Chapter 3

The Renaissance Gambler

Piero della Francesca, who painted the picture of the Virgin that appears on the following page (“The Brera Madonna”), lived from about 1420 to 1492, more than two hundred years after Fibonacci. His dates place him at the center of the Italian Renaissance, and his work epitomizes the break between the new spirit of the fifteenth century and the spirit of the Middle Ages.

Delia Francesca’s figures, even that of the Virgin herself, represent human beings. They have no halos, they stand solidly on the ground, they are portraits of individuals, and they occupy their own three-dimensional space. Although they are presumably there to receive the Virgin and the Christ Child, most of them seem to be directing their attention to other matters. The Gothic use of shadows in architectural space to create mystery has disappeared; here the shadows serve to emphasize the weight of the structure and the delineation of space that frames the figures.

The egg seems to be hanging over the Virgin’s head. More careful study of the painting suggests some uncertainty as to exactly where this heavenly symbol of fertility does hang. And why are these earthly, if pious, men and women so unaware of the strange phenomenon that has appeared above them?

Madonna of Duke Federico II di Montefeltro. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.

(Reproduction courtesy of Scala / Art Resource, NY.)

Greek philosophy has been turned upside down. Now the mystery is in the heavens. On earth, ...

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