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Piero della Francesca and the Invention of the Artist

As one of the most innovative and enlightened painters of the early Italian Renaissance, Piero della Francesca brought space, luminosity, and unparalleled subtlety to painting. In addition, Piero invented the role of the modern artist by becoming a traveler, a courtier, a geometrician, a patron, and much else besides. In this nuanced account of this great painter’s life and art, Machtelt Brüggen Israëls reconstructs how Piero came of age. Successfully demystifying the persistent notion of Piero’s art as enigmatic, she reveals the simple and stunning intentions behind his work.

368 pages | 94 color plates | 5 1/4 x 8 1/4

Renaissance Lives

Art: European Art

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"To reduce his work to clinical, impersonal experimentation, as is sometimes done by art historians, is to neglect the strange mystery contained within Piero’s clarity—of form, space, and luminous color. Israëls’s book 'focuses on the works of Piero and uses close looking as its method. It tries to understand the intention of the artist in the hope that, if he were to read the book, he might actually realize that it is his works that are being discussed. Still, while Piero’s paintings need to be understood in their time, they also resound in ours.'  Incorporating new documentary, technical, and archival information, the monograph makes good on these promises. It is a concise and eminently readable account of Piero’s fascinating life and far-reaching legacy."

New Criterion

“Elegantly written, it combines close looking with documentary precision and technical insight. Each of its ten differently-paced chapters . . . focuses on a different aspect of Piero’s art. By virtue of this organization, Israëls’s monograph cuts across preconceived schemes of inquiry, not least the tacit tenet of traditional monographs that an artist’s life and work can be presented, if not judged, as a linear totality. . . . Israëls’s book is equally attractive to newcomers and veterans of Piero studies. It may leave some questions unanswered, but little is left unasked. Like Piero’s art, it is as approachable at first sight as it is rewarding over time.”

Burlington Magazine

"Israëls's new book is a fascinating study, with copious illustrations of the entrancing paintings under discussion. . . She brings an extraordinary depth of knowledge of and love for the work to her 310-page study. . . . Hugely appealing . . . [and] should be investigated by all lovers of Renaissance men and Renaissance artists."

Paddy Kehoe | RTE Culture

"It is very rare to find a book, an art history book, which gives you an altogether new view and new information about an artist as well-known as Piero. And I recommend all of you to read this book because it is incredibly beautifully written but also full of fascinating material on Piero."

Xavier F. Salomon, Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, Frick Collection | Cocktails with a Curator

"Delightfully detailed but never bogging down the reader, this well-researched, well-produced overview is meant for student and expert alike. . . . The account is packed with precise information (including, for example, that the Madonna del Parto frescoe was originally above a side altar, and an analysis of Piero’s writing and building) and the occasional worthwhile hypothesis (e.g., about Flagellation of Christ), and much technical expertise is on display. Supplementing the text with a variety of visual evidence, the author sets the paintings in rich context that furthers understanding of what has come down about Piero's work over the centuries—including the condition of panels and their original framing and placement—and of how Piero's contemporaries saw him. Piero was one of many painters, but he was distinguished not only as painter but also as a mathematician. He is extremely well served by this book. Essential."


“Israëls’s book captures the essential clarity, truthfulness, and modernity of Piero della Francesca’s art in prose that skillfully evokes his technical mastery and subtle artistry. Piero’s career is followed chronologically and contextually and staged in terms of the roles he adopted and performed—pupil and master, citizen and courtier, devotee and scientist among them. Close looking and careful description reveal the intellectual rigor and expressive force of his paintings. The book is as magisterial as its subject in achieving a new and compelling perspective on his life and work.”

Patricia Rubin, New York University

“Israëls’s text plunges the reader back into the fifteenth century so that Piero della Francesca’s art can be seen through his eyes and those of his contemporaries.”

Carl Brandon Strehlke, Philadelphia Museum of Art

"Marshaling an impressive body of new archival, technical, and contextual evidence, [Israëls] returns us to the artist’s era, offering fresh perspectives on his frescoes, panel paintings, and manuscript treatises. Her carefully crafted and deftly written narrative allows us to peer over the artist’s shoulder, bringing us closer to Piero and the legendary artworks that earned him the nickname 'the monarch of painting.'"

Nathaniel Silver, William and Lia Poorvu Curator of the Collection, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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