Arezzo, Piero della Francesca, and the Legend of The True Cross
One of the greatest Renaissance paintings
The Bacci Chapel in the Basilica of San Francesco houses the fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross, the masterpiece thatPiero della Francesca painted for the Franciscan church between around 1452 and 1466. The subject of the cycle is taken from the Legenda Aurea written by Jacopo da Varazze in the 13th century.
In 1447, the Bacci family from Arezzo employed the painter Bicci di Lorenzo to decorate the Capella Maggiore of the San Lorenzo Basilica, which was at the time under the family’s control. However by the time of Bicci di Lorenzo's death in 1452, it was only partly finished. So Piero della Francesca was employed to continued Bicci's work, which he finally completed in 1466. Piero did not paint the story chronologically but preferred to create symmetries between the scenes instead. On two of the walls (facing one another), there is an open-air scene. In the centre there is a court scene, and at the bottom, a battle scene.
The dominating theme is the triumph of the cross which, starting from the death of Adam, guides Man to salvation. Interestingly, Piero della Francesca introduced many innovations with respect to the traditional iconography. He also uses two scenes that are rarely depicted – The Meeting between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and The Annunciation.
The renowned Giorgio Vasari, from Arezzo, wrote about the fresco in his famous book The Lives of the Artists (1568): “In the work, there are stories of the cross… and there are many beautiful considerations and exultations to be made about this work, like the vivid and ancient depictions of nature ... a villager who is holding himself up with a spade…but above all, it is the way in which he painted the night and the angel that is flying down to the pavilion to give Constantine the sign of victory…the whole work can be called beautiful and too excellent…”
The frescoes in Arezzo were fully restored in the 1990s.