the Resurrected Christ, a sturdy stevedore

From Bernard Berenson’s Piero Della Francesca or: The Ineloquent in Art (pages 3-5):

Piero della Francesca seems to have been opposed to the manifestation of feeling, and ready to go to any length to avoid it.  He hesitated to represent the reaction which even an inanimate object would have when subjected to force, the rebound of a log, for instance, when struck by an axe.
In the Borgo San Sepolcro fresco the Resurrected Christ, a sturdy stevedore like the Baptist in the early polyptych of the same little town, or the Christ in the London Baptism, looks straight ahead of him, dazed and as if waking from a refreshing sleep.  It would take great imaginative power to discover in the two other figures just mentioned the faintest correspondence between looks and function.  No Holy Spirit could penetrate the head of the grim athlete standing in mid-stream of Jordan.  Three Angels, the comeliest figures Piero ever painted, stand by, but it is not certain that any of them is participating.

One is almost compelled to conclude that Piero was not interested in human beings as living animals, sentient and acting.  For him they were existences in three dimensions whom perchance he would have gladly exchanged for pillars and arches, capitals, entablatures, and facets of walls.


Piero Della Francesca’s Resurrection


On my mind today because I was reminded of a delightfully Plutarchean anecdote about this work’s continued existence – that an American pilot in WW2 had been dispatched with orders to bomb Sansepolcro but along the way the target name formed into a hazy memory of a professor’s lecture on a great art treasure located there.  Humanistic education saved the day and he dropped the bombs elsewhere.

My own anecdote – because all such things blend – a couple of years ago my now-wife and I were driving from Ravenna to Montepulciano with a planned stop in Sansepolcro for me to complete another portion of the Piero Della Francesca trail (we had been to Arezzo two years earlier).  We managed the first leg from Ravenna fine but on the second segment I grew too bold in navigation and opted to get off the SS3 around Trestina and cross the Apennines directly instead of following the highway the longer way around the northern rim of Lake Trasimene.  The resulting route is the squiggly section pictured below – done in light rain on mostly single lane roads and barely topping 20mph through most sections.  But at least there was a Montepulciano bakery apricot tart was waiting at the end.