Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science and Religion

Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science and Religion

Larry Witham

Language: English

Pages: 437

ISBN: 2:00341749

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In the tradition of The Swerve and Galileo's Daughter, Piero's Light reveals how art, religion and science came together at the dawn of the modern world in the paintings of one remarkable artist

In the heart of Tuscany, Piero della Francesca became a painter and mathematician at the dawn of the Renaissance, revealing his innovative mind in some of the best known images from that period, and in his unusual writings on geometry. Yet as a personality, Piero remains a mystery. He leaves an enigmatic legacy that ranges from the merging of religion and mathematics to his use of perspective to make painting a "true science."

In this engaging narrative, Larry Witham transports us to Piero's tumultuous age, a world of princes and popes, soldiers and schisms.Piero's Light also reveals how he was part of the philosophical revival of Platonism, an ancient worldview that would shape art,religion, and science's transition toward modernity. Just sixteen of Piero's paintings survive, but these images and his writings would fuel some of the greatest art historical debates of all time.

Through Witham's wide research,Piero emerges as a figure who marks a turning point in Western culture. Our past understanding of faith, beauty, and knowledge has been radically altered by a secular age, and the story of Piero helps us understand how this has taken place. The search for Piero has continued among both intrepid scholars and art lovers of all kinds, and it is no wonder: few artists in history take us as deeply into the intellectual excitement of the Renaissance as Piero della Francesca.


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Flowering of the Italian Renaissance, trans. Jonathan Griffin (New York: Odyssey Press, 1965), 41-44. 12. Scholars note that while Vasari’s Lives says that Piero worked for Borso Este, he more likely had arrived in Ferrara to work for Lionello Este just before Borso rose to power. 13. Filippo Pedrocco, The Art of Venice: From its Origins to 1797 (New York: Riverside/Scala, 2002), 41. 14. On Venice see Longhi, PDF, 86, 100; and Aldolfo Venturi, Piero Della Fran­cesca (Firenze: Presso Giorgio

appear as a character in the painting, so he was not its patron. Piero may have done the work for a humanist official in Urbino, or he may have done the small panel—with its exacting mathematical calculations—as a kind of experiment and meditation.58 Whichever was the case, Piero had taken a conventional story and seemingly added mystery upon mystery, both in narrative and mathematically. Piero’s portrayal of a flagellation story unfolds in two halves. The left side shows a background scene of a

remarkable bond with his father and Marco, a deep camaraderie in all things mercantile, including art. This common cause in business may also explain why Piero, such a prominent artist, never had a famous workshop that produced disciples who perpetuated his style and methodologies beyond his lifetime. As shrewd as the next man, and a veritable walking calculator as well, Piero may have been looking for ways to escape extra costs, such as paying exorbitant taxes. As one assessment states, “Piero’s

at a time when his city was a leader in the book industry. The Pratica was probably the most popular book on perspective in the sixteenth century. And in producing this book, Barbaro was apparently confronted with a choice: Would he use Albrecht Dürer of Germany as his model, or would he use Piero? Now that book publishing was in full swing, Barbaro had a number of works by Dürer, who was Germany’s greatest graphic artist, illustrator, and advocate of the very perspective that had been

Marini family (modern heirs to Piero), drew upon the writings of Lanzi, and gave a few hitherto unknown dates for Piero’s works in Rimini and Urbino.31 Eventually, Carlo and Gaetano moved permanently to Florence, where in 1852 the Grand Duke had decreed that an official State Archives be established. Carlo was hired there first, followed by Gaetano. In the meantime, Gaetano continued to follow his leads. One of them led to the archives of the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. It was

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