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Introduction to Piero Della Francesca Artist life

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:18 AM
Piero Della Francesca Artist life

Piero della Francesca is now perhaps the most revered Italian painter of his period, but his great celebrity is fairly recent. In his own day he was well known as a mathematician and theorist as well as a painter, but by the 17th century he was almost forgotten, and it is only in the 20th century that his severe purity of form and s consummate mastery of light and colour have become fully appreciated. 

The tardiness of Pieros elevation to the pantheon of great artists reflects the restive obscurity of his career. Most of his life was spent in the small town of Borgo san Sepolcro, and although commissions took him to nearby 2: city-states, his work never had the exposure of that of ' many of his great contemporaries. Now, however, his fresco cycle at Arezzo is properly recognized as one of Italy’s greatest art treasures. 


Sansepolcro's Famous Son

Piero spent most of his life in Sansepolcro, the little Tuscan town where he was born; but prestigious commissions took him further afield, to some of the most illustrious Renaissance courts. 

Piero's home town Piero spent most of his life in his home town, becoming a town councilor local celebrity. Sansepolcro's medieval tall towers, which appear in the background of some of his paintings, were destroyed during an 18th-century earthquake, but there are still fine Renaissance buildings in the town centre.
Piero della Francesca was born between 1410 and 1420 in the small town of Borgo san Sepolcro (nowadays known as Sansepolcro), some 40 miles south-east of Florence. His father Benedetto, a tanner and boot maker, is said to have died before the boy was born, and Giorgio Vasari's 16th-century life of Piero tells us that he was brought up by his mother, Romana. She came from nearby Monterchi, where the tiny chapel of the cemetery is decorated with Piero's fresco of the Madonna del Parto (Virgin of Childbirth,). The picture's subject makes it a fitting homage to the artist's mother, who may well have been buried at her birthplace.

LITTLE DOCUMENTATION
The Madonna del Parto Piero may have intended this fresco to be a tribute to his mother, as it was painted in the town of her birth.
We have no record of Piero's early years, and few documents from any period of his life. In 1442, and again in 1467, he was elected a town councilor at Sansepolcro, and over the years he carried out several commissions for paintings there. It was at Sansepolcro that he made his will, and he died there, the town celebrity, in 1492. Piero clearly loved his birthplace, returning there all through his life. Features of the town and its surrounding countryside appear in a number of 1250 

His paintings. But the search for wider artistic experience, and the quest for commissions, took him further afield, to the Papal court at Rome and to the towns and city-states of Florence, Ferrara, Rimini and Urbino. It is in Florence that we first hear of him, working with the painter Domenico Veneziano on the fresco decoration of the church of Sant'Egidio (now destroyed). The record, dated 7 September 1439, does not make it clear whether or not Piero was still learning his trade as Domenico's assistant.

The d'Este Court at Ferrara Piero would have seen the splendors of the d'Este court during his stay in Ferrara.
 A young man of Piero's gifts would in any case have found plenty to instruct and excite him in Florence. Having defeated its great rival, Pisa, the city was at the zenith of its power. In the midst of its vivid artistic and intellectual life, Piero absorbed the influence of such painters as Gentile da Fabriano, who worked in the florid International Gothic style, and Masolino and Masaccio, whose frescoes must have impressed Piero with their grave monumentality. 

The artist would also have heard excited discussions on the new theories of perspective, set forth in Leon Battista Alberti's treatise on painting, Della Pittura. Piero went on to become a renowned master of perspective to the architect Bramante and writing a work of his own entitled De prospection pingendi (on perspective in paintings)

A BYZANTINE DIGNITARY
 
A magnificent palace The Ducal Palace was under construction in the years when Piero was a frequent visitor to Urbino. He probably designed decorations for the palace, but nothing survives of any work he may have done.
One public event that took place during his stay in Florence seems to have made a strong impression on Piero. In 1439, John Paleologus, the Byzantine Emperor, arrived in the city from Constantinople. He had travelled to Italy with the dignitaries of the Eastern Church in search of Christian unity against the Turks. At the Council of Florence, agreement between the two Churches was solemnly proclaimed. It was to prove short-lived, and the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 cast a shadow over the mid-century and led to calls for a new Crusade. This theme is later invoked in Piero's Flagellation where the bound figure of Christ can be seen as a symbol of the Eastern Christians who were suffering at Turkish hands.

Sansepolcro’s Altarpiece This is one of the figures from the polyptych that piero executed for the church of sant’ agostino in his home town.
 In 1439, of course, all this lay in the future. Both the spectacle of the Emperor and his retinue, with their sumptuous and exotic garments, deeply impressed the Florentines. The splendour of Piero's Solomon Receiving the Queen of Sheba part of his great fresco-cycle at Arezzo shows that the memory was still fresh 15 years after the event.

From Florence, Piero returned to his native town, where in 1445 he was given his first recorded commission, for the polyptych known as the Misericordia Altarpiece Only partly by Piero's own hand, this seems to have taken an inordinate time to complete; the final payment for it may have been made as late as 1462. A slow and meticulous worker, Piero was also often called away to work for other patrons.

 Some time before 1450, he visited Ferrara. Although no trace of his work remains, his influence on later Ferrarese art is unmistakable. The court of the d'Este family at Ferrara was de-voted to the crafts of war and hunting, the love of pleasure, the intrigue of dynastic politics, and the pursuit of learning and the arts. Here, Piero would have seen the works of the great Netherlandish painter, Rogier van der Weyden, who had probably stayed at the d'Este court the previous year.

THE TEMPLE OF MALATESTA

The Arezzo Frescoes Piero began his most famous cycle of frescoes for the church of San Francesco in Arezzo in 1452, and the project occupied him for the next 12 years. The choice of subject -The Story of the True Cross - reflected the mania for relics prevalent at the time.
Piero was next called to Rimini, where the notorious Sigismondo Malatesta obtained his help in the ambitious redecoration of the Church of San Francesco, known as the Tempio Malatestiano (Temple of Malatesta). Piero's contribution, a 

Fresco showing Malatesta kneeling in veneration of his patron saint, Sigismund, is notable in being his only dated work - inscribed 1451.
  
Piero also worked for Malatesta great rival Federigo da Montefeltro, whose model court at Urbino was a famous centre of humanist learning and the arts. Piero travelled there many times between 1450 and 1480, and his Urbino pictures include two of his best-known works, The Flagellation of Christ and the striking diptych (now in the Uffizi, Florence), which shows Federigo and his wife, Battista Sforza, in profile against a luminous landscape of lightly wooded hills and pale tranquil water In the early 1450s Piero began work on his largest commission, the Arezzo frescoes.

The Bacci family, wealthy merchants of the town, had entrusted the decoration of their chapel in the church of San Francesco to Bicci di Lorenzo, a Florentine painter of the old school. When Bicci died in 1452, before he had begun work on the walls, Piero was called in, and together with his assistants spent most of the next 12 years on the task. In 1459 he visited the Papal court at Rome to decorate the chamber of Pius I (his work, writes By 1466 the Arezzo cycle was complete. Although many important paintings still lay before him, Piero was never to work on so large a scale again. Some critics have suspected a loss of enthusiasm in these later years, but such a picture as the National Gallery Nativity - unquestionably a late work - hardly shows lack of inspiration. 

BLIND IN OLD AGE

An enlightened patron This portrait of Federigo da Montefeltro emphasizes his prowess both as a warrior and as a scholar. Al the height of has fame as a general; the Duke became an enthusiastic patron of the arts, and gave Piero many artistic commissions. Tradition holds that Piero lost his sight in old age. A lantern-maker of Borgo san Sepolcro, Marco di Longaro, told a 16th-century memoirist that as a boy he used to 'lead about by the hand Master Piero Della Francesca, excellent painter, who was blind'. Be that as it may, Piero was able to declare himself 'sound in mind, in intellect and in body' as late as 1487, when he wrote his will in his own hand. Unmarried and without children, he left his property to his brothers and their heirs. Five years later, he died, and was buried in the family grave in the Abbey of Sansepolcro. The record of his death can be seen in the Palazzo, now the town museum and art gallery, where his superb painting of the Resurrection  still hangs today: 'M. Pietro di Benedetto de 'Franceschi, famous painter, on 12 October 1492.'

Writer-Marshall Cavendish
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