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The Resurrection

piero.jpg

Blame my hunger for spring, or my great longing to return to Italy. But I recently had the most vivid dream about “The Resurrection,” Piero della Francesca’s masterpiece, which dominates the Museo Civico in the pleasant little Tuscan town of Sansepolcro.

This really is a fascinating fresco, very large – about 7 feet by 7 feet – and painted on the wall of what was the town hall in 1460. Last year, when I rented a house very near Sansepolcro (which, happily, is located practically in Umbria) I travelled around to see as many of Piero’s great works as possible: in towns like Arezzo, Monterchi, Urbino.

But The Resurrection stood out. The writer Aldous Huxley, in a famous 1925 essay, called it The Best Picture. I’m not sure it’s the absolute best in the world – that would be mighty hard to define! But I did think that was extraordinary, mesmerizing

The subject of the fresco refers to Sansepolcro’s name (the Holy Sepulchre) which is the tomb where Christ was laid to rest after His crucifixion. In Piero’s composition, we see an athletic Christ at the moment of His resurrection, with one very strong leg planted at an impossibly high angle on the edge, poised to hoisted Himself out of the tomb and into everlasting life.

I find Christ’s eyes particularly mesmerizing, as they gaze far beyond the viewer into the next world. It’s unsettling, but perhaps that was Piero’s point.

Beneath Him, the four soldiers assigned to guard the tomb are sound asleep – missing the moment of the triumph of Life over death. Piero’s landcape is also filled with symbols of this: in the early dawn of a new world, life flourishes in the trees on the right of the fresco, while death stalks those on the left. An early Before-and-After picture, I suppose.

It’s also said that the sleeping soldier in brown armor on Christ's right, with his head thrown back to display the large goiter on his neck, is a self-portrait of Piero della Francesca.

Anyway, I’m still puzzling about the meaning of my dream, which began with me parking my car on the street near a small park not far from Sansepolcro’s civic museum. It’s at that point when I suddenly realize that all these years (in this dream world) I had been living just a few blocks from this incredible work of art and didn’t know it.

So, what could this mean? That I’m hungry for spring and resurrection? Homesick for Italy? Missing something crucial that’s right in front of me? At least, I didn’t dream I was one of the soldiers in the fresco, missing The Whole Thing!

I realize that I’m going to have to return to Sansepolcro to see The Resurrection in June I want to sit quietly on the wide black bench that’s set about 20 feet back from the spectacular work, gaze into Christ’s eyes to try to figure out what He’s seeing.

Comments (10)

jane:

Perhaps it's a message to understand Christ at a deeper level?? Dreams can mean so many things, can't they?

You have reminded me that I want to go to Sansepolcro this summer. Can you believe that we have never been there?

sandrac:

Hi Jane,
It's true that we can read so much into dreams -- I suppose that's why they can seem so fascinating!

I hope you make it to Sansepolcro. I think I must have been there every day during the week that I rented the house in Anghiari -- either at the Coop, or the hospital (I stepped on something sharp) or the best times, at the Museo.

Hope we can connect in Italy in June!

Anne:

Love this post, Sandra. I must add Sanselpolcro to our list of possible daytrips this summer.

Even just looking at this online image, Christ's eyes are mesmerizing. The soldier on the left almost looks like he is intentionally covering his eyes, rather than sleeping. I like this excerpt from Rowan Williams' poem Resurrection: Borgo San Sepolcro:

"So the black eyes
fixed half-open, start to search, ravenous,
imperative, they look for pits, for hollows where
their flood can be decanted, look
for rooms ready for commandeering, ready
to be defeated by the push, the green implacable
rising. So he pauses, gathering the strength
in his flat foot, as the perspective buckles under him,
and the dreamers lean dangerously inwards. Contained,
exhausted, hungry, death running off his limbs like drops
from a shower, gathering himself. We wait,
paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring."

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, this is a wonderful post. I find it so interesting to read the many details of your interpretation of this amazing painting. I would probably not have noticed them otherwise. His eyes are I agree are mesmerizing. This sounds like a really good dream ....being in Italy soon and seeing this beautiful painting.

Hope you're enjoying your trip planning....

What a cool dream! I think it was a message to yourself that you've got a masterpiece (and/or bestseller?!) very close at hand. :)

S: So well written and your description does equal justice to the painting and the author. In the spirit of longing and dreams, I find your reference to spring relative. It's interesting that the landscape of many paintings hold clues to the painter's inner thought, ideologies. Thanks for sharing. Any word from publishers?

sandrac:

Hi Anne,

Thanks so much for this poem, I love the final line, “We wait..for His spring.” Wonderful play on words – spring from the tomb? Spring as the Resurrection?

You and your mother could have a really nice day doing a few stops on the Piero della Francesca trail – Arezzo (which is so lovely) Sansepolcro and Monterchi are really quite close together and not so far from “your” house!

Hi Kathy, the dream was so vivid and waking with this image in my mind has really stuck with me. Last year, I read a lot about Piero’s works before my trip because I wanted to see as many of his paintings as possible; there is something so compelling about them.

Hope that all is well with you!

Wow, Annie, what a fantastic (and very kind) interpretation of my dream! How I wish it were true. I’ve been working on novel #2, trying not to worry about selling novel #1 but feeling a bit down about it. Maybe my subconscious is giving me a prod to not lose faith in novel #1 or in my writing!! Thanks for this!

Thank you for your kind words, menehume. Piero really packs a lot of meaning into his paintings, they’re like a great novel with so much to find inside.

I am continuing my hunt for a literary agent, continuing to get lots of rejections….I know that this is very routine: judging by the amount of advice on the Internet from agents, authors, publishers -- almost every author is in for a long hard search to connect with the right agent and then publishing house. It’s like waiting for spring, I suppose; I have to be patient and not give up!

Others are far more metaphoric than I. If I were ever to remember one of my dreams - a rare event indeed - I'll be sure to post it online to get a good analysis. I'd go with the obvious - your subconscious soul is hankering for some quality Italian time!

Sandra,
I am sorry it's been a while since I stopped by your blog, and glad I did.
I do love this fresco, just seeing it online, and you right, Christ's eyes are mesmerizing.

As for the dream, I would chalk it up to missing Italy, but then my sister is the dream expert in the family :)

sandrac:

Jerry, I'm sure that you're right!

Hi Candi, welcome back -- it's great to hear from you again!!! I hope that all is well with you.

This fresco really is so mesmerizing -- I'm certain that I'll return to Sansepolcro in June to see it again.

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