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The liturgical feast known as The Invention of the Cross, celebrated until recently on May 3, commemorates St. Helena’s finding (inventio) of all three crosses and the major miracle that identified which was the True Cross.
The Finding of the Cross
On the left [where passages of paint have been lost], Helena and her entourage, including a well-dressed dwarf, observe the work of digging up the crosses; two workmen lift the last to be found out of the pit. Piero has marked the social status of the characters by their dress and, to some extend, their physiognomy. He again transfers the location of the scene, this time from Jerusalem to the city of Arezzo, by including a stunning and quite realistic portrait of the town in the saddle of the hills in the background. During the restoration campaign of the 1990s, oil paint was discovered to have been used along with fresco in landscape.
The Proofing of the Cross
On the right side of the tier, proof of the miraculous power of the True Cross is proved: when it is touched to the body of a dead boy on the way to burial he revives. Piero depicts Helena and her maidens on their knees responding to this wonder. Through the thin layers of paint of the women’s figures one can see Piero’s geometric design, particularly visible in Helena’s conical hat. For the male spectators, he depicts exotic Byzantine-style clothes. He had seen and recorded many such costumes more than a decade earlier, when Greek visitors came to Florence for the Church Council of 1439. The marvelous hats -- shaggy, flat goat-skin circles, pointed cones, and tall, flaring stove-pipe shapes, all worn over turbans -- were the ones he often portrayed in different colors. The cityscape behind figures is constructed according to the rules of one-point perspective, while the buildings themselves are designed in such a modern “Albertian” style that they even anticipate buildings then under construction in Rome and elsewhere.