The Flagellation of Christ (between 1445 and 1475) by Piero della Francesca is one of the most famous and commented paintings of the Italian Quattrocento. The work, a small panel painted on wood, is at the same time striking both by the hieratic beauty of the characters and also silent, opaque, in terms of its meaning. Hence an avalanche of studies, since the middle of the last century, which show contradictory interpretations. Medieval historian Franck Mercier, a specialist in the 15th century in Europe in particular, contributes his contribution to this critical edifice and offers a new solution to the enigma. Piero della Francesca. A conversion of the gaze reads with the pleasure of good surveys and achieves the feat of addressing both specialists and the wider public, those who enjoy discovery.
The back man
What troubles at first when faced with The Flagellation of Christ is due to the atypical staging of the painting: the scourging of Jesus by two executioners, under the impassive gaze of Pontius Pilate, is in the background; thrown in the foreground, immediately catching the eye, three men, of very different ages and outfits, who seem to be discussing among themselves. Who are they? Why are they here? These questions were at the heart of the debates. A final character further thickens the mystery: from behind, turbaned, he advances towards Christ.