A Thousand Words
Piero della Francesca's The Baptism of Christ
by Mary Elizabeth Podles
At the Council of Florence in 1439, it seemed for a fleeting moment as if the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western branches of the Church might have been resolved. In 1417, the papal household had set itself in order, replacing three rival claimants with a single compromise candidate. Meanwhile, in the East, Byzantium was under siege by the Turks, and, desperate for help from the West, seemed ready, too, to make compromises. It was a moment of great hope, and, when representatives of both branches came together, a time of unparalleled pomp and pageantry. The city of Florence poured money into banners, parades, and temporary decorations, while the Byzantines, with their exotic beards, Eastern garments, and indescribable hats, were to Western eyes a visual feast in themselves. Presumably, too, they brought with them icons, which fed into the rich ferment that was early Renaissance art. Ultimately, the union was unsuccessful, but the council left its stamp on Italy, and especially on the youthful Piero della Francesca and his Baptism of Christ.
Piero was the son of a prosperous merchant, Benedetto de' Franceschi, who had close ties to the Camaldolese Benedictines of Borgo Sansepolcro; in fact, one of his other sons became a Camaldolese monk. One or the other may have been influential in procuring the commission for Piero of the altarpiece for the chapel of St. John the Baptist. Work was begun in 1438.
THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:
Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
more on art from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor
• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!
Purchase Print &
Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!
Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!
GIVE Print &
Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more from the online archives