Arezzo also has Etruscan origins; indeed it is believed to have been one of the most important cities of the Etruscan League. Today it is the capital of Arezzo province and is one of Tuscany’s wealthiest cities, in part due to its production of expensive jewellery. It is also famous for Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in the Basilica of San Francesco, the purpose of my visit.
Piero’s ‘Legend of the True Cross’ fresco cycle tells the story of how the cross was found near Jerusalem by the Empress Helena and was adopted by her son, the Emperor Constantine, as his battle emblem. The frescoes are believed to have been painted from around 1452 to 1466 and were commissioned by the Bacci family
The story begins with the death of Adam and the planting of a branch (or seeds) from the tree of life in his mouth. The tree that eventually grows will be made into the cross used for the crucifixion. The Queen of Sheba discovers the wood and tells Solomon that his rule over the Jews would eventually be destroyed by a man who would die on it. Servants of Solomon bury the wood in the hope that the prophesy would not come true. However, Helena tortures by starvation a Jew who knows of its whereabouts and so recovers it.
Before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, Constantine has a vision in which an angel tells him that the cross will lead him to victory, which, of course, it does. Another battle scene depicts the defeat of Chosroes, who had stolen the cross, by Heraclius, who then returns the cross to Jerusalem, thus completing its story.
The Queen of Sheba meets with Solomon
The Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes
The Exaltation of the Cross