The empty city – 20 April 2020

Here is a city square. The buildings are new and fresh, all modelled in the Renaissance style found in locations across Italy. The side buildings are palaces, each with a portico. The central building is a rotunda, a building in a perfect circle. It stands in the center of the city square that contains a fine pavement and two fountains.

Mathematically this picture is perfect. It has been constructed around a single vanishing point, and exhibits a wonderful understanding of perspective. It is one of the first pictures painted in this way, showing a scientific understanding of how to create visual depth in art. Here is a visual utopia.

The picture is named ‘The ideal city’, because of the visual and stylistic perfection. And yet, and yet…. Not a single person can be seen. No one looks out of the window, no one walks under a portico, and although the central building has a partially open door, no one goes in. People would spoil the view, diminish perfection. What is the point of a city, however perfect, without people? Take the people away, and they will be missed. With people there is no utopia, but there is life.

The work here ‘The Ideal City’ is one of three so named, all painted for the Duke of Urbino at the end of the fifteenth century. This one was originally attributed to Piero della Francesca, but is now thought to be by either Luciano Laurana or Melozzo da Forli, and is in the Ducal Palace in Urbino.


And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:2-4

Jerusalem the golden,
with milk and honey blest,
beneath your contemplation
sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, O I know not,
what joys await us there;
what radiancy of glory,
what bliss beyond compare.