Today is the Feast of the Exaltstion of the True Cross, and an appropriate day to draw attention to the largest surviving work of one of my favourite painters from mid-fifteenth century Italy, Piero della Francesca. The work is The Legend of the True Cross which he, with his assistants, painted in the Franciscan church in Arezzo between 1447 and 1466 - Piero was noted for taking his time over his commissions.
Piero had - in common with his contemporaries - a keen eye for detail and his figures always display a profound physicality which simultaneously conveys a significant spirituality. The figures appear instantly and intensely immediate to the viewer yet are more than five centuries old and moreover depict the timeless in time.
The cycle of paintings tells the story of the wood of the Cross of Christ from the death of Adam vis King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and ends with the battle of the Milvian Bridge, St Helena’s discovery of the True Cross and its later recovery by the Emperor Heraclitus from the Persian Chosroes.
Sadly time has taken its toll on this wonderful series but the frescoes received a fine restoration between 1991 and 2000. One result is that the colours glow as they were meant to with the freshness of the Tuscan sunshine.
There are several illustrated articles about them online. Wikipedia has an introduction at The History of the True Cross
The Web Gallery of Art has a much fuller telling of the legend in its account, which can be read at Legend of the True Cross (fresco cycle in Arezzo)
The most detailed account is from Travelling in Tuscany which is rich in detail and can be seen at Piero della Francesca | The Legend of the True Cross | The Frescoes of San Francesco in Arrezzo
There is a short YouTube video of the paintings at Piero della Francesca (Legends of the True Cross fresco cycle)
Hail Holy Cross our hope!