Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Following Piero della Francesca

This summer I had the chance to go on a two days trip to see Piero's works. Many of them are condensed in a small area in the center of Italy, around his birthplace, Sansepolcro.
I started from Arezzo, where I visited the frescos from the Legend of the Cross and the Santa Maria Maddalena in the Duomo.

I love this small fresco, and since I first saw it I always thought she is a very good depiction of modern Italy. There's the beauty, that special italian light and the melancholic feeling when we remember of what our nation was and could have been if it wasn't inhabited by so may hopelessly inadequate people. Not to speak about Maddalena's former job.

After Arezzo we went to Monterchi, birthplace of Piero's mother, where we admired the Madonna del Parto. After the ambitious monumentality of the frescos this tender and smaller work set in the tiniest village is heart breaking. I love the recycling of the cartoon: use it once, then turn it round and trace the other angel ! Oh, and remember to shift the colours. It's so wonderfully naive and yet the result is elegant and balanced.

The next stop was Sansepolcro, a small town at the bottom of the Tiber valley. Piero's house is here ( it now houses a foundation in his name). Luca Pacioli, an important mathematician, was also born here. Piero was his first teacher.

"The majority of the second volume of Pacioli's Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita was a slightly rewritten version of one of Piero della Francesca's works. The third volume of Pacioli's De divina proportione was an Italian translation of Piero della Francesca's Latin writings On [the] Five Regular Solids. In neither case, did Pacioli include an attribution to Piero. He was severely criticized for this and accused of plagiarism by sixteenth-century art historian and biographer Giorgio Vasari. R. Emmett Taylor (1889–1956) said that Pacioli may have had nothing to do with the translated volume De divina proportione, and that it may just have been appended to his work. However, no such defence can be presented concerning the inclusion of Piero della Francesca's material in Pacioli's Summa."

In the Museo Civico of Sansepolcro I saw four works by Pietro. The Polittico della Madonna, San Giuliano, San Lodovico and the Resurrection. There also is the polyptic in which the National Gallery's Baptism of Christ was originally placed.
I cannot say how many layers the Resurrection is made of. The composition, the expression of Christ, the landscape. It is a painting you can watch for ever and find new meanings every time.
The philosopher Massimo Cacciari wrote a short essay on it where he makes some very deep consideration. He points out how there is a division between the divine world and the mortal world, crammed with the soldiers' figures. There is no reference to death in this painting, but nothing points to life either. The land is hard, no flowers or signs of spring, but a land on which foundations can be laid. Christ is logos, his name has to be spoken with sobriety, with clarity of design, a purity of form and a direct, unflinching look. Christ is alone, he is wearing the red cloak of victory, but seems ready to take on other burdens. Never has the Verbum been preached more strongly than by this silent figure, says Cacciari.

In the next post my travel continues to Urbino and Perugia, passing by Citta' di Castello.

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