Piero Della Francesca and the Use of Geometry in His Art

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Dawn P. Styers
October 1, 2011

Piero della Francesca and the use of geometry in his art This paper takes a look at the art work of Piero della Francesca and, in particular, the clever use of geometry in his work; there will be a diagram illustrating this feature of his work at the end of this essay. To begin, the paper will explore one of the geometric proofs worked out in art by Piero and, in the process of doing so, will capture his exquisite command of geometry as geometry is expressed – or can be expressed – in art. By looking at some of Piero’s most noteworthy works, we also can see the skilful geometry behind them. For instance, the Flagellation of Christ is characterized by the fact that the frame is a root-two rectangle; significantly, Piero manages to ensure that Christ’s head is at the center of the original square, which requires a considerable amount of geometric know-how, as we shall see. In another great work, Piero uses the central vertical and horizontal zones to symbolically reference the resurrection of Christ and also his masterful place in the hierarchy that distinguishes God from Man. Finally, Bussagli presents a sophisticated analysis of Piero’s, Baptism of Christ that reveals the extent to which the man employed different axes in order to create works that reinforced the Trinitarian message of the scriptures. Overall, his work is a compelling display of how the best painting inevitably requires more than a little mathematics.

Piero is noteworthy for us today because he was keen to use perspective painting in his artwork. He offered the world his treatise on perspective painting entitled, De Prospectiva Pingendi (On the perspective for painting). The series of perspective problems posed and solved builds from the simple to the complex: in Book I, Piero introduces the idea that the apparent size of the object is its angle subtended at the eye; he refers to Euclid’s Elements Books I and VI (and to Euclid’s Optics) and, in...
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