to be recognized in the 20th century as a major contribution to the Italian Renaissance.

Piero della Francesca, Ideal city, 1470

Image source: https://www.wga.hu/

To contemporaries he was also known as a mathematician and geometer. Nowadays Piero della Francesca is chiefly appreciated for his art. His painting is characterized by its serene humanism, its use of geometric forms and perspective. His most famous work is the cycle of frescoes The History of the True Cross in the church of San Francesco in the Tuscan town of Arezzo.


Training and early life

The artist was born around 1415 in Sansepolcro, where he started his training as a painter under Antonio d’Anghiari. Early in his career, della Francesca moved between his hometown and the main courts in northern Italy, including the Malatesta in Rimini, the Medici in Florence and the Montefeltro in Urbino. In 1445, he was commissioned by the Misericordia confraternity to paint the Polyptych of the Misericordia (housed in the Civic Museum in Sansepolcro), which he painted off and on until 1462. The central figure, looking straight out at the viewer, is the Virgin Mary, set against a gold background and opening her black cloak to her worshippers.

Piero della Francesca, Polyptych of the misericordia, 1445

Image source: http://allpainters.org/

Style analysis with The Baptism of Christ

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ, 1450

Image source: http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/

The Baptism of Christ is a good introduction to Piero della Francesca’s style. Within an arched frame the baptism is taking place in a landscape strikingly similar to the countryside around San Sepolcro. In 1442 Piero della Francesca was recorded as town councillor in Borgo San Sepolcro. The Baptism of Christ portrays Christ being baptised by John, his head surmounted by a dove representing the Holy Spirit. Christ, John’s hand, the bird and the bowl form an axis which divides the painting in two symmetrical parts. A second division is created by the tree on the left, which instead divides it according to the golden ratio.
The three angels wear different clothes and, different from the traditional iconography, are not supporting Christ’s garments, but are holding each other’s hands.

Mature period

Piero della Francesca’s mature style is revealed in frescoes painted in the choir of the church of S. Francesco at Arezzo. The narrative cycle The Legend of the True Cross was completed by 1466. Its simplicity and clarity of structure, controlled use of perspective, and aura of serenity are all typical of Piero’s art at its best. Contemporary with the Arezzo cycle are a fresco of the Magdalen in Arezzo cathedral, the Resurrection in the Palazzo Comunale at Sansepolcro, and Madonna del Parto in the chapel of the cemetery at Monterchi.

Piero della Francesca, The legend of true cross, 1466

Image source: http://www.travelingintuscany.com/

In 1454 a burgher of Sansepolcro, Agnolo di Giovanni di Simone d’Angelo, commissioned an altarpiece for S. Agostino that Piero, characteristically, did not complete until 1469. The surviving panels of the altarpiece reveal Piero’s interest in the creation of monumental human figures through the sculptural use of line and light.

Resurrection, the most beautiful painting

The extraordinary Resurrection in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, historically Sansepolcro’s town hall and now the Civic Museum, is an example of the perfect combination of art and science. In the fresco, the figure of Christ is at the center of the scene, facing the viewer, strong and solemn: it’s Christ who triumphs over the darkness of the tomb and the ignorance of men, which is both a civic symbol and a sacred icon. The contemporary writer Aldous Huxley called it “the most beautiful painting in the world.”

Piero della Francesca, Resurrection, 1465ù

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Later years

Piero della Francesca, page from “De prospectiva pingendi“

Image source: http://www.arezzonotizie.it/

In his later years, painters such as Perugino and Luca Signorelli frequently visited his workshop. He completed the treatise On Perspective in painting in the mid-1470s to 1480s. By 1480, his vision began to deteriorate, but he continued writing treatises such as Short Book on the Five Regular Solids in 1485. It is documented that Piero rented a house in Rimini in 1482. Piero made his will in 1487 and he died five years later, on 12 October 1492, in his own house in San Sepolcro. He left his possessions to his family and the church.


Info source: https://www.britannica.com/                                                                       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Resurrection_(Piero_della_Francesca  http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/pierodellafrancesca.htm                      https://www.visittuscany.com/

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