Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ, ca 1440-50

In one of his famous letters, the Roman official Pliny the Younger—who surely knew his way around the empire—wrote to a friend describing the upper Tiber valley: “You will experience great pleasure when observing this region from the heights of its surrounding hills: rather than a territory, you will think, in fact, that you are gazing at a painting executed with incredible skill—such is its rich variety and felicitous arrangement [of features]—that your eyes will be satisfied wherever they dwell.” It would be another thirteen centuries before Piero della Francesca, a native of...

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