Piero della Francesca, The Flagellation of Christ, date uncertain (1455 -1470)

I traveled around Tuscany recently reading John Pope-Hennessy’s The Piero della Francesca Trail, a handsome book containing a perceptive analysis of Piero’s work. The Legend of the True Cross fresco in Arezzo is stupendous and is fascinating in relation to contemporary painting practice. The narrative is presented in a way that might intrigue Lars von Trier and the organization of the action and violence might impress Tarantino. In terms of visual complexity, perspective, mirroring, lighting, colour, scale and painting brio, the fresco is a veritable treasure house.

Last year David Reed wrote about a seminar he attended in 1968 with Philip Guston, who quickly spotted references to Piero in Reed’s early paintings. Guston was a great fan of Piero and later on Guston and Reed went to the movies together to see Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More. Renaissance perspective, Italian Painting, spaghetti Westerns and the cinematic close-up – heady stuff. The excellent article Soul-Beating was originally published in Art Journal, and is available on David Reed’s website here.

Posted by Robert Armstrong

Piero della Francesca, Queen of Sheeba, from Legend of the True Cross, Arezzo fresco.


2 thoughts on “Legendary

  1. Dougal McKenzie

    The Flagellation I’ve looked at a lot over the years. The work provides a contradiction in terms, as the composition is so complex in its simplicity. Pulled away from the dominant figures on the right by the perspective of the buildings, we discover that the vanishing point is used by Piero to fall precisely not on Christ, but on the black space to the right of the flagellator, the ‘spike of which in turn supports his raised arm. Only one of many compositional complexities in the work. A super link to Reed’s article too, thanks Robert.

  2. conorbrennan

    Guston’s piece of writing on Piero (referenced at the end of Reed’s article) is fascinating. Definitely worth a read and then multiple re-readings. It’s short, but powerful and intensely ponderous.

    “A certain anxiety exists in the paintings of Piero della Francesca. What we see is the wonder of what it is that is being seen. Perhaps it is the anxiety of painting itself.”


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