Thursday, May 5, 2011

Piero della Francesca wishes you Happy Mother's Day

Who is this Piero and why is he wishing you Happy Mother's Day? Well, not all of you. Not if you're a man, or an eggplant, or don't have kids for that matter. Not in places in the world where this Sunday is not Mother's Day. You know who you are.

Piero della Francesca (who died October 12, 1492, just as our continent was being discovered) happens to be one of my favorite artists. Born in Sansepolcro near Arezzo, in Tuscany (close to the border with Umbria), Piero, as he is known to his numerous fans, was a famous and respected artist during his lifetime, who then fell into obscurity, and was rediscovered much later as the great painter he is. Most of his works continue to be concentrated in the Arezzo area, which means that if you become a fan (Like his Facebook page) you should go to the Arezzo area. It has many attractions besides being the birthplace of our friends Piero and Michelangelo, who was born in the teeny village of Caprese, now called Caprese Michelangelo.

So, what does all this have to do with being a mom? Piero painted this unforgettable Madonna, called, not too surprisingly, the Madonna del Parto (the Madonna of Labor, as in childbirth, not workers' organizations, but she probably would have approved of those, too). Although there were some pregnant Madonnas in Medieval art, ole Piero beat them all with this sublime work, showing an impassive but assertive Virgin Mary flaunting her pregnancy. When you think that it wasn't too long ago that it was considered taboo to even say "pregnant," we realize what a big deal this was.

I saw it when it was still amazingly out in the open (in a small chapel) in the village of Monterchi, where Piero's own mother was from. Paradoxically, it was located outside the town cemetery. The last time I saw it, the country road leading to it was guarded by two Carabinieri with pointed machine guns. The Italians finally decided in 1992 that keeping this priceless masterpiece out in a deserted area, with or without the protection of the armed forces, was impractical. She was then moved inside to her own museum in Monterchi, where you can now visit her and pay your respects. That way, in typical mom style, she can't complain that you never come and see her.