Renaissance Art

Crucifixion by Piero della Francesca at the Frick is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: Piero della Francesca Crosses Togas and Turbans.

Piero della Francesca painted this little Crucifixion in his hometown of Borgo San Sepolcro in the later 1460s for the base of his great St. Augustine Altarpiece, six of whose panels are now on view at the Frick Collection in New York – and are the subject of this week’s Daily Pics.

This painting is a great illustration of some of the ideas of the art historian Alexander Nagel, who has argued that the Renaissance cultivated a productive confusion between the Islamic culture of 15th-century Palestine and the classical culture of the Holy Land in the time of Christ. Here, the Roman centurion bearing the shield marked S.P.Q.R. (senatus populusque romanorum - the senate and people of Rome) also has a Muslim crescent moon on his banner; the old soldier throwing dice for Christ’s robe wears Roman body armor but also a Muslim helmet, while like his fellows he is armed with an eastern scimitar. These details situate the scene in time, but also in place, eliding any conflict between the two. It’s a convincing and perfectly efficient system, and doesn’t have to be seen as inferior to modern ideas of historical verisimilitude.

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