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Piero della Francesca

Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca

 Baptism of Christ
by Pierro della Francesca
1448-50. Tempera on panel,
167 x 116 cm
National Gallery, London

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Strongly influenced by the Florentine art of Donatello and Masaccio on his travels, history records nothing for centuries of Early Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesco (1416-1492) until his re-discovery in the 20th century. Piero della Francesca's first significant commission is The Baptism of Christ which was executed for the San Giovanni Chapel in the Pieve. This painting by Piero della Francesca is remarkable for its light source coming from above, suffusing the scene with delicate, luminous pastel shades. This illusionistic device by Piero della Francesca bathes the figures with light while casting soft shadows, rendering the appearance of solid three-dimensionality. The figures of Piero della Francesca are somewhat somber and wooden-like, but they are convincingly modeled.

Piero della Francesca's figure of Christ is surely inspired by Greco-Roman statuary and reliefs, probably Donatello's influence. The almost nude Christ figure is classically draped about the waist with soft folds of fabric as St. John the Baptist pours water over his head. Awaiting her baptism on the left, Piero della Francesca depicts a partially clothed female figure flanked by two clothed women in vibrant classical dress. On the right in the middle ground, Piero della Francesca explores deep space as he depicts another male figure who dons his garments while the River Jordan flows by him receding further into space. Piero della Francesca stops the recession into deep space with the hills off in the background. Piero della Francesca does not provide the viewer with a distant vista such as can be seen in Leonardo's Mona Lisa during the High Renaissance, but it is clear that he has progressed beyond the simple "stage-like" presentation of his predecessors.

Both Luca Signorelli and Pietro Perugino, Raphael Sanzio's teacher, are said to have been apprentices of Piero della Francesca.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian

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