The resurrection. Piero della Francesca. 1460. Museo Civico. Sansepolcro, Italy. Sansepolcro, the birthplace of Francesca, translates as 'holy sepulchre'.

As a teenager Piero della Francesca, the Italian artist who created the Montefeltro altarpiece, studied his craft in Florence while working with Dominico Venezian on a series of murals for the hospital Santo Maria Nuova. It was during this early part of his career that he began exploring the relationship between mathematics and art. One treatise authored by him, On perspective for painting, is the first to deal with the mathematics of perspective [creating a three dimensional effect in two dimensional works]. His mathematical knowledge influenced his art as evidenced by his use of foreshortening, geometric forms and innovative perspectives.

The resurrection is one of his mature works and features the artist as one of the sleeping soldiers at the feet of Christ. The painting is set at dawn, at the very moment of resurrection. The theme of new life is mirrored in the trees in the background, with the trees on the left still leafless and dormant and the trees on the right flush with growth.

During World War II Sansepolcro, believed to be a stronghold of German soldiers, came under artillery fire by the British. However, Antony Clarke, the captain in charge of the attack, remembered an essay by Aldous Huxley which described The resurrection as "the greatest painting in the world" [see The history of the true cross]. He ordered the bombardment to stop, sparing the town and the masterwork. The Allies later learned that there had been no enemy troops at the site after all.