NATIONAL GALLERY, Piero Della Francesca

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English / USA Language: English / USA

Just before entering the room dedicated to the Italian painter Piero della Francesca, you'll often see a guard asking you to remain silent, almost like at the entrance to a sanctuary.

Here you can admire two works Piero painted for his beloved birthplace, Borgo San Sepolcro in Tuscany.

Piero della Francesca was a painter and passionate scholar of geometry and perspective who lived and worked in the 15th century. Even though he is considered one of the greatest geniuses in art history, he mostly worked in small-to-medium Italian towns such as Rimini, Arezzo, and Urbino, which were all a little decentralised compared to the great artistic capitals of the time.

Start with the picture entitled The Baptism of Christ, where you'll immediately notice the painter's passion for geometry and pure, clear-cut volumes. You may notice an imaginary vertical line that divides the scene in half: it begins at the top of the painting, passes through the dove's beak, divides Christ's face, runs between his clasped hands, and then continues between his feet. The clear waters of the Jordan River flow between the feet of the central pair of figures. St John is captured at the exact moment when he baptises Jesus, pouring water on his head. Behind the two you can see a man undressing in preparation to be baptised as well. To the left there are three angels embracing each other in a gesture of friendship, watching the scene. The even lighting stops time, rendering the unfolding event eternal. If you look at the landscape closely, a small town can be seen behind the right side of Christ: this is in fact Borgo San Sepolcro, the artist's beloved hometown, to which he pays homage here.

Now move on to another painting entitled The Nativity, which is probably one of Piero's last works. Here you can see the newborn Jesus stretched out on the Virgin's blue mantle while she kneels in prayer. The three men behind her could be the Magi, one of whom indicates the sky and the star that led them there, but they could also be the three shepherds who came to worship Jesus. The figure sitting cross-legged is probably St Joseph, while to the left a group of wingless angels sing and play the lute. If you look closely you'll see that the lutes don't have any strings: no matter, divine messengers can play without them!


FUN FACT: Piero della Francesca was born after the death of his father, which is why he took his mother's name and was called "della Francesca". He died on October 12th, 1492, the exact same day that America was discovered!

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