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,,Mary Magdalene, fresco, 190 x 105 cm Arezzo, Duomo, 1460
Art in Tuscany  

Piero della Francesca | Saint Mary Magdalene (1460)

The Duomo or Cathedral of SS. Donato and Peter

The Cathedral of SS. Donato and Peter is a starkly imposing and impressive Gothic structure is perched at the highest point of Arezzo’s historic centre and serves as the seat of the Bishop of Arezzo, Cortona and Sansepolcro. The original cathedral was built on a nearby peak (Colle del Pionta but no rest are left of the ancient Duomo) over the burial place of Arezzo’s patron saint, San Donato or Saint Donatus, who is said to have performed a miracle in the 4th century by restoring a communion chalice that was shattered by pagans: although one piece on the glass’ bottom was never found, not a drop was spilled.
In the 13th century, the Pope ordered the cathedral moved to its current location within the town walls. Although Arezzo’s Cathedral no longer has the remains of Saint Donatus, which are located in the cripta of La Pieve, the Duomo still retrains elements of tribute inside. For example, above the main altar there is an ornate marble arch commemorating Saint Donatus created by 14th century Aretine, Sienese and Florentine artisans. There is also a terracotta group entitled Madonna with child between San Donatus and Pope Gregory X from the end of the 14th century.

  Arezo Duomo
More or less at the same time as he was working on the final scenes of the San Francesco cycle, Piero della Francesca was given another important commission in Arezzo: the fresco of Mary Magdalen in the Cathedral, situqated near to the door of the sacresty.
This monumental figure is created entirely by large patches of bright colours, rather like an early 16th-century Venetian painting. Yet even with this new use of colour Piero still concentrates on the attention to detail typical of his mature works: the shining light reflections on the small bottle, the hair that is depicted strand by strand on the saint's solid shoulders.
The saint is represented beyond an arch, which rises from a base just under two meters from the ground. Behind her, a marble parapet separates her from the sky, painted in azurite. The halo, seen in perspective, was gilded, as were probably the belt and the sleeve of the dress. The perspective of the architecture consists simply in the convergence of lines towards a single point above the head of the spectator. The arch, in white stone against a dard red background (a dichromatism which Piero already employed in the Flagellation) appears very thin, its principal lines defined by incisions in the fresh plaster. It was painted on different days from those of the sky and the saint. A confusion can be seen at the left base, which seems covered by a drape of the saint's green dress. A hinted counterpoint regulates the relationship between the Magdalen and the architecture that surrounds her, unfolding boldly like a two-dimensional frame, while the saint's shoulders are on slightly different levels, giving a clue to a movement that cancels the possible implication of a statuary image placed in a niche. The saint is well behind the frame, illuminated by the same light that gives life to the reliefs in the architecture. She is in a free, solar space, where the weather is vibrant through the luminosity of the sky. The strong color brings her back to the surface at the same time as the bold relief shapes her. Inserted between the two complimentary dominants, red and green, the grey satin of the hem of the woollen mantle reflects more light that the white of the edge of the right arch.
The spectacular display of the hair on her shoulders is set against the broad colored surfaces. The solar light becomes subaqueus and almost lunar in the oil jar, that becomes a source of further light, in contact with the saint's left hand. Her blooming beauty, the young curving neck, the delicate indentations round the lips make her the ideal companion of the young St Julian at Sansepolcro, but without his troubled expression, in a serenity that would not appear again until the paintings of Cima da Conegliano. In fact the generous color, which almost presses against the surf ace through its energy, marks the meeting with AntoneIlo da Messina in Rome. This remarkable essay, painted close to home, must be dated just after the Roman period.
The resetting on the same wall as the fresco of the tomb of Bishop Guido Tarlati, in 1783, has trimmed it on the left. Below, a part of the lintel is mlssing.
UsuaIly given a date near the San Francesco frescoes, it has been ascribed to 1452, or c. 1466 and beyond. Battisti opted for a very late dating 'in any case before 26 October 1486 when Piero delegated his brother Marco to receive the credits owed to him by the Bacci.

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

Art in Tuscany | Piero della Francesca in central Italy, an itinerary full of artistic and historical beauty

Itinerary in Central Italy | In the footsteps of Piero della Francesca

In the footsteps of Piero della Francesca


Itinerary in Central Italy | In the footsteps of Piero della Francesca

Itinerary in Tuscany| Starting from Sansepolcro, his hometown, follow this itinerary, and see his greatest work of Piero della Francesca in Sansepolcro, Perugia, Urbino, Arezzo, Rimini and eventually Florence.


Holiday accomodation in Tuscany | Podere Santa Pia | Artist and writer's residency



Podere Santa Pia


Podere Santa Pia, garden view, April


View from Podere Santa Pia

on the Maremma hills

Villa Celsa near Florence

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
in Florence




The city of Arezzo is perched on a hill above the plain of the Arno river where the rugged Casentino mountains meet the rich foothills of the Valdichiana. Arezzo is the city where Piero della Francesca painted the Legend of the True Cross in the church of San Francesco, universally considered his master-work by critics of all epochs. In 1452 the wealthy merchant family Bacci, patrons of the principal chapel in the church of San Francesco, summoned Piero to Arezzo to finish the fresco cycle started by Bicci di Lorenzo, and interrupted due to his death that year. The decision to choose Piero della Francesca to substitute the old master might seem hard to explain at first, considering the differences between the two artists: the lattet bound to the late Gothic traditions of Tuscany as strongly as the substitute was an innovator. Actually, the decision to decorate the chapel had been made many years before. It is possible that Bicci di Lorenzo had been designated during the 1420's, when the friars believed that work would have been started soon. No doubt the artist intended to honor his commitment, even though he was over seventy years of age in 1447 when he started the fresco cycle. The assignment of the commission to a painter like Ricci, who had a large workshop in Florence that was perfectly faithful to antique traditions and had failed to absorb anything of the extraordinary novelty that had made Florence the center of artistic innovation in Italy and Europe, is an indication of the somewhat old-fashioned and provincial taste of Arezzo, overshadowed by Florence nearby.  
Actually, the origins of Arezzo are quite ancient and go back to the Etruscans, when Arretium was an important center of artistic production of artifacts such as the famous bronze Chimera, exhibited at the Archeological Museum of Florence and some terracotta knights of the fifth century BC, exhibited at the Archeological Museum of Arezzo. When it came under Roman influence, Arezzo became an important center on the Via Cassia, situated as it is along the Rome-Florence-Romagna axis, and expanded prosperously during the Hellenistic era. About the middle of the first century BC, a pottery industry was thriving that produced vases with relief decorations, known by the name of the city or as "coral" vases due to their color. However this industry was already a thing of the past by the end of the first century AD, and the city entered a phase of decline that lasted until the High Middle Ages, when disputes about the control of churches and chapels led to some conflicts with Siena. Signs of recovery began to appear from the eleventh century, during the era of the city-states; during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Arezzo, which belonged to the Ghibelline faction, intensified its battles against Siena and Florence. After the famous defeat at the battle of Campaldino in 1289, against Florence, the city again slipped into a state of decline, except for the period 1312-1328 when bishop Guido Tarlati seemed to have raised their expectations.
Arezzo was sold to Florence in 1137 and again in 1384, when it lost its independence and tied its destiny to the Florentine state. The presence of "foreigners" was also significant in the art of Arrezzo, especially in painting. After the debut of Margaritone, most of the leading artists were from Florence (Cimabue, some followers of Giotto and other minor artists) and from Siena, including Pietro Lorenzetti. During the second half of the fourteenth century Spinello Aretino distinguished himself as a very talented artist, whose work was continued by his son Parri, in the same style which still reflected its Gothic origins. The arrival of Piero della Francesca, probably at the instigation of Giovanni Bacci, who was a scholarly humanist, well integrated into the Roman Curia, thus introduced a real charge of artistic innovation.
Piero arrived in Arezzo in 1452, and interrupted his stay during the years 1458-59, when he went to Rome at the invitation of pope Pius II Piccolomini. For some scholars, the latter dates mark the completion of the frescos in Arezzo; according to others this was just one of Piero's many interruptions, and they believe that he continued to work on the frescos after his return. After the success and admiration that Piero inspired with his master-work about the Legend of the True Cross, he received many commissions, including the Mary Magdalene for the cathedral of Arezzo: today we don't know if it was a simple devotional image as it appears to us or if it was part of a larger composition that has since disappeared. Another work by Piero is well-documented, although it has since disappeared: the standard with the Annunciation, commissioned in 1466 by the religious company dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation. Arezzo was full of Piero's imitators, mostly mediocre, with the exception of Lorentino d'Andrea, his assistant for the cycle in San Francesco.

The main episodes depicted are:

1 Death of Adam; Seth meeting the Archangel Michael

Adam (on the right), on his death-bed, sends his son, Seth to the Archangel Michael, keeper of the Gates of Paradise, to get some oil of mercy; the Archangel (seen in the background) refuses the oil but gives him a seedling from the tree of Original Sin to be placed in Adams mouth when he is buried (on the left); from this shoot and from Adam's body, which had been the cause of man's downfall, a healthy tree would grow (centre) the wood of which would be used for Christ's Cross and thus for the resurrection of man.

2 The Adoration of the Holy Wood; the Queen of Sheba kneels in front of the wood from which the cross will be made and meets King Solomon

Centuries later, Solomon, King of Israel, has the tree cut down but the wood could not be worked in any way so it was thrown across the river Silo to make a little bridge. The Queen of Sheba, when visiting the king, fell to her knees (centre) in front of the wood, having had a premonition of how it would be used: the crucifixion of the Messiah. During her meeting with King Solomon (on the right) the Queen revealed her premonition.

3 The burial of the Sacred Wood

On King Solomon's orders, the wood, which would be the cause of the scattering of the Jews, was removed and thrown into the depths of the earth. (note the similarity in iconography to that of the Road to Calvary).

4 The Annunciation to Mary

5 The Vision of Constantine

On the eve of his battle against Maxentius in 312 AD, Constantine the Great was told in a dream that he would have victory in the name of the Cross.

6 The Victory of Constantine (Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge)

7 The Torture of Judas the Jew

All trace of Christ's Cross had, in the meantime, been lost, so Constan- tine's mother, Saint Helena, went to Jerusalem to find it and to build the Basilica of the Holy Cross. There she met a Jew who knew where the Cross was buried but did not want to tell her. However, after having been put into the bottom of a dry well for six days and nights the man agreed to reveal where the Cross was.

8 The Discovery and Proof of the True Cross

The three crosses were then dug up in Jerusalem (seen in the back- ground on the left; in actual fact Arezzo with the Cathedral of San Donato and San Pietro clearly visible). To distinguish the cross of Christ from those of the two thieves, they were taken in turn to the body of a dead youth who came backto life (on the right) when touched by the True Cross. Saint Helena knelt in front ofThe True Cross in adoration (as had the Queen of Sheba in the corresponding painting on the right wall).

9 The Battle of Heraclius and Chosroes

In 615 AD the Persian king Chosroes had profaned the Cross by placing it next to his own throne (on right). The Eastern Emperor Heraclius faced him in battle (on left) and won, but when Chosroes refused to con- vert to Christianity he was condemned to decapitation (the detail shown again on the right).

10 The Exaltation of the Cross

Heraclius carried the Cross back to Jerusalem: in great humility, with bare feet and just a simple robe, he offered it in adoration to a group of nobles of the Sacred City.

11 The Prophet Isaiah

12 The Prophet Jeremiah

13 An angel



Piero della Francesca painted a self portrait in The Discovery and Proof of the True Cross

Legend of the True Cross, Bacci Chapel, Basilica of San Francesco

Narrative sequence

Piero della Francesca, Madonna del parto (dettaglio)


Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
in Florence

Florence, Duomo