Piero della Francesca: Artist, Mathematician, Humanist

Piero della Francesca, Flagellation of Christ, 1455-1460, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino, Italy. Reproductions d’Oeuvres.

Piero della Francesca was not only an accomplished artist of the Early Renaissance, but also one of the greatest mathematicians of his day. His works reveal his innovative mind and his meticulous understanding of space, perspective, and proportion. Piero della Francesca was at the cutting edge of Humanism, writing extensively on the topics of arithmetic and geometry. His transfixing compositions built on geometric principles demonstrate his mathematical prowess and his sensibility of the classical past.

Who was Piero della Francesca?

Piero della Francesca was born around the year 1412 in the Tuscan town of Borgo Sansepolcro and spent his life exploring how to represent a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional support. Known for his cool color palette and pastel hues, the artist marked the transition from tempera to oil painting in Italy. His images are replete with hypnotic, dream-like figures of a sculptural quality. His patrons were among the most powerful in Italy, including the Duke of Urbino, Sigismondo Malatesta in Rimini, and Pope Nicholas V in Rome.

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Pontié Stéphane, N°08, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 117 cm.

The further it goes, the more scientific the art will be….
“The time for beauty has passed. Mankind, unless it returns to it, does not know what to do with it for more than a quarter of an hour. The further we go, the more scientific art will become, as science will become artistic. Both will unite at the top after separating at the bottom.”

These prophetic words, written by Gustave Flaubert in 1852, seem perfect for introducing the essence of the artistic revolution brought about by Geometric abstraction, a movement which, born within Neoplasticism (Netherlands, 1917), identified mathematics and geometry as its points of reference, focusing on the study of numerical relationships and the investigation of proportions and measures between shapes and colors.

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How French visual artist L’Atlas is changing the geometric art movement with calligraphy

L’Atlas, Shapes #2, 2013, spray paint on wood, 280 x 160 cm, unique piece in the Agnès b. art collection. Courtesy of the Collection Agnès b.

L’Atlas, aka Jules Dedet Granel, is going through a period of personal introspection. He released a monograph published by Skira last year — the most comprehensive book on his work to date. In it, he highlights his subjects of predilection: abstraction, gesture, and geometry.

Now, he’s taking stock of his artistic career over the past 25 years and contemplating his next steps.

The mid-career artist no longer asks himself what he hopes the viewer will take away from his work. “It’s not that I don’t care what people think or feel, but I’m more focused on my own feelings — what my art will bring me,” he divulges.

“It’s me whom I want to seduce, and the challenge is to continue enjoying creating,” L’Atlas adds. “There will always be people who like it and others who don’t. Today, I’m more interested in having practical or technical discussions with other painters, seeing how they work, and understanding their process. It’s more the intrinsic question of painting itself — how and why you do things. I’m in a period where I need to renourish myself by going to museums, artist studios, and travelling again.”

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One Artist and One Motif: Julije Knifer and His Meander

Julije Knifer, 9.II – 31.III 83, 1983, graphite on paper. Exhibition catalog: Julije Knifer: Uncompromising – a retrospective, 2018, p. 195. Photo by Boris Cvjetanović.

When we think of a meander we usually think of a winding riverbed of the Meander River in Asia Minor or an ancient decoration of broken lines that is repeated in an uninterrupted sequence. But, for one man meander wasn’t a geographical term nor decoration, ornament, or aesthetics. It had a completely different meaning. In this article, you will find out about an artist who has devoted his entire life to this one motif. His name is Julije Knifer, a Croatian painter, who lived and worked in Croatia, Germany, and France and exhibited in many cities around the world.

Meander: monotonous, unoriginal, meaningless through its endless repetition and yet used in various cultures as a decorative motif. Beginning with the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods and continuing in many early civilizations, including Mayan, Etruscan, Egyptian, Byzantine, and ancient Chinese, as well as in Greek and Roman art, meander was a common decorative element. It has been applied in architecture, and on various items such as pottery and clothing. Greek vases, mainly during the geometric period, were perhaps the main reason for the broad use of meanders. Today meander is often replicated in fashion, jewelry, interior design, and architecture.

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Can Geometric Abstraction Stay Fresh?

Don Voisine, “Roos Field” (2022), oil and acrylic on canvas over wood panel, 18 x 18 inches

By the time I reviewed Don Voisine’s work in 2013, he was a veteran painter of geometric abstractions who was working with a hard-edged vocabulary and compositional format that centered a black form (rectangles, triangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids). Looking back through his work, I learned that in 1992 he began surrounding the black form with a border. In 1999, he introduced the diagonal into his work, adding another layer of tension between containment and expansion. Since then, he has expanded upon these possibilities while remaining devoted to his use of a single or double overlaid black form, hemmed in by parallel rectangles pressing in from either the painting’s sides or the top and bottom.

Voisine’s paintings were precisely delineated compositions where everything was considered, from the use of matte and shiny paint to the direction of the brushstroke, the solidity or transparency of the overlaid planes, the interaction between the black forms and white spaces, and the relationship between the black and white interior and the colors and bands pressing in. Perhaps because of his attention to composition and the particular elements of his work, and despite all the constraints he imposes, what singles Voisine out from other geometric abstract artists is that he remains a restless painter, capable of surprising his most ardent fans. This is why I saw the exhibition Don Voisine at McKenzie Fine Art.

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