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Paper: Piero della Francesca's Sky in The Dream of Constantine
Volume: 441, The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VI
Page: 161
Authors: Valerio, V.
Abstract: The recent restoration of the frescoes by Piero della Francesca in the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo has made to appear on the background of the scene of Constantine's dream a number of stars. They are clearly painted with the intention to illustrate a sort of “natural” sky. In 2001 Anna Maria Maetzke recognized in a group of stars the constellation of the Ursa Minor, but so far no further study has been carried on to find any relation between the painted and the true sky. In this paper I show the existence of more constellations in the fresco, which are hardly detectable due to the mirror representation of the starry sky. Such a mirror image, as the Universe was seen from the outside, has a Greek origin and this kind of representation was introduced in Western Europe not only in celestial globes but also in star maps. This discovery leads to consider that Piero had at his disposal either a globe or a map which he reproduced on the fresco. My hypothesis is that a star map might be supplied to Piero by the astronomer Regiomontanus who was in Italy since 1461 following the Cardinal Bessarion in his journey from Wien to Rome. In 1463, Cardinal Bessarion was named papal legate to Venice and in July of the same year he leaved Rome together with Regiomontanus to reach Ferrara and Venice. The road to Venice crossed Umbria nearby Sansepolcro, Piero's birthplace not far from Arezzo. The trip took more than two weeks due to a stop before crossing the Apennines because the plague in Ferrara. Bessarion and Regiomontanus might have met Piero who was painting the cycle of frescoes in Arezzo and supplied him with a star map. Unfortunately, due to the lack of the horizon and any right line in the scene it is not possible to detect the latitude of the place corresponding to the painted sky.
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