Piero Della Francesca – The Queen Of Sheba Adoring The Cross

The grandeur, simple strength and spaciousness of Piero’s conceptions make him a worthy successor to Giotto, and rank him above many contemporaries who occupied them-selves with petty decorative details. In contrast with a temperament like Michelangelo’s, Piero is essentially static. His Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes, in this series, fails to get into action; but where a more unhurried tempo is called for, there his genius finds itself.

These narrow walls behind the altar then expand to epic proportions. Men and women of stately dignity move for-ward in a slow procession. Long trailing robes and half-extended arms; long slender necks and slender, branching tree-trunks; the arching head of a horse and the arches of distant hills — these simple curves sway back and forth, up and down, along the line in a tranquil and majestic rhythm. There is no crowding: strong light-and-dark contrasts mark off each individual, placing this one near and that one apart in the group. Faces look ahead, engraved in profile, or outward, sculptured with Phidian breadth, serenity and repose. Upright in their smoothly dropping folds, with no affected swirls of line, they stand with the firmness of statues, but more lightly poised, almost floating in space — less massive than Giotto’s figures.

The lofty expanse of sky is an intense, unforgettable blue, not medievally flat, not filled with realistic clouds and haze, but varied a little in tone, so that it seems to recede into in-finite distance. Its hue condenses to a deeper turquoise in some of the robes, and its pale dry light descends to reveal every figure with unflickering crystal clarity. It fills both highlights and background with a fresh, cool atmosphere, against which garments of deep red, green and gold stand out here and there in warmer contrast.