Thursday 14 March 2013

Piero di Cosimo.

 Piero di Cosimo, The Immaculate Conception with SS Francis, Jerome, Bonaventure, Bernard, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, 1510s, Panel, 184 x 178 cm, San Francesco, Fiesole.

Of this group of Florentine painters Piero di Cosimo is the eldest having spent most of his career in the quattrocento. Piero was a pupil of Cosimo Rosselli, whose first name he took as a patronym. Reconstructing his oeuvre depends on Vasari in the absence of no signed, documented, or dated works by him. Contemporary with Leonardo, Piero formed his style after that influential master, and like his illustrious contemporary he was interested in the process of artistic creation. Piero seems to have been ill equipped to cope with the new dramatic altarpieces by Raphael, Andrea del Sarto and Fra Bartolommeo; he was out of step with these innovations because “the altarpiece was changing in ways that were foreign to his talents.”[1] Piero did try painting altarpieces but where religious art was concerned, it was the small devotional panels that he was most comfortable with. The small size of these implies that his patrons recognized that he struggled with painting large scale altarpieces.   

 Piero di Cosimo, The Adoration of the Christ Child, 1505, Oil on wood, diameter 140 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome.
  Another reason for Piero’s lack of success on the larger scale was despite responsiveness to the modernizing currents in Florentine art, Piero was unable to take a step forward without a related increase in what Freedberg calls his singularity, his strangeness which put him outside the mainstream of cinquecento Florentine art.[2] Something of this bizarre quality is seen in his Adoration in the Borghese which contains perplexing iconography such as Joseph relegated to the background.  Piero’s odd iconography may never be convincingly elucidated, and seems to be related to his psychological personality. Yet another reason for Piero’s lack of fit amongst the new painting in cinquecento painting was his difficulty in handling composition: he seems to have had problems with reconciling figures and backgrounds; he compensated for this deficiency by avoiding complicated poses, keeping figures in simple planes, and rejecting any bold foreshortenings.[3] 

Where he does have affinities with the new generation of Florentine artists is his assimilation of the language of Leonardo’s Florentine compositions into his small religious commissions For example, Fermor sees the twisted form of the music-making angel in Piero’s Virgin and Child with Two Angels resembling Leonardo’s Leda drawings. The influence of Leonardo’s Virgin and St Anne in these religious compositions which contain overlapping figures and inter-locking forms seems to be a point of reference too.[4] Finally, some of Piero’s works from his final decade return us to the altarpieces of Fra Bartolommeo, such as his Lucca altarpiece which Piero appears to have known.

 Piero di Cosimo, Virgin and Child with Two Angels, 1505-10, Panel, 116 x 85 cm, Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice.

 Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin and Child with St Anne, c. 1510, Oil on wood, 168 x 130 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

[1] Sharon Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, invention and fantasia (London: 1991), 146.
[2] Freedberg, Painting in Italy, 98.
[3] Fermor, Piero di Cosimo, 126-134.
[4] Fermor, Piero di Cosimo, 145.

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