Piero della Francesca


Polyptych of the Misericordia

The Flagellation of Christ

St. Jerome in Penitence

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta Praying in Front of St. Sigismund

Portrait of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

St. Jerome and a Donor

The Baptism of Christ

The History of the True Cross

       Adoration of the Holy Wood and the Meeting of Solomon        and the Queen of Sheba   
Constantine's Dream

Mary Magdalene

Madonna del parto

St. Julian


Polyptych of Saint Augustine


Polyptych of Perugia

Madonna and Child with Saints (Montefeltro Altarpiece)

Paired portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza

Madonna di Senigallia

Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists | Piero della Francesca


Art in Tuscany
Piero della Francesca, Constantine's Dream, c. 1455, fresco, 329 x 190 cm, San Francesco, Arezzo

Art in Tuscany  

Piero della Francesca | The Vision of Constantine

The Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo is especially renowned for housing in the chancel the fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca. The painting of the chancel began with a commission by the Aretine family Bicci, who called the painter Bicci di Lorenzo to paint the large cross-vault. In 1452, at Bicci's death, only the four Evangelists had been painted in the vault, as well as the triumphal arch with the Last Judgement and two Doctors of the Church.
Piero della Francesca was called in to complete the work.
The subject of Piero’s greatest fresco cycle, the Legend of the True Cross, was a medieval fabrication of fantastic complexity. The True Cross is the name for physical remnants which, by a Christian tradition, are believed to be from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.
According to tradition, the Empress Helena (c. AD 250 – c. AD 330), mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, travelled to the Holy Land, dated by modern historians in 326-28, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor. It was afterwards claimed, that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses, believed to be used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves — St. Dismas and Gestas — who were executed with him, and that through a miracle it was revealed which of the three was the True Cross.
The dominant theme of the cycle is the triumph of the Cross which, since Adam’s death, has been guiding man to salvation. The frescoes occupy three levels on the side walls and the eastern wall, surrounding a large window. Piero della Francesca did not follow a chronological order, preferring to concentrate himself in the creation of symmetrical correspondences between the various scenes. [1]
Each scene is rendered with appropriate solemn majesty and yet the figures are, as Vasari reported “so well executed that but for the gift of speech they seemed alive.”




Inside his large tent, the Emperor lies asleep. Seated on a bench bathed in light, a servant watches over him and gazes dreamily out towards the onlooker.


Piero della Francesca, The Vision of Constantine (detail), ca.1457/8-1465 from Legend of the True Cross cycle

Constantine and his rival Maxentius were vying for the position of emperor of Rome, and about to do battle at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber River in Rome. The night before the battle, just before the dawn, Constantine lies in bed guarded by a halberdier and a sentry holding a mace who blocks entry into the tent. Although his eyes are closed, Constantine sees what we see but not yet understanding its meaning. His attendant, sitting in a melancholy pose, seems to comprehend. Constantine lies at the foot of the tent pole like a figure of Adam at the foot of the Cross. With this motif, Piero shows the death of paganism at the birth of Christianity.
Above the peaked tents a sky full of stars appears. A number of constellations has been recognized, including Cassiopeia, Draco, and, most clearly, the Little Dipper (Ursus minor). This configuration is close to what would have actually been visible in the latitude of Rome on the autumnal night before the battle (Oct. 28, 312). The celestial image, however, is precisely reversed, as though, in true visionary fashion, it is seen from outside the celestial sphere, the point of view of the angel, or, indeed, of God.[1]


The divine messenger descends from on high, showing the Cross made of light to the emperor deep in sleep, to whom he communicates the certainty of victory if the army moves under the sign of the Cross: "In hoc signo vinces".


From the star-studded heavens above, an angel streaks down, extending toward the sleeping general a tiny, glowing [formerly gold] cross, the divine illumination of which lights up the darkness.
According to the legend surrounding the battle, Constantine and Maxentius both being Romans, no blood could be shed. Maxentius had devised a ruse by which Constantine’s army would be drowned in the Tiber. Part of Constantine’s revelation was that his victory was assured by the power of the Cross. He thus entered the fray with only the angelic gift, and he won.
At the left margin of the tier a portion of a horse's head is represented. With this detail, Piero implies that there is more of the army yet to come out from behind the wall. Amid a forest of lances and thundering hoofs, the cavalry, surmounted by a glorious imperial eagle flag, calms as it moves left to right and stops at the figure of Constantine, erect on his white horse. He extends his arm to display the tiny cross, the talisman of righteous power, faith, and victory. [1]

A supernatural glow emanated by the heavenly envoy strikes the soldier with the iron helmet facing on the right.
Piero della Francesca, Constantine's Dream and Constantine's Victory over Maxentius. 1455, San Francesco, Arezzo

Piero della Francesca, Constantine's Dream and Constantine's Victory over Maxentius. 1455, San Francesco, Arezzo

#travelingintuscany In Arezzo I dreamed a dream

In the distance the tents of his army were lit by moonlight
But another kind of radiance lit the face of Constantine
And in the morning ligh
The artist, seeing his work was done
Saw that it was good

In this sign shall thou conquer

He let his brush drop and passed into a sleep of his own
And he dreamed of Constantine carrying into battle in his right hand
An immaculate, undefiled single white Cross
Piero della Francesca, as his brush stroked the wall
Was filled with a torpor
And fell into a dream of his own
[Patti Smith, Constantine’s Dream)


[1] The first manifestations of an independent new style in painting | www.montgomerycollege.edu


Patti Smith | Constantine's Dream | Youtube



Lyrics to "Constantine's Dream" song by Patti Smith

I dreamed a dream of St. Francis who kneeled and prayed
For the birds and the beasts and all human kind
All through the night I felt drawn in by him
And I heard him call like a distant hymn

I retreated from the silence of my room
Stepping down the ancient stones washed with dawn
And entered the basilica that bore his name
Seeing his effigy I bowed my head

And my racing heart, I gave to him
I kneeled and prayed and sleep
That I could not find in the night
I found through him

I saw before me the world of his world
The bright fields, the birds in abundance
All of nature of which he sang singing of him
All the beauty that surrounded him as he walked

His nature that was nature itself and I heard him
I heard him speak and the birds sang sweetly
And the wolves licked his feet
But I could not give myself to him

I felt another call from the basilica itself
The call of art, the call of man
And the beauty of the material drew me away

And I awoke and beheld upon the wall
The dream of Constantine
The handiwork of Piero della Francesca
Who had stood where I stood

And with his brush stroke
The legend of the true cross
And he envisioned Constantine
Advancing to greet the enemy

And as he was passing the river
An unaccustomed fear gripped his bowels
An anticipation so overwhelming
That it manifested in waves

All through the night the dream drew toward him
As an advancing crusade
He slept in his tent on the battlefield
While his men stood guard

And an angel awoke him
Constantine within his dream awoke
And his men saw a light pass over the face
Of the king, the troubled king

And the angel came and showed to him
The sign of the true cross in heaven
And upon it was written
"In this sign shall thou conquer"

In the distance, the tents of his army were lit by moonlight
But another kind of radiance lit the face of Constantine
And in the morning light the artist seeing his work was done
Saw it was good in this sign shall thou conquer

He let his brush drop and passed into a sleep of his own
And he dreamed of Constantine
Carrying him into battle in his right hand
An immaculate undefiled and simple white cross

Piero della Francesca, as his brush stroked the wall
Filled with the torpor and fell into a dream of his own
From the geometry of his heart, he mapped it out
He saw the king rise, fitted with armor set upon a white horse

An immaculate cross in his right hand
He advanced toward the enemy and the symmetry
The perfection of his mathematics
Caused the scattering of the enemy agitated, broken

They fled and Piero dela Francesca, waking, cried out
All is art, all is future, oh Lord, let me die on the back of adventure
With a brush and an eye full of light
As he advanced in age the light was shorn from him

His eyes, blinded, he layed upon his bed
On an october morning, 1492 whispering
Oh Lord, let me die on the back of adventure
Oh Lord, let me die on the back of adventure, oh

And a world away, the world away
On three great ships, adventure itself as if to answer
Pulling into the new world
And as far as his eyes could see, no longer blind

All of nature, unspoiled, beautiful, beautiful
Such a manner it would have lifted
The heart of St. Francis into the realm of universal love
Columbus set foot on the new world

He witnessed beauty unspoiled
All of the delights given by God as if in Eden itself
As if Eden had opened up her heart to him
And opened her dress and all of her fruit, gave to him

And Columbus so overwhelmed
Fell into a sleep of his own
All the world in his sleep, all of the beauty
All of the beauty entwined with the future

The 21st century advancing like the angel
Advancing like the angel
That had come to Constantine
Constantine and history

Oh, this is your cross to bear
Oh Lord, oh Lord, let me deliver
Hallowed adventure
To all mankind in the future

Oh art, cried the painter
Oh art, oh art, cried the angel
Art, the great material gift of man
Art that hath denied the hungered pleas of St. Francis

Oh thou, artist, all shall crumble in the dust
Oh thou, navigator, the terrible end of man
This is your gift to mankind
This is your cross to bear

Then Columbus saw all of nature aflame
The apocalyptic night
And the dream of the troubled king
Dissolved into light


Agnolo Gaddi, Scenes from the Exaltation of the Cross in Santa Croce, Firenze

Agnolo Gaddi's late-14th-century fresco cycle, "The Legend of the True Cross," tells the story, drawn from Jacobus de Voragine's 13th-century compendium of saints' lives, "The Golden Legend," of the wood used for the cross on which Jesus was crucified. These paintings were a source for Piero della Francesca's cycle on the same subject, painted in Arezzo in the middle of the following century, though Gaddi, with happy disregard for realism in scale, hardly anticipates the rigorous perspective and complex geometry of Piero's work.

The panel depicting Chosroes Worshipped by His Subjects, The Dream of Heraclius, and The Defeat of the Son of Chosroes contains three separate parts of the story. To the left Chosroes is exalted by the people in a basilica of gold and silver with the cross; he has chosen to be worshipped as a god. Chosroes holds a scepter, and men kneel before him.


Heraclius’ vision is not contained in the Legenda Aurea; it is a topos from a crusader genre. It is likely an analogy to Constantine’s vision. Thus Heraclius becomes the new Constantine.

In the center, Heraclius has a dream wherein he receives a vision from an angel above the tent holding a wooden cross before battle that signifies his devotion to God; he is pictured reclining in his tent, leaning on his elbow, and gazing up at the vision; above the tent floats the cross and an angel. And on the far right is the climax in which Heraclius administers the final blow to defeat Chosroes’ son in single combat on the bridge over the Danube.

Emperor Heraclius lies outstretched on his bed in a tent and looks toward the angel, floating above him, who forecast his victory. The combat Chosroës's son, from which Heraclius emerged victorious, is shown to the right of the tent.
Born into a family of painters in Florence, Agnolo Gaddi followed an artistic lineage from his father Taddeo Gaddi (1300-1366), a painter and architect, and grandfather Gaddo Gaddi, an artist. Agnolo Gaddi is known as the last major Florentine artist who was stylistically influenced by his father’s teacher, Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337). In the 1380s he executed his most ambitious works, a series of frescoes in the choir of Santa Croce in Florence illustrating the “Legend of the True Cross”.

Art in Tuscany | Agnolo Gaddi | Leggenda della Croce

  Dream of Emperor Heraclius (detail),1385-87, fresco, Chancel Chapel, Santa Croce
Agnolo Gaddi, Dream of Emperor Heraclius (detail),1385-87, fresco, Chancel Chapel, Santa Croce



Art in Tuscany | Art in Tuscany | Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects

Art in Tuscany | Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists | Piero della Francesca

Princeton Piero Project |
The interactive website, Piero della Francesca: The Legend of the True Cross was created by the department of Art History at Princeton and allows the viewer to move through the chapel’s space and experience Piero Della Francesca’s fresco cycle of medieval legends from many different vantage points. The user can follow the narrative chronologically, view the frescoes in detail, and notice thematic connections teased out by the images’ relationship in space. The application is fully available on the Internet Explorer browser.
Navigate the Model (Internet Explorer Only).
The Piero Project, from the very beginning, was a partnership between an art historian (Marilyn Aronberg Lavin) and a technical team, each seeking to explore some fundamental problems in their respective disciplines. Piero della Francesca's fresco cycle--one of the most important monuments of Early Renaissance Italian painting--is presented here, on-line in a 3-D walk-through interactive model. Created by an art historian, three computer graphics experts, and a photographer, the model offers movement through the space of the chapel in any direction to view the paintings, some of which are more than forty feet above the floor. Navigation is directed by manipulating a mouse, or simply clicking through a "guided tour" that traces the complex narrative path in chronological sequence. Audio commentary clicks on and off. Behind each visual field are astonishingly beautiful high resolution images brought up with a click of the mouse for detailed viewing. There is no other computerized art historical presentation of comparable visual quality and scholarly depth. It is offered free of charge.



This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia article Piero della Francesca published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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