PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
(b. 1416, Borgo San Sepolcro, d. 1492, Borgo San Sepolcro)
Mural in fresco and tempera, 225 x 200 cm
Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro
This is one of Piero's greatest masterpieces, painted for the Town Hall of his native city and moved from an adjoining room to its present position in the early sixteenth century; the 'di sotto in sù' viewpoint of the enframing columns suggests that it was originally painted rather high on the wall. This exemplifies Piero's ability to use archaic iconographic elements, belonging to the repertory of popular sacred images, yet placing them in an entirely new cultural and stylistic context.
Within a framework, formed at the sides by two fake marble columns, the composition is divided into two separate perspective zones. The lower area, where the artist has placed the sleeping guards, has a very low vanishing point. Alberti, in his theoretical writings, suggests that the vanishing point should be at the same level as the figures' eyes. By placing it on a lower level, Piero foreshortens his figures, thus making them more imposing in their monumental solidity. Above the figures of the sleeping sentries, Piero has placed the watchful Christ, no longer seen from below, but perfectly frontally. The resurrected Christ, portrayed with solid peasant features, is nonetheless a perfect representative of Piero's human ideal: concrete, restrained and hieratic as well. The splendid landscape also belongs to the repertory of popular sacred images: Piero has symbolically depicted it as half still immersed in the barenness of winter, and half already brought back to life - resurrected - by springtime.