The column and the marble in The Flagellation by Piero della Francesca

The Flagellation by Piero della Francesca, a painting that has given rise to a large number of interpretations, is also of great interest for the artistic depiction of the marble, as demonstrated in the accurate rendering of the Egyptian Red Porphyry and Serpentine floor and by the marbles represented on the furthest wall in the scene on the left.


Another important lithic element of the painting is the column to which Christ is tied. Piero, like all his other colleagues, ignored the size of the official relic (only 65 cm high), which is today preserved in the Chapel of San Zenone in Santa Praxedes in Rome, and has depicted Christ tied to a plausible-size column (2,5mt.), thereby explicitly criticising the position of the Church on the subject of relics and iconographic schemes to be followed in official pictorial representations, that would be rigidly regulated after the Council of Trent.

In the Flagellation, there are two characters that are portrayed with the same gesture of the palm of the hand facing downwards, as if to indicate the height of an object. By inserting the Column of Flagellation from St. Praxedes in the painting with the correct perspective size, one can see the coincidence of the height of both the hands with the size of the official relic (see photomontage).

Maybe Piero wanted to represent a “theatrical” representation of the flagellation, with a Christ tied to a column of a realistic size (2,5 mt.); and perhaps with the hand gesture of the two characters he wanted to express his criticism of the Church for the size of the official relic: too small for the Flagellation worthy of a Rex Iudaeorum.

Download PDF (in Italian, 1,2 MB)

Translation of an Extract from Marmorari Magistri Romani di Dario Del Bufalo. Rome, L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2010.

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