Patti Smith sings about Piero della Francesca in “Constantine’s Dream”. Cezanne, Seurat, De Chirico, Morandi, Guston and Hockney all found inspiration in Piero’s masterpieces. Camus sees the great artist as the first existentialist; Pasolini finds in him Marxist and homoerotic ideas; Stendhal practically gave himself a syndrome because of Piero’s work. In The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Kip and Hana have an epiphany in front of “The History of the True Cross” fresco cycle.
Piero della Francesca’s art is as much a mirror as a shadow, reflecting complex thoughts, provoking creativity and eluding clear definition. His work shows a devotion to and understanding of geometry: shape and form illustrate spiritual mysteries. His images speak to that which is both calculable and incalculable. This complex, multiple approach is at the heart of a conceptual exhibit now open to the public in a new impressive space in Arezzo.
The ample, airy space of Galleria Bruschi, the location for “The Ages of Gold: Reflections of Piero della Francesca”, is as important as the works on show. Recently renovated (it was once a glum warren of booths for antique dealers) and owned by the Fondazione Ivan Bruschi, the gallery is situated next door to the Church of San Francesco. As a matter of fact, “The Legend of the True Cross” fresco series was painted by Piero on what is literally a shared wall. Seen through this lens, the space and the inaugural exhibit represent a breakthrough experience for the city of Arezzo, for art lovers generally and for Piero connoisseurs specifically.
The exhibit itself is structured around three contemporary explorations of Piero della Francesca’s art. Each one could be an exhibit in its own right. Together, they are a kaleidoscopic and refractory experience.
On view in the hall leading to the main space are six, exciting, contemporary works by Francesco Pignatelli (born in Milan, 1971). By inverting the colors of hi-resolution photographic negatives of Piero’s work, Pignatelli calls into question dry, rote, academic interpretations of the Renaissance artist. The large-scale (250cm x 150cm) pieces were created between 2004 and 2009.
In the main exposition space are 12 illuminated glass cases holding precious jewels crafted by master goldsmith
Giulio Manfredi. Six are exact recreations of jewels that appear in della Francesca’s work and six are original pieces inspired by the geometry and design of the Aretine artist, originally created for “Through Piero’s Eyes: Clothing and Jewelry in the Work of Piero della Francesca” on the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death in 1992.
And, finally, extending up and across 190 square meters of the open space is an innovative 3-D video mapping that enlarges elements of Piero’s work to up to 100 times their original size. Created by Massimo Chimenti of Culturanuova, the impressive visual experience includes an original score created by Davide Andreoni and Francesco Chimenti.
The Splendor of Gold
Each of these three elements could be an independent exhibit. United, they are explosive. Information, visual explanations, references, textures, colors, and sounds build up in layers. Visitors who know Piero’s work will appreciate it deeply. Non-experts will be amazed and will garner a valuable and hi-tech understanding of the artist.
The visual wall mapping is divided into five themes: Divine Proportion, which explores Piero’s understanding of geometry; God in Nature shows how the artist uses plant life; Divine Beauty looks at the faces and expressions of the female figures; God in Man revels in the study of the male figure, and In Hoc Signo Vinces explores Piero’s adoration of the Cross as shape, object and symbol.
Each of the five themes employs enlarged hi-resolution details from Piero della Francesca’s major works, including the Baptism of Christ from the National Gallery in London, the Holy Conversation from the Pinacoteca di Brera, the Madonna of Senigallia from the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, the Maddalena from the Duomo of Arezzo, the Resurrection and the Madonna of Mercy from the Museo Civico in Sansepolcro and, obviously, The Legend of the True Cross from the church next door. Each of the five themes incorporates one or more of Manfredi’s jewels into the narrative by examining the shapes, colors, lights, dimensions, perspective and geometric rigor of the master’s work.
At the entrance to the main hall is also an interactive touch-screen computer that allows visitors, docents and teachers to explore details of Piero’s work, and use it in their teaching.
If you nurture even a vague interest in art history, you will be astounded by this exhibit. If you’re a Piero expert or academic, you will be inspired to look at his work—and your understanding of it—in a new light.
Galleria Ivan Bruschi
Piazza San Francesco 1, Arezzo
Open 7 days a week 10am–7pm
Adults: 10 euro
Ages 18–26, over 65, FAI members, COOP members, Touring Club members: 8 euro
Ages 6–18, groups of 10 of less than 10 people, schools, universities: 5 euro
Groups over 20 people: 3 euro
Children under 6, disabled visitors and assistants, teachers with a group of students, journalists with accreditation: free
Saturdays and Sundays of the Antique Fair: 6 euro