His City

map of northern Italy, land mass is white, with Adriatic Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea

All seven works by Piero della Francesca in American collections and Saint Augustine (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon) were painted in the artist's native city. Borgo San Sepolcro (now known as Sansepolcro) is today a small Tuscan town near the border of Umbria. In Piero’s time, Borgo boasted a thriving population and a flourishing local economy. The town’s cash crop was woad, a plant processed for valuable indigo dye and sold to centers of textile manufacture, such as Florence and Siena.

Piero’s hometown had an established identity that was neither Florentine nor Sienese. Centrally located on the Italian peninsula, Borgo San Sepolcro was situated at a crossroads along major mercantile and minor pilgrimage routes. The name of the settlement (burgus) derives from Christ’s tomb, the Holy Sepulcher (San Sepolcro). According to legend, two pilgrims returning from Jerusalem in 1012 with sacred relics stopped here to rest. Upon witnessing a miracle, they enshrined their trove in an oratory, and a city took shape around it. Citizens of Borgo celebrated this spiritual legacy, honored local religious foundations, and endowed them with magnificent works of art.

Shaped by formative experiences in the city of his birth, Piero identified himself with Borgo San Sepolcro, often signing paintings petri de bvrgo. Despite the demand for Piero’s talents at the Italian courts of Ferrara, Rimini, Rome, and Urbino, he always returned home. At the height of his fame in the late 1470s, Piero created for his family palace a magnificent fresco of Hercules that likens his professional success to a Herculean achievement. A remarkable creation, Hercules is one of the earliest surviving works of art created by an artist for himself. To this day, Piero remains Borgo’s most celebrated citizen.

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