We don’t normally associate mathematics with painting, but Renaissance great Piero della Francesca did. You can see this reflected in a first-time-in-America show of his work at the Frick Collection in Manhattan.
“Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley said “the best painting in the world” is Piero’s “Resurrection in Sansepolcro.”
No surprise there. Huxley loved geometry. As he said in his essay “Views of Holland,” “Geometry has always charmed me by its simplicity and elegance, its elimination of detail.”
Piero would have loved the compliment. Balance was so important to him that in “Resurrection in Sansepolcro,” he left out the legs of the guard holding the lance because they would have interfered with the harmony of the composition.
A typical Renaissance man, http://www.examiner.com/article/renaissance-marys-at-the-ringling-museum Piero was interested in mathematics, but he was particularly curious about perspective. In “The Flagellation of Christ,” he arranged his figures on a checkered floor like chess pieces with the flagellation of a small and pale-colored Christ in the background. And to add to the suggestion of near and far, foreground figures (presumably Pontius Pilate and Herod) are enlarged..
Piero’s enthusiasm for perspective began at an early age. As a boy, he spent most of his study time on mathematics, even though it was decided at age 15 that he should paint for a living. He maintained his studies in mathematics, particularly regarding the work of Euclid, which is how he came to render perfect curves on human anatomy. All of Piero’s figure painting was based on the laws of Euclidean geometry.
Figure painting wasn’t the only evidence of his learning. When he rendered a vase, he drew on a system of squares, showing the mouth and base from the front, the back, and from the sides.
He also wrote a book on perspective, “De prospectiva pingendi,” with this message: “Many who paint without using perspective have been praised, but such praise comes from people ignorant of art
Unfortunately, after an attack of catarrh when he was sixty, the artist/author went blind and lived in darkness for twenty-six years until his death. He only left some 20 paintings, but Huxlely’s words “simplicity and elegance” mark them all enduring.