BIRTH OF THE RENAISSANCE: Thoughts inspired by Piero della Francesca
The predella scenes scenes with St. Antonio and St. Elisabeth appear to be more clumsily executed than the rest of the altarpiece, something that have made art connoisseurs prone to assume they were made by della Francesca´s students. However, the middle scene of the predella is so peculiar that it might have been painted by the master himself, for here we find those qualities of della Francescas’s art that the pioneer of modern art history, Bernhard Berenson, observed in 1897:
In the 1460s, Piero della Francesca wrote an extensive mathematical treatise, Trattato de Abaco, Dissertation on the Abacus, which he donated to a merchant in Sansepolcro, and for most of his life he worked on a textbook on proportion theory in which he proceeded from simple descriptions and geometric figures around surfaces and different planes, to then move on to increasingly complex descriptions of fixed, multidimensional structures, seen from a variety of points of view, to finally arrive at detailed calculations about the dimensions and relations of the human body. When Piero della Francesca became blind at the end of his life, he donated his two manuscripts – De quinque corporibus regularibus, On the Five Regular Bodies, and De prospectiva pingendi, On Perspective in Painting, to the son of his generous patron Federico da Montfeltro of Urbino of Urbino.
Who these men represent has been proposed several times. It was Kenneth Clark who in 1950 came up with a theory indicating that the Flagellation of Christ, just like the Arezzo frescoes, in a historical/legendary disguise represented a piece of extremely important, contemporary history. Clark linked the paintings to the fall of Constantinople and the preparations made by Pope Pius II for a crusade against the Turks. When the Flagellation was created, sometime in the 1460s, such a crusade was at the very centre of the political plans of the Italian small states’ and the German-Roman Empire, and not the least so for the intellectual condottiere Federico da Montefeltro, Urbino's prince and customer of the painting
Ginzburg's theory might be correct, though it appears as somewhat too speculative for my liking. I willingly admit´that the Flagellation of Christ may allude to crusader plans and that the background symbolizes Constantinople's suffering under the Turks, which Palaiologos was unable to prevent, though I am inclined to simply consider the people in the foreground to be an Italian prince and a Byzantine emperor, whose discussion is mediated by an angel symbolizing their Christian duty to reconquer Constantinople from the Muslims, and that the man in the middle is an angel, whose heavenly origin is demonstrated by the fact that he his barefoot, like most angels depicted by della Francesca, and there are quite a few. Additionally, the golden-haired figure bears no resemblance at all to Thomas Palaiologos, but with several of the angelic figures that appear in other della Francesca paintings.
The cathedral of Rimini, was renovated by Malatesta and in that connecton he had Leon Battista Alberti create a completely unique and revolutionary, classical façade. The religious building thus no longer had the character of a Christian church and was therefore called a “temple” instead of a “cathedral”. Of course, Malatesta's constant nemesis, Pius II, resented this and declared that the godless Malatesta had turned Rimini´s cathedral into a mausoleum and a memorial dedicated to himself.