Piero della Francesca The Legend of the True Cross

Piero della Francesca painted a fresco cycle narrating the Legend of the True Cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified, in the “Cappella Maggiore” (main choir chapel) of the Basilica of San Francesco, in the town of Arezzo. The story illustrated by Piero della Francesca was originally drawn from Jacopo da Varagine's "Golden Legend".

The “Legenda Aurea” is a 13th Century manuscript that begins with Adam on his deathbed, who sends his son Seth to Paradise, where Archangel Michael gives him a twig from the tree of the original sin. The twig (or 3 seeds in some versions) is to be placed in Adam’s mouth at the moment of his death. The tree that grows on his grave is cut down by King Solomon and its wood is used on a stream to serve as a bridge because of no use in the construction of the Jerusalem Temple. The Queen of Saba, on her journey to see Solomon, crossing the stream, prophesied that the Saviour will be crucified on that wood. When Solomon discovers the nature of the divine message orders to bury the wood which will be the cause of the end of the kingdom of the Jews. But the wood is found and becomes the instrument of the Passion.

Three centuries later, just before the battle of Ponte Milvio, Emperor Constantine dreams that he must fight in the name of the Cross to put an end to Christians persecution. So he decides to send his mother Helena to Jerusalem to retrieve the True Cross, but no one knows where it is, except a Jew called Judas who is tortured on a well and reveals the temple where the three crosses of Calvary are hidden. Helena orders the destruction of the temple, the three crosses are found and she recognizes the True Cross touching with it a dead who resuscitates.

In the year 614, the Persian King Cosroe, conquering Jerusalem, steals the True Cross. The Emperor Heraclius wages war on the Persian King and, having defeated him, returns to Jerusalem with the Cross. But a divine power prevents the emperor from making his triumphal entry. So Heraclius, setting aside all pomp and magnificence, enters the city carrying the Cross in a gesture of humility, barefoot and dressed as a pilgrim, following Jesus Christ's example. The Legend of the True Cross is Piero della Francesca’s largest work, and generally is considered one of his finest, and an early Renaissance masterpiece.

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