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Questioni pierfrancescane: la Maddalena di Arezzo

Pietro Barbucci

This paper analyzes the fresco depicting the Magdalene, painted by Piero della Francesca in the Arezzo Cathedral. After briefly examining the history of the artwork as well as the literary and figurative sources for the figure of the Magdalene, an iconographic and iconological analysis of the fresco is conducted. Drawing from this, the hypothesis is formulated that Piero intends to propose a precise historical moment in the life of the saint, the one that precedes her conversion. The fundamental clue for this interpretation is the fact that the door that the saint is about to enter is particularly narrow. This could allude to the “narrow door” of salvation, which is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In the last part of the paper, the scene depicted in the fresco is reconstructed in three dimensions. This demonstrates that, for its realization, Piero applied literally the methods he would set out years later in his famous treatise De prospectiva pingendi. The extraordinary harmony transmitted by the fresco may be also linked to the rigor in the representation of the saint and her spatial context, and to the different canons and modules used in the creation of the figure and of the architecture.