PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
(b. 1416, Borgo San Sepolcro, d. 1492, Borgo San Sepolcro)
4. Vision of Constantine1452-66
Fresco, 329 x 190 cm
San Francesco, Arezzo
The story continues in the lower picture compartment to the right of the altar with the Vision of Constantine.
Constantine the Great (c. 280-337), was a Roman Emperor, the son of Helena. He came to overall power in 312 after defeating the Emperor Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian bridge on the Tiber, an event traditionally regarded as the turning point in the establishment of Christianity within the empire. According to Eusebius' Life of Constantine (1:27-32), on the eve of the battle Constantine saw in a dream a cross in the sky, and heard a voice saying, 'In hoc signo vinces' - 'By this sign shalt thou conquer.' Henceforth, it is said, he substituted the emblem for the Roman eagle on the standard, or laborum, of the legions.
Earlier it was thought to be a nocturnal scene. However, the recent restoration revealed it is not a night scene but a dawn, captured at its first stirrings, when still glitter in the sky. 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, as though in silent conversation. With a daring innovation, that almost seems to anticipate Caravaggio's modern concept of light, the two sentries in the foreground stand out from the darkness, lit only from the sides by the light projected from the angel above. 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".