Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science, and Religion

Overview

The story of one remarkable artist of the early Italian Renaissance—a painter at the crossroads of our modern revolutions in art, religion, science—who remains a figure of enduring fascination in the twenty-first century.In the heart of Tuscany, Piero della Francesca became a painter and mathematician at the dawn of the Renaissance, revealing his innovative mind in some of the best known images from that period, and in his unusual writings on geometry. Yet as a personality, Piero remains a mystery. He leaves an ...

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Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science and Religion

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Overview

The story of one remarkable artist of the early Italian Renaissance—a painter at the crossroads of our modern revolutions in art, religion, science—who remains a figure of enduring fascination in the twenty-first century.In the heart of Tuscany, Piero della Francesca became a painter and mathematician at the dawn of the Renaissance, revealing his innovative mind in some of the best known images from that period, and in his unusual writings on geometry. Yet as a personality, Piero remains a mystery. He leaves an enigmatic legacy that ranges from the merging of religion and mathematics to his use of perspective to make painting a “true science.”In this engaging narrative, Larry Witham transports us to Piero’s tumultuous age, a world of princes and popes, soldiers and schisms. Piero’s Light also reveals how he was part of the philosophical revival of Platonism, an ancient worldview that would shape art, religion, and science’s transition toward modernity. Just sixteen of Piero’s paintings survive, but these images and his writings would fuel some of the greatest art historical debates of all time.Through Witham’s wide research, Piero emerges as a figure who marks a turning point in Western culture. Our past understanding of faith, beauty, and knowledge has been radically altered by a secular age, and the story of Piero helps us understand how this has taken place. The search for Piero has continued among both intrepid scholars and art lovers of all kinds, and it is no wonder: few artists in history take us as deeply into the intellectual excitement of the Renaissance as Piero della Francesca.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/09/2013
The latest book from Witham (Picasso and the Chess Player) is a workmanlike examination of the early Renaissance polymath Piero, whose life and accomplishments are used to survey “the precipitous changes in art, religion, and science” in the painter’s time and beyond. The biographical sketch is necessarily rough and speculative (little is known about his life), but Witham accessibly reviews the Quattrocento’s intellectual, political, and religious climate, summarizing Christian Platonism, Alberti’s On Painting, and describing Piero as an artist who synthesized these ideas in paintings such as “The Flagellation of Christ.” In addition, Piero authored treatises on abacus mathematics, perspective, and geometrical shapes that would foreshadow the scientific revolution. Witham demonstrates how Piero’s art and contributions to mathematics were absorbed over the centuries following his death, and how he participated in the evolving discourse on art interpretation, beauty, and science. Occasionally the narrative can feel shapeless and long-winded, with Piero appearing as a mere footnote among waves of summaries of Kepler, Newton, Kant, Helmholtz, and many other philosophers, art historians, and scientists. However, the book’s journalistic flavor may appeal to readers and distinguishes it from existing literature on the artist. 16 pages of color illus. Agent: Laurie Abekemeier, Defiore & Company. (Feb.)
Choice
“Witham provides an engaging side-by-side history of modern art's two figureheads. An engrossing account of both artists. Excellent and engrossing.
Recommended.”
The Wall Street Journal
“If Botticelli is the most loved Italian painter of the early Renaissance, then Piero della Francesca is the most revered. The work of almost every other figurative artist seems fussy, histrionic, noisy and slapdash in comparison with Piero's taut yet solemn distillations of light, color and form. Mr. Witham has done an impressive amount of research into the period and makes interesting observations about Piero's painting and treatises and is attentive to Piero's technical innovation.”
NATURE
“The unearthly power of Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca's works is attributable as much to skill in spatial illusion and complex perspective as to artistic brilliance, Larry Witham shows. This study of Piero's impact reveals a mathematician and geometer who helped to bridge the way to Galileo. Along with paintings such as The Flagellation of Christ - which fuse maths, classical Platonic science and innovative handling of light - Piero authored influential treatises such the Little Book on Five Regular Solids.”
Baltimore City Paper
“Engaging. Witham describes scenes in cinematic detail, placing the reader in a vivid, clearly defined world. Bursting with history, rich characters, and anecdotes. A pleasurable, comprehensive read.”
New York Sun
“Larry Witham enlivens every page.”
Baltimore City Paper
“Bursting with history, rich characters, and anecdotes. A pleasurable, comprehensive read.”
Library Journal
02/01/2014
Witham (By Design: Science and the Search for God; Art Schooled) follows two themes in this book. One is the "medieval synthesis," which existed before barriers among art, religion, and science were erected. The other is the Renaissance reconciliation between Greek Platonic philosophy and Christian religion. How these two themes influenced Piero and were influenced by him carry through the title. With only 16 of his artworks and three treatises surviving, Piero was virtually forgotten after his ignominious end; he was executed in 1468 by Pope Pius II for embezzling money from the papacy to buy manuscripts while he was a Vatican bookkeeper. He was rediscovered around 1850, when further study of his works began. As this review was completed from an advance reading copy, it is not possible to comment on the quality of the illustrations, which were in black and white; the published book will have 16 color images. VERDICT Witham has not written an art history; he has written a story that will draw readers' attention, compelling them to continue. For those interested in art, history, philosophy, sociology, or science.—Nancy J. Mactague, Aurora Univ. Lib., IL
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-02
Cultural historian Witham (Picasso and the Chess Player: Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and the Battle for the Soul of Modern Art, 2013, etc.) returns with a wide-ranging account of the life, work and legacy of Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca (1412–1492). The author writes that he was drawn to Piero because of the interplay of art, religion and science in his work, and throughout this illuminating treatment, he unwinds and examines each of these cultural threads. First, Witham examines Piero's life, a life, the author admits, whose details are hard to come by. (Iterations of "probably," "no doubt" and the like appear often.) Still, some key documents have emerged over the years, and the author follows Piero from his boyhood in Sansepolcro, Italy (60 miles from Florence), to Florence, Ferrara, Rome (where he did some work for the Vatican), Urbino and elsewhere. Witham notes that Piero was wont to take on more commissions than he could handle, sometimes taking years to fulfill agreements. The author also pauses periodically to describe and appreciate Piero's key artistic works--The Baptism of Christ, The Flagellation of Christ and others--as well as his various publications, including Abacus Treatise and On Perspective for Painting. The biographical focus on Piero ends about a third of the way through the volume (the artist died on the day Columbus arrived in the New World); in the remaining chapters, Witham deals with Piero's slow rediscovery--by art historians and collectors and, even more interestingly, by mathematicians and scientists. Throughout, the author deals with concepts of vision, light, beauty and mind, drawing on the works and theories of numerous philosophers (from the ancient to the present world), psychologists and neuroscientists to illuminate the various debates about the nature of reality and of the mind. A thorough account of an actual "Renaissance man"--in every way.
Booklist
“In this meticulously researched text, author Witham uses Piero’s life and work to illuminate the 'the philosophical tautness' of Quattrocento Italy.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605984940
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 532,754
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Larry Witham is author of more than twelve books, including By Design: Science and the Sea; Art Schooled; and Picasso and the Chess Player. He lives the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC .

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