THE fame of Piero della Francesca, never seriously contested during the pass·
ing ages, has lately risen to Olympian heights. His perspicuous designs, his
clean harmonious colors, and his imperturbability have won the suffrage of
modern zealots in composition who have extolled him to the detriment of
But his overemphasized detachment was purely an intellectual
control over the technical science of wall painting; and he was admired by
the old Italians for his “unexampled truthfulness and his hieratic nobility of
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Piero was a more advanced student of mathematics than his master, U ccello;
he was an adept in theology and the author of a learned work on perspective.
Though he passed most of his life in Umbria, he was a traveler–with a fond
ness for war. He was patronized by dukes and popes, was in Florence during
the patriarchal festival of 1439, and executed extensive frescoes in the Vatican
which were indecently destroyed to make way for Raphael.
His mind was
orderly, exact and severe; he had no room in his world for dainty sentiment
and homely affections; with knowledge and assurance he refined his characters
into types of poised and unapproachable grandeur.
Combining science and imagination, linear perspective, and measured
rectangular planes, Piero was magnificently equipped for architectural paint
ing, and about 1465 made the most of his capabilities in the church of San
In the choir of the church he painted ten frescoes from The Legend
of the Holy Cross, beginning the genealogy of the Sacred Tree with Adam
and the Tree of Paradise.
The story enabled him to compose two battle pic
tures, the first showing the Emperor Constantine’s victory–following the vision
of the Flaming Cross–over the Emperor Maxentius.
In this work, he made no
attempt at military action or the circumstances of battle. The monumental
impressiveness of the fresco,
which unhappily is badly damaged in part, rises
from his sense of placement: the employment of banners, lances, and stark
forms of sweeping colors to create the symbolical statement of a great Chris