Friday, September 7, 2012

Piero di Cosimo

Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci
oil on panel
57 x 42 cm
Musee Conde, Chantilly, France

Piero di Cosimo (1462 - 1521), also known as Piero di Lorenzo, was an Italian Renaissance painter. The son of a goldsmith, Piero was born in Florence and apprenticed under the artist Cosimo Rosseli, from whom he derived his popular name and whom he assisted in the painting of the Sistine Chapel in 1481.

During his lifetime, Cosimo acquired a reputation for eccentricity - a reputation enhanced and exaggerated by later commentators such as Giorgio Vasari, who included a biography of Piero di Cosimo in his Lives of the Artists. Reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyro-phobic that he rarely cooked his food; he lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Vasari, "more like a beast than a man".

Piero was a painter of fantastical imagination. His imagination was grounded nonetheless in observation, Giorgio Vasari pointing out that he drew excellently from life. He proved himself a true child of the Renaissance by depicting subjects of Classical mythology. He also painted portraits, the finest of which is that of Simonetta Vespucci (this painting), in which she is depicted as Cleopatra with the asp around her neck. None of his surviving paintings is signed, dated or documented.