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A History Of European Art 16 - Piero della Francesca in Arezzo

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A History Of European Art
Lecture Sixteen

Piero della Francesca in Arezzo

In 1452, Piero della Francesca was called to Arezzo to replace Bicci di Lorenzo in painting the frescoes of the basilica of San Francesco. The work was finished before 1466, probably between 1452-1456.

His cycle of frescoes depicting the Legend of the True Cross is generally considered among his masterworks and those of Renaissance painting in general. The story in these frescoes derives from legendary medieval sources as to how timber relics of the True Cross came to be found. These stories were collected in the "Golden Legend" of Jacopo da Varazze (Jacopo da Varagine) of the mid 13th century. 

In 1453, he returned to San Sepolcro where, the following year, he signed a contract for the polyptych in the church of Sant'Agostino. A few years later, summoned by Pope Nicholas V, he moved to Rome: here he executed frescoes in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, of which only fragments remain. Two years later he was again in the Papal capital, for frescoes in Vatican Palace which have also been destroyed. To this period belongs The Flagellation (c. 1460), one of the most famous and controversial pictures of the early Renaissance. As discussed in own entry, it is marked by an air of geometric sobriety, in addition to presenting a perplexing enigma as to the nature of the three men at right forefront. Other notable works of Piero della Francesca's maturity include the Baptism of Fire, the Resurrection and the Madonna del parto. At Urbino, where he was in the service of Federico III da Montefeltro, he met Melozzo da Forlì and Luca Pacioli. Here he painted the famous double portrait of Federico and his wife Battista Sforza, now in the Uffizi, as well as the Madonna of Senigallia and the Nativity. His portraits in profile take their inspiration from Roman coins.

Piero della Francesca is documented in Rimini in 1482. His will was made in 1487. In his later years, painters such as Perugino and Luca Signorelli frequently visited his workshop. According to Vasari, he went blind in old age.

He died at Sansepolcro, on the very day that Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Americas.

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

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