The Art by Piero della Francesca among Arezzo, Sansepolcro and Monterchi

Art has a special relationship with Arezzo. Land of masterpieces and cradle of great painters, sculptors and architects, luck kissed this city and its valleys. A destiny that is a gift for Arezzo and for those who, like you, have come here to discover amazing treasures.

Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Masaccio, Giorgio Vasari: for centuries the works signed by these giants of art history have resisted the wear and tear of time and accidental damage as if their incomparable beauty were an elixir of eternal youth. 

In Search of Piero in the Bacci Chapel 

Who do you think of among the famous people who were born around here? Among all there is one thanks to whom Arezzo and Valtiberina have always been a must for art lovers.

He is a genius of the Renaissance and his frescoes attract thousands of visitors every year. It is he,  Piero della Francesca.

Your tour on the traces of Piero della Francesca begins from the place symbolic of his precious legacy that the master left in the heart of Arezzo. The address is 1 Saint Francis Square. You are in front of the Basilica of Saint Francis, built during the Fourteenth century in light Gothic style. 

Enter the church and go all the way down the aisle. Behind the altar is the Bacci Chapel, which takes its name from the family of patrons, rich merchants from Arezzo.

Focus on the combination of the beautiful crucifix hanging from the ceiling (whose author is uncertain) and the cycle of frescoes by Piero. A suffering Christ framed in an incredibly suggestive art frame. Are you ready to be conquered by the Legend of the True Cross?

What do we have to know about the Legend of the True Cross

Your journey in the footsteps of Piero della Francesca begins in front of the Legend of the True Cross, the cycle of frescoes of the Basilica of Saint Francis. The master of Sansepolcro painted it between 1452 and 1466, inspired by the Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographic biographies written by the Dominican friar Jacopo da Varagine in the Thirteenth century. 

One of the most interesting aspects of this work is the idea behind the narrative. Indeed, Piero did not build the pictorial representation of the Legend of the True Cross on one or more characters from the Bible or history. The frescoes in the Bacci Chapel reproduce outdoor, court and battle scenes in which the real protagonist is the wood of the cross of Jesus. The Sacred Tree that gives life back. 

To follow the story you cannot rely on the chronological order of the sequences. Piero preferred to sacrifice “legibility” to the advantage of symmetry, placing the squares on three distinct levels. A very modern idea, don’t you think?

The elegance of the lines, the drapery and the movements treated in detail, the mastery of light and color combine in an exciting show. Contemplating the Legend of the True Cross, let yourself be guided on a timeless journey through ancient stories, religious beliefs and suggestions of the past 

Do you want to know a couple of secrets?

Two curiosities about the frescoes of the Legend. Turn to the left wall of the Bacci Chapel and observe the fresco on the discovery of the crosses of Christ and thieves. The city in the background – in theory Jerusalem – looks very much like Arezzo, with the unmistakable profile of the Cathedral.

In addition, the fresco illustrating the encounter between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba contains an alleged self-portrait by Piero. It should be the man in the black hat looking straight at you to the left of the scene.

the Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca
One of the most interesting aspects of the Legend of the True Cross is the idea behind the narrative.

Sansepolcro, Land of Piero

The second part of your full immersion in the art of Piero della Francesca takes place in Valtiberina. We start from Sansepolcro, also known in the area as the Borgo. You are in the birthplace of Piero: the Civic Museum and the house of Piero della Francesca are the unmissable stops of your visit.

That Palace in the Heart of  Sansepolcro

A three-story building in 71 via Niccolò Aggiunti  is the only example of the genius of the famous painter applied to architecture. Piero, who came to light there, once he became an established artist decided to completely restructure it. What you see today is the result of that surgery.

The birth-house of Piero is the headquarters of the Fondation Piero della Francesca. You can spend quality time in the small museum and follow interesting interactive paths housed inside the building.

Did you know that Piero was a mathematician too? Whatever the answer, here you will deepen your knowledge of the illustrious former owner of the house along with that of other two brainiacs: Leonardo da Vinci and Luca Pacioli.

The Polyptych of Mercy and the Resurrection, the masterpieces of the Civic Museum

Not far from the birthplace of Piero there is the Civic Museum, which preserves two works of art of inestimable value. Buy your entrance ticket and forget the concept of haste. Piero deserves all the time it takes to steal your heart permanently.

The Polyptych of Mercy is the result of one of the first tasks entrusted to Piero for Sansepolcro. It seems that he delivered it to the client, the local Brotherhood of Mercy, with “just” fifteen years of delay. 

Its structure resembles a bit of a puzzle because it consists of five large panels, a predella and eleven tablets. This painting was transferred several times before arriving in the room of the Civic Museum dedicated to it.

The solemn expression of Mary’s face has a magnetic fascination. Be captivated by the golden expanse of the background and the iconographic power of the protection of the mantle, which here finds one of its most successful representations.

It seems that Piero della Francesca had a sort of fixation for self-portraits. There are those who have speculated that he has also painted one here (it would be the person on the right, who looks at the Virgin with his face almost frontal to the observer). And perhaps for the faithful in prayer the artist took inspiration from the appearance of his family members. 

The Resurrection, the other masterpiece preserved here awaits you in the Hall of Audience. Even if I had  posted a few pictures on the web, seeing it live will be something else entirely.

The first figure that will strike you will be that of the Savior. Jesus comes out of the tomb and holds in his hand a banner with the Cross of Saint George, the sign of the crusaders. Christ divides the background in two, where an allegory of the cycle of life finds its space. Four Roman soldiers sleep at his feet. Guess who is the guy with the helmet off resting on his grave? 

The red, green and brown of the military clothes guide your gaze with a harmonious alternation. Note the columns, the architrave and the painted base that frame the fresco and the meticulous details with which the author made the hair, armor and clothes of the characters.

The restoration of the Resurrection ended in 2018. The Christ of the work, defined by the English writer Aldous Huxley as the most beautiful painting in the world, is included in the coat of arms of the City of Sansepolcro.

Nothing strange if you feel a bit ‘dazzled by so much splendor, but you miss the last, fantastic stage of the tour themed Piero della Francesca.

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca
The Resurrection is a masterpiece preserved in Sansepolcro Civic Museum.

The Madonna del Parto, pride of  Monterchi

In Valtiberina there is a small village twisted on itself. It is Monterchi, village of the Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca.

The painter from Sansepolcro made this fresco in the Church of Santa Maria in Momentana, in which rituals related to fertility were practiced since ancient times. It is only a quarter of an hour walk from the museum – once an elementary school – where you can admire it today.

You will be interested to know that Piero’s mother was originally from Monterchi. That the painter was inspired by her for the features of the pregnant Virgin?

Enter the room of the Madonna del Parto. The caress on the belly of Mary is one of the most enchanting gestures you have ever seen. You will be hypnotized by the expression of the Blessed Virgin, a mixture of modesty, awareness, sacredness and tenderness, indefinable but very powerful.

The canopy, the symmetrical and mirror angels, the chromatic alternation, the refinement of the design are just some pieces that make up the mosaic of this extraordinary work. You put the emotion in it.

Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca
Enter the room of the Madonna del Parto. The caress on the belly of Mary is one of the most enchanting gestures you have ever seen.