The Dream of Constantine- a modern perspective

"The Dream of Constantine" by Piero della Francesca, circa 1464 (photo: Lynne Rutter)
We made a short trip to Arezzo, pretty much just to see Piero della Francesca's masterpiece "The Legend of the True Cross" in the Basilica di San Francesco. 
This is a really staggering work telling the somewhat convoluted story of the cross and the revered wood from which it was made.  It is the only surviving grand fresco cycle by Pierro della Francesca.

For most of his career della Francesca pursued mathematics as well as painting, and was for a long time after his death remembered more as a mathematician than as an artist, having written (and illustrated) texts on perspective, geometry, and techniques for creating perspective with color. 

I kept going back to this one panel, depicting a sleeping Constantine in a perfectly centered gold tent with a cone-shaped rose-colored top, against a blue and realistically starry night sky (purportedly the first ever depicted in Western Art.) Two guards and a terribly bored servant are oblivious to the bright light emanating from the delicate cross held by a dramatically backlit angel. The soldiers are thrown into deep shadow, emphasizing the unearthly light source.

I cannot help but think how modern this painting feels, with its strong blocks of color and an abstraction that seems more 20th than 15th century.


Get obsessed with me:
~ De prospectiva pingendi  illustrated treatise on perspective by Pierro della Francesca- facsimile at the Galileo Museum, Florence.
~ In the footsteps of Piero della Francesca - follow his work through Tuscany with a special phone app.
~An interesting paper on the night sky of this painting, and the star map on which it may have been based.


  1. Loved this painting since I first saw it (in a book- have to go to Arezzo next time!) Francesca has such an uncanny ability to capture personalities! Thanks for posting!

    1. I was only in Arezzo for a couple of hours with some people. So I need to go back because I want to see the other murals there!!

  2. What a gorgeous painting! I have not seen this before! I am reminded of the Medieval Miniature illustrations of sleeping "Dreamers" especially Rene of Anjou's illuminations for the Book of Love. Thank you for sharing this!


What do you think? Join the conversation!