Art History Lab

The Resurrection Rescued: How Piero della Francesca’s Masterpiece Survived WWII

Piero della Francesca: The Life and Legacy of a Renaissance Master

Piero della Francesca, born in 1412 in the town of Borgo Santo Sepolcro, was one of the most significant artists of the Italian Renaissance. Today, his work is celebrated for its precise geometry, luminous colors, and innovative use of linear perspective.

In this article, we will explore the life and legacy of Piero della Francesca, paying close attention to his childhood, early formative period, mature period, last years, as well as his influence on other artists and his legacy.


Piero della Francesca was born Piero di Benedetto de’ Franceschi to Romana di Perino da Monterchi and Antonio di Giovanni Anghiari. Borgo Santo Sepolcro was a small, provincial town, but it was not without cultural and intellectual stimulation.

Piero’s father, a tailor, also worked as a representative of the town in Florence, which allowed Piero to grow up in relative affluence and with close access to the art and culture of the city.

Early Formative Period

In his early years, Piero studied with local masters such as Domenico Veneziano, but it was his move to Florence that proved to be crucial in his artistic development. In Florence, Piero was exposed to the works of great artists such as Luca della Robbia, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, and Filippo Brunelleschi, whose mathematical and scientific approach to art had a significant impact on Piero’s work.

During this period, Piero learned to use the rules of linear perspective to give his paintings a sense of spatial depth and realism.

Mature Period

Piero’s mature period was characterized by his move to Sansepolcro, where he was commissioned to paint frescoes for the town’s cathedral. Piero’s reputation as a master of perspective and geometry soon spread, and he was hired by powerful patrons such as the Marchese Leonello d’Este in Ferrara and Pope Pius II.

Piero also worked for Duke Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino, whose court was a vibrant cultural center that attracted scholars, poets, and artists from all over Italy. Piero’s work during this period shows his mastery of depicting light and space, and his use of rich colors and precise lines.

Last Years

In Piero’s last years, he returned to Sansepolcro and worked on two major works: the Nativity, which is now in the National Gallery in London, and the Madonna with Child and Saints, which is housed in the Museo Civico in Sansepolcro. During this period, Piero also wrote two treatises: On Perspective in Painting and On the Five Regular Bodies.

These treatises, written in a concise and mathematical style, were intended for a select group of mathematicians, architects, and artists and are still studied today.

Legacy and Recognition

Piero della Francesca’s legacy and recognition as a master artist were not immediate. In fact, much of his work was not widely known until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today, his work is celebrated for its simplicity, precision, and beauty. The Frick Collection in New York housed several of his works, and Giorgio Vasari, the famous biographer of Renaissance artists, immortalized Piero in his masterpiece, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.

Influence on Other Artists

Piero della Francesca’s influence on other artists was profound, though not always direct. Many artists of the High Renaissance, such as Perugino, Luca Signorelli, and Raphael, were influenced by his use of perspective, geometric forms, and delicate color.

Later artists, such as Czanne, Seurat, Balthus, De Chirico, and others, were inspired by his modernism, his use of precise lines, and his unique approach to painting. In conclusion, Piero della Francesca was one of the most innovative and influential artists of the Italian Renaissance.

His work, characterized by its precision, luminosity, and innovative use of perspective, was ahead of its time and has had an enduring influence on subsequent generations of artists. By exploring his life and legacy, we can better understand the evolution of Western art and appreciate the masterful achievements of a truly unique Renaissance master.

Piero della Francescas Art Style and Notable Paintings

Piero della Francesca was a revolutionary artist who had a significant impact on Renaissance art and the emergence of the modern world. Through his use of mathematics, geometry, and perspective, he introduced order, logic, and clarity to art that had been previously considered chaotic and ornamental.

In this article, we will explore Piero della Francesca’s art style and several notable paintings that showcase his unique style and mastery of perspective.

Use of Mathematics and Geometry

Piero della Francesca’s use of mathematics and geometry was fundamental to his art style. He viewed painting as a mathematical problem to be solved and believed that the rules of linear perspective, proportion, and geometry could be used to create realistic and harmonious compositions.

His interest in geometry is evident in the way he divides his canvases into precise and balanced modules, achieved by using a grid system that dictated the placement of objects, figures, and buildings. In works such as “The

Resurrection”, which is a fresco in the Church of Sansepolcro, Piero employs the rules of perspective to create the illusion of spatial depth and realism.

He also uses geometry to create a sense of balance and symmetry that brings harmony to the composition.

Influences from Florence and Flemish Art

While Piero della Francesca was highly influenced by the rules of linear perspective and geometry that were developed in Florence, he was also influenced by Flemish art and the works of Roger Van der Weyden. In works such as “Polyptych of the Misericordia,” Piero follows the Flemish tradition of emphasizing the viewpoint and creating a sense of movement that draws the viewer into the painting.

He also uses bright colors, delicate details, and realistic expressions to create an emotional impact on the viewer.

Realism and Humanism

Piero della Francesca’s art is celebrated for its realism and humanism. In his works, he portrays human figures with a remarkable degree of realism, highlighting their emotions and personalities.

In “The

Resurrection,” the figures are depicted with detailed muscular anatomy, realistic faces, and pained expressions, as they struggle to understand the miraculous event that is taking place before them. Similarly, in “

The Nativity,” Piero portrays the emotional expressions of the figures and creates an intimate and tender scene that touches the viewers’ hearts.

Notable Piero della Francesca Paintings

Polyptych of the Misericordia

The Polyptych of the Misericordia is one of Piero della Francesca’s most famous works, and it is housed in the Museo Civico in Sansepolcro. It is a massive altarpiece that measures over five meters in height and consists of a central panel with the Virgin and Child and two side panels with saints.

The painting showcases Piero’s mastery of composition, proportion, and spatial depth. It also demonstrates his interest in the divine and the human, as he portrays the figures with remarkable realism and attention to detail.



Resurrection” is a fresco in the Church of Sansepolcro, and it is considered one of Piero della Francesca’s masterpieces. It depicts the miraculous event of Christ’s resurrection, with the figure of Christ rising triumphantly from the tomb while the soldiers around him sleep.

The painting showcases Piero’s unique use of linear perspective, geometric forms, and realistic detail. Through his use of light and shadow, Piero creates an otherworldly, almost mystical ambiance, which heightens the drama and emotional impact of the painting.


Hercules” is a fresco in the Palazzo della Signoria in Arezzo. It depicts the legendary hero

Hercules surrounded by his twelve labors.

The painting showcases Piero’s ability to create dramatic compositions and his use of vivid colors and detailed facial expressions. The stonework and monumental scale of the painting give it a sense of grandeur and power.

The Nativity

The Nativity” is an oil painting on panel that measures approximately 174 by 176 centimeters, and is housed in the National Gallery in London. It depicts the birth of Christ, with Mary and Joseph attending to him while angels and shepherds look on.

The painting showcases Piero’s ability to create an intimate and emotional scene while still adhering to the rules of perspective and geometry. The figures are portrayed with remarkable realism and attention to detail, and their facial expressions evoke a range of emotions.

Diptych of the Count and Countess of Urbino


Diptych of the Count and Countess of Urbino is an oil painting on panel that consists of two portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza. The painting showcases Piero’s ability to create realistic portraits that accurately depict the personalities and characteristics of his subjects.

The use of profile portraits, lavish clothing, and intricate details all contribute to the sense of luxury and aristocratic refinement.

Madonna di Senigallia


Madonna di Senigallia is an oil painting on panel that measures approximately 58 by 81 centimeters and is housed in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino. It depicts the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, with two angels looking on.

The painting showcases Piero’s ability to create delicate and emotive figures while still adhering to the rules of perspective and geometry. The figures are portrayed with remarkable realism and deep emotional expression, and the use of vibrant colors adds a sense of glory and joy to the image.

In conclusion, Piero della Francesca’s art style is characterized by his unique use of mathematics, geometry, perspective, and realism. Through his careful attention to detail, balanced composition, and emotional expression, he created paintings that were both beautiful and meaningful.

His works continue to inspire and influence artists to this day, and his mastery of his craft has earned him a place in the pantheon of Renaissance masters. Piero della Francesca’s Mathematical Work and Artistic Style

Piero della Francesca was not only a renowned artist but also a mathematician.

His artistic style was deeply rooted in mathematics, geometry, and perspective, which allowed him to create paintings that were not only visually stunning but also harmonious and balanced. In this article, we will delve into Piero della Francesca’s mathematical work and explore his artistic style in detail.

Mathematics in Della Francesca’s Paintings

Piero della Francesca’s paintings were imbued with mathematics and geometry. He believed that these disciplines were essential in achieving perfect composition, proportion, and perspective.

By using the grid system, Piero divided his canvases into precise modules, allowing him to meticulously plan the placement of objects, figures, and buildings. This attention to mathematical precision can be seen in works like “The Baptism of Christ” and “The Flagellation of Christ,” where the figures and architectural elements are perfectly aligned and measured.

Piero’s use of mathematics and geometry not only added a sense of order and structure to his compositions but also imbued his paintings with a deep sense of visual harmony.

Treatises on Mathematics

In addition to his artistic pursuits, Piero della Francesca also wrote several treatises on mathematics. His most famous work is “On Perspective in Painting,” which explores the rules and techniques of linear perspective.

In this treatise, Piero delves into the mathematical principles behind creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. He explains how to determine the vanishing point, establish the horizon line, and calculate the correct proportions, all of which were crucial in achieving accurate and convincing perspective in his paintings.

Piero also wrote treatises on other branches of mathematics, including algebra, arithmetic, and solid geometry. While these treatises were not as widely known or influential as his work on perspective, they demonstrate Piero’s deep understanding and appreciation for the mathematical sciences.

His interest in mathematics extended beyond its practical applications in art, as he saw mathematics as a universal language that could uncover the underlying truths of the natural world.

Artistic Style and Technique

Piero della Francesca’s artistic style was characterized by a meticulous attention to detail, a precise use of perspective, and a mastery of composition. His paintings often feature carefully arranged figures in meticulously constructed spaces that adhere to the principles of linear perspective.

This adherence to mathematical principles, combined with his use of bold colors and delicate brushwork, created a unique visual language. Piero’s technical skills were particularly evident in his use of light and shadow, which added depth and realism to his paintings.

He had a keen understanding of how light interacts with different surfaces, and he carefully captured the way it diffuses, reflects, and casts shadows. This attention to light contributes to the overall sense of realism in his works, as seen in “The

Resurrection,” where the interplay of light and shadow on the figures’ faces creates a heightened emotional drama.

Realistic and Psychological Representation

Piero della Francesca’s paintings were not only known for their technical brilliance but also for their realistic and psychological representation of the human figure. In works like “The Last Supper,” Piero depicts the disciples with distinctive facial features and individualized expressions, bringing them to life as real people with complex emotions and thoughts.

This attention to psychological detail creates a sense of authenticity and invites viewers to engage with the narrative on a deeper level. Piero’s ability to capture the humanity and psychological depth of his subjects is even more evident in “The

Resurrection.” The figures in this painting are not depicted as idealized beings but as ordinary people reacting to an extraordinary event.

Piero’s ability to convey the confusion, awe, and disbelief on the faces of the soldiers and spectators adds a layer of depth and complexity to the narrative, making the painting more relatable and emotionally resonant.

Appreciation and Interpretation

The mathematical precision and psychological depth in Piero della Francesca’s works have made them the subject of admiration and interpretation throughout the centuries. Artists, scholars, and art enthusiasts have praised his innovative approach to composition, perspective, and realism.

His use of mathematics has been studied and admired by generations of mathematicians and scientists, who recognize the impact of his works on the development of perspective theory. Interpretations of Piero’s paintings often focus on the deeper meanings and symbolism embedded within the precision of his artistic technique.

“The Last Supper,” for example, has been analyzed for its depiction of the momentous event and the complex emotions of the disciples. “The

Resurrection” has been interpreted as a profound meditation on faith and redemption, with the figures representing the doubts and uncertainties that can accompany moments of profound revelation.

In conclusion, Piero della Francesca’s artistic style was deeply influenced by mathematics, geometry, and perspective. His meticulous attention to detail, precise composition, and use of mathematical principles created a unique visual language that emphasized harmony, balance, and realism.

Through his treatises on mathematics and his innovative use of perspective, Piero extended his influence beyond the realms of art, leaving a lasting legacy as both an artist and a mathematician. His work continues to captivate and inspire audiences, inviting us to explore the hidden connections between art and mathematics.

How One of Piero della Francesca’s Paintings Survived the War and

Recommended Reading

During times of conflict and war, art and cultural heritage often find themselves in great peril. The works of great artists like Piero della Francesca are no exception, as they become targets or casualties of destruction.

However, amidst the chaos and destruction of World War II, one of Piero della Francesca’s most important works miraculously survived, thanks to the heroic efforts of an art lover named Tony Clarke. In this article, we will explore Clarke’s role in saving the artwork and the importance of the surviving mural, “The

Resurrection,” in a small Tuscan village.

Tony Clarke’s Role in Saving Artwork

As World War II ravaged Europe, many cultural treasures were at risk of being destroyed forever. In Sansepolcro, a small Tuscan village where “The

Resurrection” mural by Piero della Francesca was located, the threat of damage or theft was very real.

However, one man, Tony Clarke, recognized the significance of the artwork and took extraordinary measures to protect it. Clarke, an art lover and scholar, heard of the impending danger and sprung into action.

He organized a group of local villagers, including farmers, priests, and shopkeepers, to carefully dismantle and hide the mural. The process was painstaking and required great care to ensure that the fragile artwork was not damaged during removal.

Under the cover of darkness, Clarke and his team removed each section of the mural and hid them in various secret locations throughout the village. By distributing the pieces, they reduced the risk of losing the entire artwork should any single hiding place be discovered by enemy forces.

This audacious rescue operation ensured that “The

Resurrection” survived the war and remained intact for future generations to appreciate. Importance of “The

Resurrection” Mural


Resurrection” mural is considered one of Piero della Francesca’s masterpieces and holds great historical and artistic importance.

It depicts Christ rising from the dead, surrounded by soldiers who bear witness to the miraculous event. The work is celebrated for its harmonious composition, masterful use of perspective, and emotional depth.

It is believed to be a reflection of Piero’s own exploration of the mathematical and philosophical concepts of resurrection, as well as an expression of his deep spirituality. Furthermore, “The

Resurrection” is significant for its connection to the town of Sansepolcro.

The mural, originally located in the town’s Civic Museum, became an integral part of the cultural and historical fabric of the community. It was viewed as a symbol of hope and resilience during the dark days of the war, a testament to the endurance of art and the human spirit.

The survival of “The

Resurrection” mural is a testament to the bravery and determination of Tony Clarke and the villagers of Sansepolcro. Their actions ensured the preservation of a masterpiece that continues to inspire and captivate audiences today.

Recommended Reading

For those interested in delving deeper into the life and works of Piero della Francesca, there are several recommended books that offer valuable insights and analysis. Ana Maetzke’s book, “Piero della Francesca” (2013), provides a comprehensive overview of Piero’s art, exploring both his painting and his treatises on mathematics.

The book delves into Piero’s techniques, influences, and the significance of his works within the context of the Renaissance. Maetzke’s thorough research and engaging writing style make this book an essential read for art enthusiasts and scholars alike.

Another recommended book is “Piero della Francesca and the Invention of the Artist” (2021) by Machtelt Brggen Israls. Drawing on recent scholarship, Israls explores the socio-political and cultural context in which Piero lived and worked.

The book delves into the role of artistic patronage, Piero’s interactions with his contemporaries, and his impact on the development of artistic identity. Israls’ meticulous research and thought-provoking analysis shed new light on the life and legacy of Piero della Francesca.

These books offer valuable insights and interpretations that deepen our understanding and appreciation of Piero della Francesca’s art. They are essential additions to any art lover’s library and provide a rich exploration of the works of this Renaissance master.

In conclusion, the heroic actions of Tony Clarke and the villagers of Sansepolcro ensured the survival of Piero della Francesca’s masterpiece, “The

Resurrection,” during World War II. The importance of this mural, both artistically and historically, cannot be overstated.

It serves as a testament to human resilience, the enduring power of art, and the importance of protecting cultural heritage. Furthermore, recommended books such as Ana Maetzke’s “Piero della Francesca” and Machtelt Brggen Israls’ “Piero della Francesca and the Invention of the Artist” offer valuable insights and analysis for those interested in delving deeper into the life and works of this remarkable Renaissance artist.

In conclusion, the heroism of Tony Clarke and the villagers of Sansepolcro in safeguarding Piero della Francesca’s “The

Resurrection” mural during World War II stands as a testament to the enduring power of art and the resilience of the human spirit. The survival of this masterpiece highlights its historical and artistic significance, showcasing Piero’s mastery of composition, perspective, and emotional depth.

Moreover, recommended books such as Ana Maetzke’s “Piero della Francesca” and Machtelt Brggen Israls’ “Piero della Francesca and the Invention of the Artist” provide valuable insights into the life and works of this Renaissance master. This article reminds us of the importance of protecting cultural heritage and the profound impact that art can have, even in the face of adversity.

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