Piero della Francesca (1415 – 1492) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. His paintings are characterized by its serene humanism, use of geometric forms and perspective. To contemporaries, he was also known as a mathematician and a geometer. According to historical records, he is one of the great ancestors of the Noble De Bacci Family.
In ‘La Flagellation’, Piero depicts Giovanni Bacci, a hitherto somewhat unnoticed humanist from Arezzo, who is, interestingly, another ancestor of Noble De Bacci Family. This painting is considered one of the art history’s absolute masterpieces and among the most mysterious of all times. Some of its secrets we will attempt to reveal below.
This work, datable to 1459, recalls the loss of Buonconte da Montefeltro, Lord Urbino’s son, educated and virtuous, portrayed as the barefooted blond in the foreground, who died from the plague in 1458 at only 17 years of age.
To his left, is an Arezzo native, Giovanni Bacci, recognized as the person who commissioned the painting. After a careful investigation, we may suggest the solution to the enigma of Piero lies in the link of the painter through one of his patrons, Giovanni Bacci, to the theological and political battles of the time.
The particular context was the advance of the Ottomans on Constantinople and the 1438-1439 Florence-Ferrara General Council. The agenda of this council was recovering the bridge between Eastern and Western Churches, a Byzantine strategy to obtain more aid from the West in the face of threat from the Middle East.
The bearded man’s face is that of Cardinal Bessarion, godfather of the deceased Buonconte.
In the background, Pilate, seated and identified with the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, is considered an accomplice of the Turk standing with his back turned, who commands the flagellation of Christ, a symbol of suffering for Eastern Christians.
Supposedly, the painting was sent by Bessarion to Federico da Montefeltro through Bacci so he would rise against the Turks, leveraging his paternal sensitivity, suffering like the Eastern Church that lost its favorite son (interpretation of Carlo Ginzburg).
The precise representation of perspective and noonday sun, typical of Piero, highlight the architectural decorations, recalling the classic ones in the ducal palace.
While we have found some clues to the great mystery behind this historical painting by Piero della Francesca, there is still so much more to be discovered…