Piero di Cosimo

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Piero di Cosimo
born 1462, Florence
died 1521, Florence

original name Piero Di Lorenzo Italian Renaissance painter noted for hiseccentric character and his fanciful mythological paintings.

His name derives from that of his master, Cosimo Rosselli, whom he assisted (1481) in the frescoes “Crossing of the Red Sea” and “Sermon on the Mount” in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. There he saw the frescoes of Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandajo, whose styles dominate his early “Story of Jason” (1486; National Gallery of South Africa, Cape Town). In “The Visitation with Two Saints” (c. 1487; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), the permanent influence of the enamel-like colours of Hugo van der Goes' “Portinari Altarpiece” is first visible.

Piero's mature style is exemplified by his mythological paintings, which exhibit a bizarre, romantic fantasy. Many are based on Vitruvius' account of the evolution of man. They are filled with fantastic hybrid forms of men and animals engaged in revels (“The Discovery of Wine,” c. 1500; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.) or in fighting (“Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapiths,” 1486; National Gallery, London). Others show early man learning to use fire (“A Forest Fire,” c. 1487; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and tools (“Vulcan and Aeolus,” c. 1486; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). The multitude of firm, glossy-skinned nudes in these paintings show Piero's interest in Luca Signorelli's work. But, while “The Discovery of Honey” (c. 1500; Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Mass.) retains Signorelli's figure types, its forms are more softly modeled, and its light is warmer, showing Piero's mastery of the new technique of oil painting. In the “Rescue of Andromeda” (c. 1515; Uffizi, Florence), Piero adopts Leonardo da Vinci's sfumato (smoky light and shade) to achieve a new lush, atmospheric effect.

Piero painted several portraits, of which the best known is the memorial bust of Simonetta Vespucci (c. 1498; Conde Museum, Chantilly, France), mistress of Giuliano de' Medici. Simonetta is partly nude, and her rhythmic profile is accentuated by the black cloud placed behind it. She wears a gold necklace, around which two snakes coil, possibly an allusion to her death from consumption. The transience of youth and beauty is the theme of the famous “Death of Procris” (c. 1490–1500; National Gallery, London). The softly undulating form of the accidentally slain Procris lies in a meadow bathed in a golden light while a curious satyr kneels beside her and her faithful dog—considered the first humanized dog in art—mourns at her feet.

Piero's art reflects his bizarre, misanthropic personality. He belonged to no school of painting. Instead, he borrowed frommany artists, incorporating elements of their style into his own idiosyncratic manner. He painted many works to please only himself (an unusual practice for the time) and declared that he often found inspiration for his paintings in the stains on walls.


Forest Fire
c. 1500
Panel, 71 x 203 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Forest Fire (detail)
c. 1500
Panel, 71 x 203 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Forest Fire (detail)
c. 1500
Panel, 71 x 203 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


Adoration of the Child
c. 1510
Oil on panel, 116 cm (without frame)
Museo di Palazzo Martelli, Florence

The Adoration of the Christ Child
Oil on wood, diameter 140 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

The Building of a Palace
Oil on panel, 83 x 197 cm
Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota

Holy Family with the Young St John the Baptist
c. 1520
Panel, 119 x 87 cm
Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice

Immaculate Conception with Saints
Panel, 184 x 178 cm
San Francesco, Fiesole

Incarnation of Jesus
c. 1505
Wood panel, 206 x 172 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Madonna with Child and the Young St John
Oil on panel, 72 x 54 cm
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

Madonna and Sleeping Christ Child with the Infant St John the Baptist
Oil on panel, diameter 88 cm
Private collection

St Mary Magdalene
Tempera on panel, 72,5 x 76 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints
Panel, 203 x 197 cm
Museo dell'Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence

Portrait of a Woman
Paper on wood, 50 x 37 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

Giuliano da Sangallo
c. 1500
Wood panel, 47,5 x 33,5 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Virgin and Child with Two Angels
Panel, 116 x 85 cm
Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice

Virgin and Child with a Dove
c. 1490
Wood, 87 x 58 cm
Musйe du Louvre, Paris

The Visitation with Sts Nicholas and Anthony
Wood, 184 x 189
National Gallery of Art, Washington