Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Piero di Cosimo

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, 1481-85, Piero di Cosimo
I've always had a special affinity for the painter/architect/biographer, Giorgio Vasari. I'm something of a painter; I've been an amateur architect all my life; and if blogging is today's rough equivalent of a biographer, put me down for that too. Of course, I don't pretend to come close in matching the great Renaissance intellect in any of those areas (Vasari was the first to label the Renaissance as such). Having the misfortune of working during the period following the High Renaissance, his painting is...well...Mannerist, which is no high praise, but the best I can do. His architecture is likewise...adequate (he designed the Uffizi portico). However when it comes to bringing the great painters of his self-proclaimed Renaissance to life one might say he literally "wrote the book."

Piero di Cosimo as depicted by Vasari in his
Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters.
He was stretching when he included di
Cosimo in this group.
The book Vasari called, Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori da Cimabue insino a' tempi nostri (Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times). The "our times" was 1550 when the first of several editions came out. While Vasari was a highly readable writer, and the first true art historian, he was not much of a researcher. Many of his dates (since updated) were not what you would call "gospel." On the other hand, Vasari loved gossip and trivia (as do I) so his "lives" have an intimate ring of truth, inasmuch as many of those of whom he wrote, he knew personally. Perhaps the most fascinating, interesting, certainly the most amusing character in his entire tome was the Florentine painter Piero di Cosimo.
The Sermon on the Mount, 1481-85, Cosimo Rosselli, background by Piero di Cosimo.
Piero di Cosimo was no Leonardo, no Michelangelo, no Raphael, though he probably knew all three. As painters go during this period, one might even say he was no Vasari. But, had he not been such an eccentric "loon" he might have joined the "Big Three" to make them four in number. Technically, as evidenced by his brushwork, di Cosimo was at least their equal. Born in Florence in 1462, Piero was certainly in the right time and the right place to achieve artistic greatness (Leonardo was ten years his senior, Michelangelo thirteen years his junior). The son of a goldsmith, di Cosimo apprenticed under Cosimo Rosselli, whose name he borrowed (or stole) as a "tribute" to his painting master (his family name was actually Lorenzo). He is said to have painted the fresco landscape background of Rosselli's Sermon on the Mount (above) on the north wall of the Sistine Chapel around 1481.

The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus, 1499, Piero di Cosimo,
mythology run amok.
The earliest work on his own attributed to di Cosimo's (none of his paintings are signed or dated), is that of Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (top), which has been placed around 1481-85. Most of his somewhat limited oeuvre dates from after 1500. If his paintings are not exactly legendary, then di Cosimo's eccentricities (thanks to Vasari) certainly are. He is said to have been pyrophobic. He ate little or no cooked food, living mostly on hard boiled eggs which he prepared some fifty at a time whenever he was forced to whip up a batch of rabbit skin glue as sizing for his paintings. Di Cosimo was also adverse to cleaning his studio (I can identify with that) and trimming the trees in his orchard, which he regarded as living beings. Vasari depicts him more as beast than a man. His paintings (above and below) seem to indicate a fascination with a combination of both.

Satyr Mourning Over Nymph, 1495, Piero di Cosimo. Nice puppy-dog.

Simonetta Vespucci, 1480
Piero di Cosimo
Despite his eccentricities, di Cosimo was a more than adequate portrait painter, his most famous being of the legendary beauty, Simonetta Vespucci (right), mistress of the wealthy Florentine ruler, Giuliano de' Medici, and sister of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci (for whom America is named). Di Cosimo's paintings are somewhat weird in his combining of men and animals as seen in his Satyr Mourning Over Nymph (above) from 1495. Judging by their sheer number, he also liked painting nudes. His depiction of landscapes and animals was exceptional for their time. His work is said to have influenced Mariotto Albertinelli, Bartolomeo della Porta, and Andrea del Sarto, who was his student. Di Cosimo seems to have withdrawn into a secluded retirement  during the final ten years of his life, largely (according to Vasari) as the result of a single man who influenced him--the Florentine religious fanatic, Girolamo Savonarola. Vasari claims Piero di Cosio succumbed to the plague in 1521, but recently discovered documents had him hanging on until 1522.
The Myth of Prometheus, 1515, Piero di Cosimo, one of his last works.

No comments:

Post a Comment