Secrets and hidden interpretations of one of the most mysterious paintings: “the Flagellation of Christ” by Piero della Francesca
The fantastic vision and mathematical calculation of the” Flagellation of Christ ” by Piero della Francesca made this picture one of the most mysterious in the history of painting. The composition is confusing by combining two seemingly incompatible episodes – the New and old Testaments. What is the secret of the dissonance of the famous painting?
In the 1459-1460’s Piero della Francesca prepared a shocking “Flagellation of Christ”, which is now in the National gallery of the Marche. The artist was the author of a treatise on perspective called “on the perspective of painting”, and was also known as a mathematician and geometer. This from my knowledge, the artist skillfully used in the painting “Flagellation of Christ”. The painting is a masterpiece of the early Renaissance. The characters of the scene are very expressive. The composition is complex and unusual, and its iconography has been the subject of various theories.
The composition of the picture is divided into two plans – the old Testament plot (directly flagellation of Christ) and the new Testament plot (three men in the foreground, who are prototypes of real people).
Oddly enough, the dominant character in the picture is a domineering hero who is visible to the viewer… from the back. Dressed in white, his figure contrasts sharply with the image of the scourged Christ. The rest of the characters seem frozen in place, as if time has stopped for them. To understand the formidable power of the cloaked character, we must recall the greatest fear of medieval and Renaissance Europe before the power of the Ottoman Empire. Pay attention to his turban. His exotic attire gives him away as a Turk. It is this cold-blooded and heartless character who gives viewers a clue to reveal the mystery of the new Testament plot in the light of Renaissance humanism. The Turk’s restraint is balanced by his unyielding will, confidence, and power over everything that happens. With his tacit consent, the terrible actions of the guards take place.
In the scene to the left, deliberately pushed back into the background, Jesus is shown being whipped under the impassive and merciless gaze of Pontius Pilate. Dressed in Oriental attire (a symbol of moral error and blindness), Pilate expresses a striking calm.
A number of art historians have put forward a rather curious theory that the masterpiece of della Francesca is an allegory of the sufferings of Constantinople in 1453. This was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Turks under the leadership of Sultan Mehmed II. From this point of view, the two men overseeing the flagellation are Murad II (the Islamic Sultan who waged a multi – year war against Christianity) and the Byzantine Emperor John VIII (against whom this war was waged). Thus, the three mysterious men in the foreground may represent the nobles who were indifferent and allowed the destruction of the Christian people.
The process of flagellation in the background may well be the topic of conversation between the three men in the foreground of the composition. The traditional identification of these heroes on the right is that the young man in the center is Oddantanio da Montefeltro, the ruler of Urbino. On either side of him are the councillors. All three were killed in the plot. Therefore, it is assumed that the customer of the painting was Federigo da Montefeltro, who honored the memory of his brother by comparing his innocence with the innocence of Christ.
Thus, the picture becomes political: Christians of the West and East should unite against the Ottoman threat. This is why the character on the left reaches out to his skeptical neighbor. The work commissioned by the Church in 1460 is an authentic historical document today. By depicting the scourged Christ, the artist reminds European Nations of the humiliation that the Muslim world inflicted on the Christian people.
Technique and composition of the painting
The virtuoso use of perspective (in which the column is the constructive axis of the composition), the predominance of elegant classical architecture, and careful elaboration of details give the “Flagellation of Christ” the status of a Manifesto. Especially significant in the composition is the use of lines (horizontal and vertical), powerful diagonals of the floor and ceiling create a strong balance, a symbolic image of the world. The artist gave the figures a real volume using chiaroscuro (the transition from light to shadow). It is also noteworthy that the dramatic events take place on a covered courtyard with black and white checkered tiles, and three men on the street stand on reddish tiles that permeate the scene.
The mysterious nature of Piero della Francesca’s “Flagellation of Christ” proves that works of art continue to generate interesting artistic and historical research even after many centuries. In the case of this picture, it is unlikely that the final interpretation of the plot will ever be accepted, since too little data has been preserved. Perhaps this mystery partly explains why 600 years later, the painting continues to intrigue and attract the attention of viewers, as well as inspire new masters. Given the skilful geometric composition, the well-thought-out plot, the political connotations of the painting, the careful elaboration of details, the expressive architecture, the small size (58.4 × 81.5 cm), the epithet “the Greatest small picture in the world”is absolutely worthy of the canvas.