Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Art Blogging On Request: Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

Requested by Jonathan Marlowe.

Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) was an Italian Early Renaissance painter, mathematician and theorist. Emerging from the Medieval tradition, he pioneered the rediscovery of Classical norms and the formulation of visual perspective. He was a careful perfectionist who worked tirelessly to create a small number of truly outstanding works. The majesty of the Italian High Renaissance is indebted to his foundations.

This is Resurrection, a depiction of the victorious Christ rising from the grave before the sleeping Roman soldiers. Typical of Francesca's work, the figures are still, unmoving, solemn, and emotionless. Christ is shown as perfectly calm and serene, unshakable by death. This is Christ the King, Christ the Warrior -- who bears a battle standard in his hand.

(1463-1465, oil and tempera, at the Palazzo Communale of Borgo in Tuscany)

Jonathan, please tell us what this painting means to you.


Jonathan said...

I had Grady Locklear as my high school English teacher at Sumter High School in Sumter, SC. Grady went to United Methodist-related Wofford college (in Spartanburg, SC), at the age of 16. Anyway, while Grady was a student at Wofford, he befriended one of his classmates, whose name was Will Willimon. Grady and Will took some trips to Europe during their college days, and they always enjoyed looking at pieces of art, particulary from the Renaissance. Grady told me some stories about Will's college days that I won't repeat here.

When Grady became a high school English teacher, he spent about a month teaching his students Renaissance art. One of his favorite pieces was Pierro della Francesca's Resurrection. Grady emphasized the symetrical nature of the painting, as well as its triangular shape. Grady grew up as a Methodist, but by that time had become an Episcopalian. He knew that my father was a Methodist minister, and he told me about his friendship with Will Willimon (whom my father also knew from being in the SC conference). Grady really wanted me to go to college at Wofford, but he offered to take me to visit Duke one day and visit with Willimon (never did take him up on that offer). One day, after school, I asked my father if he knew this guy named Will Willimon. He said, "yes, and here's one of his books," and he whipped out The Gospel for the Person who has Everything, one of Willimon's very first books. I flipped through the book, and guess what painting was on the last page of the book? Yep, Pierro della Francesca's Resurrection. I showed the book to Grady the next day, and he laughed about the adventures that he and Will had throughout Europe.

Well, as it turned out, I didn't go to Wofford or Duke for college, but instead I went to Emory. During my freshman year at Emory, I became intrigued with the writings of this guy named Stanley Hauerwas, who was the author of a book I had read for an undergraduate class in Christian ethics. At the end of that semester, I overheard my professor say that Hauerwas had teamed up with somebody named Willimon, and they were going to write a book together.

A year and a half later, Resident Aliens came out, and naturally, I was curious to read it. A year after that, when I visited Duke as a prospective seminary student, I looked up Willimon, and said, "I'm a friend of Grady Locklear," and we hit it off from there, although he told me not to believe everything that Grady had told me about his college days.

When I see that picture, I think of the best teacher I have ever had: Grady Locklear. For all of his teaching labors, Wofford College honored him with the degree Doctor of Humanities, an honor bestowed on him at the suggestion of a Wofford Trustee named Will Willimon.

Long story, but you did ask.

Jonathan said...

Oh yes, I almost forgot, at the theological level: the victory of Christ, the conquering lamb of God, so majestically won at Easter, and so beuatifully rendered in this painting, is foundational for my theology - as I assume it would be for any Christian.

UndergroundStaff said...

I'm a junior at Providence High in Charlotte, and I just went to a workshop taught by him. He was one of the nicest, most honest and most Southern men I have ever met. I would've loved to be in his English class. He told me all about Signature.