Piero della Francesca, rediscovered by critics in relatively recent times, is an enigmatic and fascinating painter who lived in the fifteenth century. His ability to treat pictorial matter and geometric theory the same way is a true synthesis of humanism. The Renaissance is indebted by Piero della Francesca due to one of his highest concepts: the rational synthesis between man and God, between natural phenomena and mathematical rules. Precisely for this reason the painting called Madonna del Parto in Monterchi is an absolute masterpiece.
Piero della Francesca, famous painter and mathematician, protagonist of the Renaissance, was born in Sansepolcro in the second decade of the fifteenth century. His exact date of birth is not the only uncertainty concerning the life and work of this supreme artist, characterized by a notable lack of documentation. This naturally opens up other questions regarding the dating of his works, some of which very controversial, and on his artistic formation. Recent studies on the painter’s family, however, place his date of birth in 1412.
We believe that the first master of Piero was Antonio d’Anghiari, a painter active in Sansepolcro who collaborated with Pieroseveral times starting from 1430. Some scholars they avoid this hypothesis, since Sansepolcro from the artistic point of view was moved to Siena and nearby Umbria, while Piero’s early works show a profound knowledge of Florentine art of the early fifteenth century. This suggests a stay in Florence prior to that of 1439, certain and documented, because he collaborated with Domenico Veneziano in making of the frescoes of Sant’Egidio. Surely the experience with the Veneziano marks an important turning point in the artistic formation of Piero, who in Florence had the opportunity to view the masterpieces of Masaccio and Donatello but also of the sumptuous and colorful court of the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos
, in the city for the Council, whose memory re-emerges in Piero della Francesca masterpieces in Arezzo. In 1442 Piero is again in Sansepolcro and is a member of the public council. The commission of the Polyptych of Mercy dates back to 1445, carried out in a discontinuous way for over 15 years. The cause of this delay are the many trips that the artist makes, staying in the main courts of northern-central Italy. There are many uncertainties regarding his trips, too. We can track him down in Ferrara, guest of Lionello d’Este, engaged in frescoes that were lost but left their mark in the local pictorial school.
It is certain that in FerraraPiero got to know the Flemish art, especially Rogier Van Der Weyden (Flemish painter, 1399-1464). In 1451 he was in Rimini at the court of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, of whom he painted a fresco that portrays him in adoration inside the Tempio Malatestiano renewed in Renaissance style by Leon Battista Alberti, which probably encouraged Piero’s research and studies on perspective and proportion. Later Piero returns to his native land and around 1452 takes the place of the Florentine Bicci di Lorenzo and paints the fresco cycle Legend of the True Cross in San Francesco Church in Arezzo.
The construction of the Madonna del Parto in Monterchi dates back to the same period. In 1458 the painter was in Rome, called by Pope Pius II. He painted the frescoes in the Apostolic Palace, later destroyed to make roomfor the Stanze di Raffaello and in Santa Maria Maggiore, where a figure painted by the helpers is preserved, but nothing atributed to Piero himself. In 1467 he made the Polittico di Sant’Antonio in Perugia, today in the National Gallery of Umbria, and two years later we find him in Urbino, at the court of Federico da Montefeltro, where he stayed several times between 1469 and 1472. Some of Piero’s most famous works where the use of light is accompanied by the geometry of the spaces and figures go back to this period, such as the Flagellation, the Madonna of Senigallia and the Sacred Conversation, later known as the Pala di Brera. The fervent intellectual environment of the court gave a significant impulse to Piero, who dedicated himself to the drafting of some theoretical treatises such as the Abaco Treaty, the Libellus de Quinque Corporibus Regolaribus and the De Prospectiva Pingendi. In the last years of his life he was struck by blindness, which prevented him from painting and completing his last work, the Nativity, today in London. He died in Sansepolcro on October 12, 1492. A coincidence, on the same day of the same year, Christopher Columbus will discover the New World.