Monday, July 29, 2013


C) Florentine Influences on Piero della Francesca's work

Brunelleschi's Hospital of the Innocents (Ospedale degli Innocenti) is begun in 1419; by the time Piero della Francesca comes to Florence in 1439, the building is complete except for the bas-reliefs meant for the roundels on the facade.


Certainly Piero is favorably impressed by Brunelleschi's ideas of one-point perspective and classical proportions for architecture, because when he comes to paint an Annunciation in the gable of an altarpiece for nuns in Perugia, at the convent of Sant'Antonio da Padova  in 1462, he uses one-point perspective in a dramatic way, and he imitates the columns, Corinthian capitals, and rounded arches he would have seen on the portico of Brunelleschi's Ospedale.  (The altarpiece is now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale dell'Umbria in Perugia.)While he could have looked at similar columnar progressions in San Lorenzo and for Santo Spirito, the columns in this Annunciation resemble most closely those of the Hospital.
For a considerably larger
Annunciation that Piero paints into the altar wall of his San Francesco cycle in Arezzo around 1455, he remembers earlier Florentine Annunciations, either painted or sculpted:
Piero's half-figure of God the Father sending down the dove of the Holy Spirit in his Arezzo Annunciation is very close to the figure of God in a Della Robbia Annunciation made for the church of the Innocenti and now in the cloister of the Innocenti. The Della Robbia may be dated after Piero left Florence, but early drawings and colored molds may have been viewable by Piero.(Ghiberti includes a half-God the Father in the sky in several of his East door panels, but the hand gesture is different.)

The most exquisite use of the Della Robbia image, though, shows up in Piero's Baptism (now in the  London National Gallery). 
The position of the dove above Christ is very much like the foreshortened dove hovering over Christ in Ghiberti's Florentine Baptistery panel from the North door of 1403-25:

But the color of the dove of the holy spirit, white against blue sky, must surely have been inspired by the Della Robbia dove in the Innocenti Annunciation or another earlier Madonna relief (in Peretola now, originally in Santa Maria Nuova, 1441).

Piero's bird is viewed slightly more head on, but the colors of stark white against deep blue pay homage to the colors of tin-glazed terracotta he would have seen in Florence. The spirit hovering over Christ reflects the spirit hovering over Piero's creative process. The beauty of the white flight in air holds captive the viewer of both scenes. As we watch, both birds suspend belief.

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