My favorite painting: Timothy Mowl


Timothy Mowl has chosen The Altarpiece of Brera by Piero della Francesca, a piece he calls “The Beginning of the Renaissance at its Most Captivating”.

Professor Timothy Mowl on the Brera altarpiece by Piero della Francesca

“My son introduced me to this magnificent painting, so it has a common resonance. I was drawn to his meticulously correct portrayal of classical architecture, the spiritual serenity of the assembled cast, many of which are evidently taken from life, as if posing for a baptismal photograph, and, in contrast , the armored donor Federico da Montefeltro, humanist and murderer, who lost the bridge of his nose and an eye in a tournament – this is his best team.

“But the most extraordinary element is the suggestively shaped shell hood and the hanging ostrich egg, denoting female fertility. The beginning of the Renaissance at its most captivating.

Timothy Mowl is an architectural and landscape historian who has published over 30 books.

Charlotte Mullins comments on the Brera altarpiece

In a classic light-flooded atrium, the Virgin Mary sits on a platform while the baby Jesus sleeps on her knees. She is surrounded by saints and archangels, while a kneeling man in the armor of a military commander prays before her. He is seen in profile and his distinctive nose and curly black hair designate him as Federico da Montefeltro, the powerful Duke of Urbino, around 50 years old.

Now known as the Brera Altarpiece, this sacred conversation was commissioned by the Duke to mark the birth of his son and heir, Guidobaldo, and was originally on display in the Church of San Bernardino in Urbino. It was painted by Piero della Francesca, a Renaissance artist trained in Florence and who spent many years at the Duke’s court.

In the painting, the characters are serious and motionless, as if carved in stone. It is the high architecture that catches our eye. Della Francesca had studied the new science of perspective and her full understanding is here demonstrated. Watch the barrel vault recede behind the Virgin – it is as if she is sitting in her own ornate wing of the church.

The ostrich egg suspended in the air in front of the scallop ceiling is one of the great mysteries of Renaissance art – the ostrich was a symbol of the Montefeltro family, but the egg could also symbolize the birth of the Virgin or represent the plumb line from geometric perspective.


“I am fascinated by the drama clearly visible on the faces of the subjects and intrigued by the events which led to

Danielle Steel, the world’s best-selling fiction writer, admits that “Klimt stole my heart” with this wonderful work.

“I love the work of William Nicholson. His still lifes are incomparable.

“It is a tribute to the dignity and to the inner life of ‘ordinary’ people, deep and tender at the same time. ”

Nicholas Coleridge chooses Maharana Jagat Singh attending elephant fight by Syaji and Sukha as his favorite painting


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