Italy: Arts & Culture

 The Resurrection:Piero della Francesca

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA

AND THE ITALIAN COURTS

This year, one Italian exhibition is likely to garner significant attention in the  world of art for its artistic focus.  Namely, Piero della Francesca, one of the greatest 15th century Italian artists, a pioneer of the Italian Renaissance who had significant influence in the development of Italian painting. 

Piero is well regarded for paintings of religious themes characterized by their simple serenity and clarity.

Although the date and place of Piero della Francesca's birth are not definite, it seems likely that he was born in about 1412 in Sansepolcro, Italy. His father was a well-to-do merchant and tanner, and Piero's early accomplishments indicate that he was well educated.  Aside from his artistic prowess he was also a mathematician with a keen interest in geometry.

By 1439, Piero was working with Domenico Veneziano on frescoes for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence.  His ability flourished in Florence, where the works of such sculptors, artists, and architects as Donatello, Brunelleschi, Masaccio, and Fra Angelico, had a profound influence on his technique.  Piero was skilled in establishing perspective.  His paintings are widely known for the care with which he rendered landscapes that provide the backgrounds for his figures.

In addition to Florence, he also worked in Rimini, Arezzo, Ferrara, and Rome. Count Federigo da Montefeltro retained him to paint a diptych, or two-panel painting, that portrays the count and his wife which probably was created in honor of their wedding.

Another notable accomplishment of Piero's was a series of frescoes entitled The Legend of the True Cross. In the last years of his life, Piero apparently ceased painting to pursue other interests, including writing. He wrote a treatise on painting and others on geometry and applied mathematics.  It is possible that he lost his sight late in life but this remains unproven.

Piero died in Sansepolcro on Oct. 12, 1492 the day that Christopher Columbus discovered America.

Piero in the Courts of Italy

Piero della Francesca began traveling at an early age, spending most of his life at the most important Courts in Central and Adriatic Italy.

Perugia: the Baglioni’s and Domenico Veneziano

Perugia and the Baglioni’s Court were the first cultural centre where Piero worked.  It was in Perugia that the artist of Borgo Sansepolcro first met his guide and master: Domenico Veneziano.   They worked together on the cycle of frescoes: The Stories of the Virgin Mary, in the Church of Sant’Egidio in Florence.

Florence at the time of Cosimo il Vecchio

In 1434, when Cosimo de’ Medici came to power, Renaissance art had not yet expressed its full potential and was just about to develop, open to a wide range of new possibilities.  Although, only the last remnants of the late Gothic style could be found, in Florence, the style was nonetheless dominant throughout Italy.  

Ferrara and the Estense’s

In 1450, Piero della Francesca was invited to Ferrara by Borso d’Este.  In fact, Piero did not go to Ferrara for Borso, but rather for his learned and refined step-brother Lionello, who succeeded his father Nicholas III in 1441, and is said to have died on 1st October 1450.

Piero’s stay in Ferrara, of which no documents can be found, is nonetheless proven by the impact that Piero had on early Renaissance painting in Ferrara.  According to Giorgio Vasari, Piero painted “many rooms in the palace which were later ruined by Duke Ercole the Elder, who modernized the palace” as well as “a chapel” in Sant’Agostino – in truth, it was in Sant’Andrea Church of the Augustinians – which, at the time, was already “spoilt by humidity”.

Rimini and the Malatesta’s

In the late 1440s, when Sigismondo Malatesta promoted a conscious renaissance of the arts, he summoned Leon Battista Alberti, Agostino di Duccio and Piero to his Court.  There ensued eclectic works combining humanistic ideals with essentially Gothic shapes: the most famous example is the Tempio Malatestiano, for which Piero's contributions are known.

The Malatesta’s dominance extended from Cesena to Senigallia; it also included Sansepolcro until 1434. The commercial and social connection between eastern Tuscany and the Adriatic coast was still fruitful through the 1450s, possibly prompting Piero to go to Rimini in 1451.

Rome and the Pope’s Court

In 1458-59, Piero was asked to go to Rome by Pius II.  In the Eternal City, Piero’s art was deeply affected by ancient art and architecture, which the artist could experience  close at hand.

Urbino and the Montefeltro’s Court

Among the wide number of Italian Courts, a special place was occupied by Urbino. A small centre in the hills of the Apennines inland, cleverly turned by Duke Federico da Montefeltro into one of the most lively centres of the Renaissance, Urbino gradually become the capital of the intellectual and mathematic orientation of the arts.

The Duke was a learned man. He loved the theatre and was keen on philosophy. The first evidence of Piero’s stay in Urbino dates back to 1469, when he was asked to complete an altar table for the Corpus Domini Confraternity, for which Paolo Uccello had already made the foot-pace.

Piero della Francesca's Art in His Native Land

Visitors are invited to discover Piero della Francesca’s works in the province of Arezzo, by following an itinerary going through Valtiberina, Sansepolcro, Monterchi - the native hamlet of Piero’s mother Monna Romana - and Arezzo.

The Upper Valley of the Tevere River, or Valtiberina, is on the far east of Tuscany, and takes its name after the river that runs across it up to the border with Umbria. In the past, Valtiberina represented both the border and meeting point between different civilizations: the Umbri and the Etruscans, the Bizantines and the Longobardi.

The Civic Museum of Sansepolcro, the artist’s native town, holds four works: the Polyptych of Mercy, the Resurrection, San Giuliano and San Ludovico.

After visiting Sansepolcro, the itinerary continues in Monterchi, in Val Cerfone. In Monterchi, which stands on the top of a hill on the border with Umbria, Piero della Francesca painted the extraordinary fresco of Madonna del Parto, in the old church of Santa Maria a Momentana.

The itinerary continues and ends in Arezzo. A splendid town standing on a hill in eastern Tuscany, just behind the Apennines between Tuscany and Romagna, Arezzo was one of the most important Etruscan cities and later became a strategic centre for the Romans.

Here, Piero della Francesca painted one of the most important masterpieces of the Renaissance. The Bacci Chapel in the Basilica of San Francesco contains Piero della Francesca’s frescoed cycle of the Legend of the True Cross, painted for the Franciscan church between 1452 and 1466. The Dome of Arezzo displays the fresco Magdalene (at the bottom of the left nave).

The Exhibition

Information on the exhibition: Piero della Francesca and the Italian Courts

Dates: Now to July 22nd, 2007

Venue: Museo Statale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna  Arezzo, Via S. Lorentino 8

Call center: 0575 184.00.00
(international calls +39 0575 184.00.00)
Mon to Fri 9am-5pm; Sat 9am-1pm
Sundays and Holidays: closed

Link to Museo Statale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna
e-mail link to Museo Statale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna
Exhibition opening times

Every day: 9am-7pm
The ticket office closes at 6pm

Opening times of itinerary venues
Bacci Chapel in Arezzo

  • Mon to Fri: 9am-7pm

  • Sat: 9am-6pm

  • Sun: 1pm-6pm

  • Thur 5th and Fri 6th April: 9am-5.30 pm

  • Thus 12th June 9am-6pm

  • Wed 13th June: 1pm-6pm

  • Entrances every 20 minutes (up to 25 people allowed)

Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Donato in Arezzo

  • Every day: 7.00-12.30am, 3pm-6.30pm

Museo Madonna del Parto in Monterchi

  • Every day: 9am-7pm

Museo Civico in Sansepolcro

  • Every day: 9.30am-1pm, 2.30pm-6pm