book review - the piero della francesca trail
Post #241 • March 23, 2004, 6:16 AM
The Piero Della Francesca Trail by John Pope-Hennessy. The Little Bookroom, New York, 2002.
The trail referred to in the title is a line through Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche dotted with towns that hold his most famous works. Devotees of the master will travel from Florence to Urbino, stopping off in places like Monterchi and Borgo San Sepolcro to see his frescoes. (I visited Monterchi and besides the fresco of the pregnant Madonna, I mostly remember seeing buffalo-mozzarella cows.) The book begins with an essay by Aldous Huxley entitled "The Best Picture," in which he claims that a certain Piero Ressurection to be precisely that; his introspection tempers the hubris of the premise, which is really an innocent overflow of intellectual and artistic excitement. Pope-Hennessy parses the few facts known about Piero in a way that gives the legendary artist some depth. He cites the Huxley essay as the inspiration to go see Piero as a young man, and as he delivers his talk, two years before the end of his life, he reveals himself to be as intimate with Piero and his works as anyone. The delivery starts out dry, but by the end of this short book, his intimacy proves to be contagious.