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Unsung master gets a new show at the Frick

24 Apr 2013 12:53 PM
Unsung master gets a new show at the Frick

The 15th century painter Piero della Francesca may not receive the acclaim of many of his contemporaries, but he has remained a favorite among art historians and collectors for years. Moreover, his stock could soon rise with the debut of a new, much-heralded show at the Frick Collection. The show, which focuses on seven of Piero's most enduring paintings, runs through May 19.

In addition to being some of his most famous works, the seven pieces that comprise the new show are also the ones that the artist made in his hometown of Borgo San Sepolcro. By using them as a glimpse into Piero's oeuvre, the show helps educate owners of Manhattan real estate and fine art-seeking tourists a chance to gain an understanding of this oft-overlooked master. 

Like most of his contemporaries, Francesca makes the spiritual world the center of his focus. His paintings - often large and always firmly rooted in Christian imagery - are renowned for their careful composition and evocative subjects. However, it is his attention to the earthly realm as well as the heavenly one that most separates him from his peers.

Peter Schjeldahl, an art critic for The New Yorker, believes that Piero's ability to represent the physical properties of the world - especially its weight and downward pull - that makes a trip to the Frick's new show a truly memorable experience for art lovers.

"Piero was strikingly original in his emphasis on physical weight," Schjeldahl wrote. "His figures stand plunk on the ground. The bare feet of the Frick's own "St. John the Evangelist" (1454-69) hug a marble floor. He has gathered up his red cloak, across his body, to help support the massive book that he is reading. You feel the downward drag."

Through this attention to physical reality, Piero manages to explore the intersection between the divine and the all-too-human. His saints are often barefoot and toothless. Even his famous "The Crucifixion" focuses more on the earthbound soldiers who look on than it does on the divine figure who typically inspires the paintings. 

In art circles, Piero is rightly regarded as a major player in painting history, and with its new show, the Frick may help the painter gain the wider audience he deserves.