The Culture of San Sepolcro during the Youth of Piero della Francesca
A portrait of the artist as a young man, an examination of the influence of his hometown
The documented facts of Piero della Francesca's life are few, but the implicit contradictions in his life and art illuminate his social character. Despite his father's social and financial ambitions, della Francesca became a painter—not the most eminent of careers in the Renaissance city of San Sepolcro. Although della Francesca spent most of his life outside the centers of great intellectual achievement, he experimented with representations of three-dimensional space and wrote numerous treatises on the geometry of perspective that would later attract nineteenth-century painters and twentieth-century scholars of modernism.
In The Culture of San Sepolcro during the Youth of Piero della Francesca, James R. Banker digs deeply into previously undiscovered archival evidence to examine della Francesca's yet unstudied earliest works and their connections to his putative formation in Florence. Banker's historical investigation also moves beyond the biography of this influential Renaissance artist, integrating social and art history to provide a rich and informative cultural context for della Francesca's development. Banker explores the influence of della Francesca's family on his life and work, in order to understand the role of the family in the vibrant artisan culture of the Tuscan Renaissance. Banker's analyses of the political and social organization of San Sepolcro, as well as its specific religious construction, further illuminate the intellectual background for della Francesca's growth as a pioneering artist.
Modern intellectuals from Francis Bacon to Paul Cezanne and T. S. Elliot have considered Piero della Francesca's work a forebear to the modern exploration of line and abstraction. Banker's social biography of the artist will intrigue not only scholars of the Italian Renaissance and art historians but all scholars interested in the complex interplay between art and society.
Praise / Awards
"Banker draws an intimate portrait of life in Borgo San Sepolcro in the first half of the fifteenth century, looking for insights into Piero's development in the years before he arrived in Florence. Banker's mastery of unpublished archival materials and recent secondary literature is evident in each chapter. . . . [A]nd his methods have brought results that will be debated by art historians around the country and abroad."
---Duane Osheim, University of Virginia
"James Banker's thorough and careful archival study of Piero della Francesca clothes the painter and his work with a rich historical background that helps to explain his career, his style, and the social traditions of painting in central Italy during the fifteenth century. Rich new source material sheds light on studio practice and social networks among painters and offers a challenging alternative to the conventional author's biography."
---John Paoletti, Wesleyan University
"Banker's book reaches the limits of the possibilities of archival research, which it exemplifies in such a masterly fashion, and provides a challenge for future art historians: to integrate the contextual, historical approach with connoisseurship and painterly appreciation."
" . . . a significant contribution to the literature on smaller towns that has burgeoned since historians realized that Renaissance Italy was more than Florence and Venice and Rome. . . ."
---Journal of Modern History
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