Flagellation of Christ
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Gotta love this proto-Renaissance painting by Italian artist Piero della Francesca for it’s perfect balance of precision and mystery.

The precision is in the use of perspective, of course. Take a look at the beautifully converging lines in the tile work! And then there’s the mystery of the identity of the three fashionable dudes in dresses dominating the foreground of the painting. They are seemingly oblivious to what’s going on in the background and are probably just talking about their hangover from the bacchanal they were at the night before.

Of course the focus of the aptly titled Flagellation is supposed to be biblical superstar Jesus Christ, who is tied to a column behind these guys, getting whipped in front of the Judean governor Pontius Pilate. The figure lashing him has been identified by some as Murad II, the Islamic emperor who fought a long war against Christianity. That would make the image your standard lament of Christian suffering when Muslims took over Constantinople in 1453.

But then what's up with the amigos in front? A favorite theory is that the guy in the center is Oddantanio da Montefeltro, ruler of Urbino, flanked by his trusty advisors. Montefeltro was murdered as part of a conspiracy, and IF he's the one depicted, the painting was probably commissioned by his brother who wanted to compare the plight of his innocent brother to that of Christ's (sort of a big "if").

However, this much is clear: this is one of the greatest little paintings in the world.  Though less than two feet high, it shows the Renaissance love for perspective and classical architecture. Piero was a painter but also a mathematician and a geometer (a person who loves geometry, i.e. a hot nerdy Renaissance dude), literally wrote the book on perspective in his essay De Perspectiva Pingendi (On the Perspective of Painting).

Symbolism wasn't lost on him either- the pagan statue of gold on top of the column to which Christ is bound has been identified as Sol, the classical sun god. This could be a reference to Christ as the light of the world. Or, you know…just a hit of golden nudity to make things saucy in an otherwise somber scene.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Flagellation of Christ (Piero della Francesca)

The Flagellation of Christ (probably 1468–1470) is a painting by Piero della Francesca in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino, Italy. Called by one writer an "enigmatic little painting," the composition is complex and unusual, and its iconography has been the subject of widely differing theories. Kenneth Clark placed The Flagellation in his personal list of the best ten paintings, calling it "the greatest small painting in the world".

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Flagellation of Christ (Piero della Francesca).