Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Piero della Francesca

Madonna and Child with Saints (Montefeltro Altarpiece)
oil and tempera on panel
248 x 170 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy

Piero della Francesca (c. 1415 - 1492) was a painter of the Early Renaissance in Italy. His painting was characterized by its serene humanism, its use of geometric forms and perspective (he was renowned in his times as an authority on perspective and geometry). He was virtually forgotten for centuries after his death, but regarded since his rediscovery in the early 20th century as one of the supreme artists of the quattrocento.

Piero was born in Umbria and spent much of his life there. But he found the origins of his style in Florence, and he probably lived there as a young man for some time during the 1430s. He studied and absorbed the artistic discoveries of his great Florentine predecessors and contemporaries - Masaccio, Donatello, Domenico Veneziano, Filippo Lippi, Uccello, and even Masolino, who anticipated something of Piero's use of broad masses of color. Piero unified, completed, and refined upon the discoveries these artists had made in the previous 20 years and created a style in which monumental, meditative grandeur and almost mathematical lucidity are combined with limpid beauty of color and light.

Much of Piero's later career was spent working at the humanist court of Federico da Montefeltro at Urbino. There he painted the portraits of Federico and his wife and the celebrated Flagellation. Piero is last mentioned as a painter in 1478 (in connection with a lost work).
Thereafter he seems to have devoted himself to mathematics and perspective, writing treatises on both subjects.

It is said that Piero was blind when he died, and failing eyesight may have been his reason for giving up painting. He died on the very day that Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the Americas. After his death, Piero was remembered mainly as a mathematician rather than as a painter. He had considerable influence, notably on Signorelli (in the weighty solemnity of his figures) and Perugino (in the spatial clarity of his compositions). Both are said to have been Piero's pupils.