Legend of the true cross, San Francesco, Arezzo

(c. 1454-1458)
   This fresco cycle was commissioned from Piero della Francesca by the Bacci family for the Cappella Maggiore of San Francesco. The main scenes follow Jacobus da Voragine's story in the Golden Legend of the wood used for the cross on which Christ was crucified. According to the account, Seth placed the seedlings from the Tree of Knowledge in Adam's mouth at the time of his death. These grew into a new tree that King Solomon cut for use as a bridge over a stream. When the Queen of Sheba crossed the bridge to meet the king, she learned that this would be the wood on which Christ would be crucified and announced that it would bring about the obliteration of the Jewish people. Solomon buried the wood to prevent such tragedy, but centuries later it resurfaced and the Romans used it for the crucifixion. Helena, Constantine the Great's mother, traveled to Jerusalem to recover the true cross, which was recognized when it effected the miraculous resurrection of a dead boy. In the seventh century, the Persian King Chrosoes stole the wood, and the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recovered it, carrying it back to Jerusalem as Christ had done on the road to Calvary. Among these scenes in San Francesco, an Annunciation is included as reminder that the cycle tells the story of the relic on which the incarnated Christ shed his blood to grant salvation to the faithful. Piero's frescoes symbolize the historical triumph of Christianity against its enemies.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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