The picture chosen for Easter Sunday is The Resurrection, by the fifteenth-century artist Piero della Francesca, a work in fresco and tempera that can be found in the Tuscan market-town of Borgo San Sepolcro. The painting is in the civic museum, formerly the town hall, and this is a good time of year to go and see it, before the coach parties of summer descend. Less than a hundred years ago Piero was a forgotten master of the early Italian Renaissance, but since his rediscovery in the early twentieth century, his principal works have become objects of veneration and pilgrimage – none more so than the one shown here, which Aldous Huxley once simply but memorably described as “the best picture”. The Resurrection has, I suppose, become the principal symbol of Piero’s resurrected reputation.

The artist designed it with the symbolism of his home town in mind. Borgo San Sepolcro literally means “Town of the Holy Sepulchre”, a name linked to the tale of its foundation, in the tenth century, by Saint Arcano and Saint Egidio. The story goes that the two saints were returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, bearing some shavings from the sepulchre in which Christ had been interred, when they were miraculously instructed to create a new settlement.

Devotion to the Sepulchre and its relics, preserved in the local Benedictine abbey, was still strong in Piero’s time. So when the town hall of Borgo San Sepolcro was  renovated and extended in the 1450s, he was commissioned to paint this fresco on the appropriate subject of The Resurrection for the building’s state chamber. The room was  reserved for the use of the Conservatori, the chief magistrates and governors. Before holding their councils, these four appointed guardians of the town would solemnly kneel...

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