|St. John the Baptist as a young man|
Piero di Cosimo (2 January 1462 – 12 April 1522), also known as Piero di Lorenzo, was a Florentine painter of the Italian Renaissance.
|The Death of Procos|
He is most famous for the mythological and allegorical subjects he painted in the late Quattrocento; he is said to have abandoned these to return to religious subjects under the influence of Savonarola, the preacher who exercised a huge sway in Florence in the 1490s, and had a similar effect on Botticelli. The High Renaissance style of the new century had little influence on him, and he retained the straightforward realism of his figures, which combines with an often whimsical treatment of his subjects to create the distinctive mood of his works. Vasari has many stories of his eccentricity, and the mythological subjects have an individual and quirky fascination.
Reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic 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”.
Also, according to Vasari, Piero “changed his style almost from one work to the next.” He devoured influences—Leonardo, Filippino Lippi, Flemish painting—and espoused radical ideas, notably a borderline heretical vision of human prehistory as brutally primitive. Compulsively original, he wouldn’t hold still to be revered. The glancing ironies and the frequent wild humor of his art remain freshly confounding—and a good deal of fun—today.
He trained under Cosimo Roselli, whose daughter he married, and assisted him in his Sistine Chapel frescos. He was also influenced by Early Netherlandish painting, and busy landscapes feature in many works, often forests seen close at hand. Several of his most striking secular works are in the long "landscape" format used for paintings inset into cassone wedding chests or spalliera headboards or panelling. He was apparently famous for designing the temporary decorations for Carnival and other festivities.
To look intently at Piero’s paintings, to pry beneath their surface, is to realize that the artist is forever playing with the nature of representation. His images, at once seemingly familiar, on closer view blur the line between illusion and reality. Though Piero steeped himself in the world of classical literature, to read his paintings too literally is to diminish an appreciation for his originality and wit. For Vasari, it was Piero’s gift to see “a certain subtlety in the investigations of some of the deepest and most subtle secrets of Nature, without grudging time or labor, but only for his own delight and for his pleasure in the art” (vol. 1, 657). To modern audiences, this continues to be a source of wonder. Phil Jacks.
Renaissance Wild Man: