Piero della Francesca
Art on This Day
Francesca was an Italian artist of the Early Renaissance, known to contemporaries as a mathematician and geometer as well as an artist, though now he is chiefly appreciated for his art. His painting was characterized by its serene humanism and its use of geometric forms, particularly in relation to perspective and foreshortening. His influence was particularly strong in the later Ferrarese allegorical works of Cosimo Tura (1430 – 1495), as well as with Pietro Perugino (1446 – 1524) and Luca Signorelli (1445 – 1523).
The documented facts of Piero della Francesca’s life, which are few, permit a reasonably accurate reconstruction of his career and interests but not an exact chronology of his surviving paintings. Nothing is known about Piero’s early training as a painter, though it is assumed that he was instructed by local masters who had been influenced by Sienese art.
In 1439 Piero worked as an associate of Domenico Veneziano, who was then painting frescoes for the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, where the early Renaissance style was beginning to flourish. In Florence he probably studied the statuary of Donatello and Luca della Robbia, the buildings of Filippo Brunelleschi, and the paintings of Masaccio and Fra Angelico. It was this contact with the early Renaissance art of Florence that provided the foundation of Piero’s own style.
Piero della Francesca’s mature style is revealed in frescoes painted in the choir of the church of S. Francesco at Arezzo. The decorations had been begun in 1447 by the elderly Bicci di Lorenzo, who died in 1452; Piero presumably was retained to complete the work shortly thereafter. The narrative cycle The Legend of the True Cross was completed by 1466. Its simplicity and clarity of structure, controlled use of perspective, and aura of serenity are all typical of Piero’s art at its best.
Although Piero’s reticent art had little influence on the experiments of his great Florentine contemporaries, he enjoyed great fame for his scientific contributions. In 1497 he was described as “the monarch of our times of painting and architecture,” and the biographer Giorgio Vasari gave him high praise two generations later. In the 20th century, Piero’s career has been reconstructed and his position reevaluated, giving proper credit to both the science and the poetry of his art.
He died today in 1492.
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