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Piero di Cosimo


Piero di Cosimo (2 January 1462[1] – 1521[2]), also known as Piero di Lorenzo, was an Italian Renaissance painter.

The son of a goldsmith, Piero was born in Florence and apprenticed under the artist Cosimo Rosseli, from whom he derived his popular name and whom he assisted in the painting of the Sistine Chapel in 1481.

In the first phase of his career, Piero was influenced by the Netherlandish naturalism of Hugo van der Goes, whose Portinari Triptych (now at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence) helped to lead the whole of Florentine painting into new channels. From him, most probably, Cosimo acquired the love of landscape and the intimate knowledge of the growth of flowers and of animal life. The manner of Hugo van der Goes is especially apparent in the Adoration of the Shepherds, at the Berlin Museum.

He journeyed to Rome in 1482 with his master, Rosselli. He proved himself a true child of the Renaissance by depicting subjects of Classical mythology in such pictures as the Venus, Mars, and Cupid, The Death of Procris, the Perseus and Andromeda series, at the Uffizi, and many others. Inspired to the Vitruvius' account of the evolution of man, Piero's mythical compositions show the bizarre presence of hybrid forms of men and animals, or the man learning to use fire and tools. The multitudes of nudes in these works shows the influence of Luca Signorelli on Piero's art.

During his lifetime, Cosimo acquired a reputation for eccentricity—a reputation enhanced and exaggerated by later commentators such as Giorgio Vasari, who included a biography of Piero di Cosimo in his Lives of the Artists.[3] 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.[4] 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".

If, as Vasari asserts, he spent the last years of his life in gloomy retirement, the change was probably due to preacher Girolamo Savonarola, under whose influence he turned his attention once more to religious art. The death of his master Roselli may also have had an impact on Piero's morose elder years. The Immaculate Conception with Saints, at the Uffizi, and the Holy Family, at Dresden, illustrate the religious fervour to which he was stimulated by Savonarola.

With the exception of the landscape background in Rosselli's fresco of the Sermon on the Mount, in the Sistine Chapel, there is no record of any fresco work from his brush. On the other hand, Piero enjoyed a great reputation as a portrait painter: the most famous of his work is in fact the portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci, mistress of Giuliano de' Medici. According to Vasari, Piero excelled in designing pageants and triumphal processions for the pleasure-loving youths of Florence, and gives a vivid description of one such procession at the end of the carnival of 1507, which illustrated the triumph of death. Piero di Cosimo exercised considerable influence upon his fellow pupils Albertinelli and Bartolomeo della Porta, and was the master of Andrea del Sarto.

Vasari gave Piero's date of death as 1521, and this date is still repeated by many sources, including the Encyclopædia Britannica.[5] However, contemporary documents reveal that he died of plague on 12 April 1522.[6]



The Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci

The Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci is a painting from c. 1480, which portrays noted Genoese beauty Simonetta Vespucci as Cleopatra with an asp around her neck. It is housed in the Musée Condé of Chantilly, France.[4]
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.
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.
'Here, Piero di Cosimo has chosen a portrait type which was already outmoded by the time he came to paint it (c. 1520). The profile view may have been borrowed from a medal portrait used by Piero as a model, since Simonetta Vespucci, whose latinized name appears on the strip along the bottom of the painting, had died of consumption in 1476.[5]
Piero di Cosimo, The Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, c. 1480
Piero di Cosimo, The Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, c. 1480, Musée Condé of Chantilly, France.

Selected works

* Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci (c. 1480) Oil on panel, 57 x 42 cm, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France
* The Visitation with Saints Nicholas and Anthony (1489–1490) Wood, 184 x 189, National Gallery of Art, Washington
* Venus, Mars, and Cupid (1490) Wood panel, 72 x 182 cm, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
* St. Mary Magdalene (1490s) Tempera on panel, 72,5 x 76 cm, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
* Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria (1493) Oil on panel, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence
* Jason and Queen Hypsipyle with the Women of Lemnos (ca 1499) Private Collection[7]
* Tritons and Nereids, Oil on Panel, 37x158 cm, Milan, Altomani collection
* Allegory (1500) Panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington
* St. John the Evangelest (1504–1506) oil on panel, Honolulu Academy of Arts
* The Discovery of Honey (c. 1505-1510) Oil on panel, Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts
* Vulcan and Aeolus (c. 1495-1500) Oil and tempera on canvas, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
* The Finding of Vulcan on Lemnos (1495–1505) Oil and tempera on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
* Perseus Frees Andromeda c. 1515, Oil on wood, 70 x 123 cm, Uffizi, Florence
* Giuliano da San Gallo (c. 1500) Wood panel, 47,5 x 33,5 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
* The Death of Procris (c. 1500) Oil on panel, 65 x 183 cm, National Gallery, London
* Virgin with Child, St. John the Baptist and an Angel (c. 1500-1510) Oil on panel, diameter 129 cm, São Paulo Museum of Art, São Paulo
* The Adoration of the Christ Child (1505) Oil on wood, Galleria Borghese, Rome
* Immaculate Conception with Saints (c. 1510 or c. 1498) Wood panel, 206 x 172 cm, Uffizi, Florence
* The Misfortunes of Silenus (c.1505-1510) Oil on panel, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
* The Myth of Prometheus (1515) Oil on panel, Alte Pinakothek, Munich and Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg
* The Building of a Palace (1515–1520) oil on panel, 83 x 197 cm, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
* Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels (c.1520) oil on wood panel, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma

[1] The cassone (pl. cassoni) is a Renaissance marriage chest. Usually commissioned in twos, cassoni were important pieces of furniture in the Renaissance home, oftentimes the most expensive thing in the house. A cassone is an Italian chest large enough to normally be used directly from the floor of a room. It needs no stand, table, or brace. On average, they measure roughly 1.5 meters across, .5 meters tall, and .5 meters deep and can weigh several hundred pounds when loaded. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the cassone was typically a marriage chest, given to the bride and groom at the time of their wedding by the family of the bride. Often, the cassone will contain the bride’s dowry. Cassoni were traditionally made in pairs, and often were elaborately decorated, sometimes with the heraldry of the bride and the groom. The cassone itself was highly decorated. In the 15th century, they were most often painted, while heading into the 16th century, sculpted or intarsiated wood became the prefered medium. The painted cassoni had scenes from everyday life or from mythology, usually with a moral pointed at the bride. Other themes on the cassoni included battle scenes and themes from ancient mythology and literature.  
A cassone, known as the Nerli Cassone

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