PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
(b. 1416, Borgo San Sepolcro, d. 1492, Borgo San Sepolcro)
Baptism of Christ1448-50
Egg tempera on poplar panel, 167 x 116 cm
National Gallery, London
In 1442 Piero was recorded as town councillor in Borgo San Sepolcro. This painting is his first important commission in this period, originally it was painted for the Chapel of San Giovanni in the Pieve.
The most striking feature of this painting is the extraordinary lighting from above, creating delicate pastel colours, with pale shadows that surround the figures and enhance their three dimensionality. At the centre, the figure of Christ is portrayed as a simple man, but his stance is so solemn as to make him look as majestic as a Greek god. His torso and his legs are circular and solid, like the tree on the left; the holy dove, like a little cloud, fits into a patch of sky amidst the foliage of the tree, rendered with almost Impressionistic strokes.
The three angels on the left, with their pale but round faces, are reminiscent of the groups of children sculpted by Luca della Robbia for the Cantoria in Florence Cathedral (1432-38): and even their blonde hair, decorated with garlands, is clearly inspired by Luca's models. The face of the angel in the centre, with his fixed gaze, brings to mind Domenico Veneziano paintings in the mid-1430s.