Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Larry Witham's "Piero's Light"

Larry Alan Witham is a veteran journalist and author in the Washington D.C. area who has covered current events, history, religion and society, science, philosophy, and the visual arts. After twenty-one years in a newsroom, he now writes and edits books full time. He is the author of over one dozen books.

Here Witham dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science, and Religion:
Historians who pursue the life of the Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca have a visual dilemma, and the same would go for a Hollywood screen writer and casting agent. Piero scholars have no valid description of what he looked like. What they have is folklore. Piero’s supposed self-portrait in a fresco shows a square-jawed man with dark curly hair, for example. A fanciful woodcut of Piero from the sixteenth century presents him wide-eyed. During the 1990s, rumor had it that archeologists found his burial site, and the skeleton was tall.

Measured against the Hollywood blockbusters done on Michelangelo and Van Gogh, a treatment of Piero della Francesca, a relatively cerebral artisan for his time, would face cinematic challenges. Charleton Heston as the volcanic Michelangelo, and Kirk Douglas’s Van Gogh in Lust for Life, are hard acts to follow (not to mention the demonstrative Ed Harris in Pollock). Short of using the entire cast of the Sopranos as a pool for characters—since Piero’s story is distinctly Italian—a “Piero: The Movie” must select widely.

Casting Piero’s historical environment will be important. This would be the outsized autocrats whose colorful Renaissance courts Piero had painted for. For the humanist Pope Pius II we could imagine Anthony Hopkins. For the two warlord princes, Federico Montefeltro of Urbino and Sigismundo Malatesta of Rimini, we could draft, respectively, Javier Bardem and Robert De Niro. At the dramatic center, this leaves Piero and the humanist architect Leon Battista Alberti to personify. I would cast Geoffrey Rush (or Antonio Banderas) as the erudite Alberti and Christian Bale (or Alfred Molina) as Piero—physically strong but introverted, a man of few words, dogged determination, and consummate visual and mathematical talent. What producer could afford to pay for all these superstars is anyone’s guess.

We know almost nothing about Piero’s personal life. So a plot would have to be invented. It could simplify his biography by adding an invented twist or crescendo to a life that, otherwise, lasted eighty years. Fictionally, we might put him in rivalry with Alberti or the dominant Florentine painters: Piero as outsider. I would also draw on the unrequited love theme found in the Italian writers Dante and Petrarch. Have Piero lose his early love interest to plague (or a forced marriage to another), thus setting Piero on his self-reliant path. By the necessities of a broken heart, Piero’s art, adventures, and geometry become his mistress. Who will be Piero’s lost Beatrice (a la Dante) or Petrarch’s Laura? Why not the comely, yet demure, Nicoletta Braschi (Life is Beautiful).

No spaghetti Western here. Picture the kind of backdrop seen in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, or in recent films that harp on the Renaissance splendors of Venice. The Piero movie can be shot in Tuscany, Rome, and cities where he worked, and where architecture of that period still stands. The Hollywood title? Piero’s Light of course.
Learn more about the book and author at Larry Witham's website.

The Page 99 Test: Piero's Light.

--Marshal Zeringue