Piero of Benedetto de Franceschi, commonly known as Piero della Francesca (Borgo Sansepolcro, 12 September 1416/1417 – October 12, 1492) was an Italian and painter of the Early Renaissance. He was also known as a mathematician and geometer. Nowadays Piero della Francesca is chiefly appreciated for his art. His painting was characterized by its serene humanism, its use of geometric forms and perspective. His most famous work is the cycle of frescoes “The Legend of the True Cross” in the church of San Francesco in the Tuscan town of Arezzo.
His works are wonderfully suspended between art, geometry and complex multi-level reading system, where complex theological, philosophical and topical issues come to pass. He managed to harmonize, in life as in his works, the intellectual and spiritual values of his time, condensing multiple influences and mediating between tradition and modernity, between religiosity and new affirmations of humanity, between rationality and aesthetics.
His work was a hinge between the brunelleschian geometric perspective, the plasticity of Masaccio, the high light that clears the shadows and intrigues the colors of Beato Angelico and Domenico Veneziano, a precise description and attentive to the reality of the Flemings. Other fundamental features of his poetic expression are the geometric simplification of both compositions and volumes, the ceremonial immobility of gestures, attention to human truth.
Its activity can undoubtedly be characterized as a process that goes from pictorial practice to mathematics and abstract mathematical speculation. His artistic production, characterized by the utmost rigor of prospective research, the monumental plasticity of the figures and the expressive use of light, deeply influenced the Renaissance painting of northern Italy and, in particular, the Ferrara and Venetian schools.
Biographical reconstruction of Piero’s life is an arduous task to which generations of scholars have been dedicated, relying on the subtle clues in the general scarcity of official official documents that have come to us. His work was only fragmented, with numerous losses of extreme importance, among which are the frescoes performed in the Apostolic Palace, which were replaced in the 16th century by Raffaello’s Rooms.
Piero was born by Benedetto de ‘Franceschi, a wealthy man of textile merchandise, and by Romano di Perino da Monterchi, a nobleman of the Umbrian family, in Sansepolcro (which was then called “Borgo San Sepolcro”) in an unspecified year between 1406 and 1416. The exact date of birth is unknown, as a fire in the municipal archives of Sansepolcro destroyed the records of birth of the ancient registry. A first document that appoints Piero is testimony to the testament dated October 8, 1436, which shows that the artist must already have at least the prescribed age of twenty years for an official document. According to Giorgio Vasari in the Lives, Piero died in 1492, he was 86 at the time of his death, which would bring his birth in 1406 but the news is unreliable, because his parents married only in 1413. Vasari explains that being His father died before he was born, he was known to the matronimico instead of the patronymic (his mother was known as “Francesca” as married to the Francis, as Lisa Gherardini of the Giocondo was called the “Gioconda”).
Probably his training took place in Borgo Sansepolcro, a cultural border town, influenced by Florentine, Siena and Umbrian influences. Already in the 13th century in the Camaldolese monastery of Sansepolcro there was a school, documented since 1226. In the course of the 14th century, the Friars Minori and the Eremiti friars of St. Augustine also run their schools, whose convents have their own libraries. In the 15th century the sensitivity for studies remained strong in the Camaldolese monastery, where in 1474 the abbot declared himself available to accommodate four grammar students. In addition, between 1478 and 1480, the monastery library has 121 volumes, mostly liturgical, theological and legal. From the first decades of the fifteenth century, when Piero della Francesca completed his schooling and started his artistic career, a significant cultural presence also developed at the convent of the Servants of Mary, where many theologians of theology live and work. In addition, the constant presence of a grammar school at the end of the 14th century and the high number of intellectual professionals (especially doctors and notaries) make the local cultural context rather articulate and complex, characterized by a widespread culture that Absence of university-level academic centers, contributes to liven up the Sansepolcro and the entire Upper Tiber Valley. One can not overlook, for example, the remarkable demographic dimension of the Sansepolcro of time, which offers us the measure of a dynamic and vital center in which the young Piero could find an environment that could stimulate his artistic sensibility.
The first artist with whom he collaborated was Antonio d’Anghiari, active in Sansepolcro and its inhabitants, as evidenced on May 27, 1430, a payment document to Piero for the painting of banners and flags with the insignia of the commune and of the papal government, placed above A door of the walls. At the end of 1437 he worked in the main church of Sansepolcro, the Camaldolese abbey of St. John the Evangelist (today’s Cathedral Basilica): on January 8, 1438 his father, as a legitimate director of his son painter, releases to master Antonio di Giovanni Painter of Anghiari, for paintings performed by his son in the chapel of St. Lawrence of the Abbey, as well as in the Annunciation of Sant’Agostino in Sansepolcro and at the table of Sant’Angelo in Citerna In 1438 he is again documented in Sansepolcro, where he is quoted Among the aides of Antonio d’Anghiari, who had been entrusted with the commission for the palace of St. Francis Church (then made by Sassetta) at first instance. It is difficult, however, to say if Piero’s master was Antonio, since he did not have any reliable work.
In 1439 it was first documented in Florence, where perhaps his true formation had perhaps taken place, perhaps already around 1435. On September 7, it is mentioned among the aides of Domenico Veneziano in the frescoes, now lost, of the Stories of the Virgin in the choir Of the church of Sant’Egidio. The luminous painting of the light and sumptuous palette of Domenico Veneziano and that of modern and vigorous Masaccio were decisive in the development of his artistic career, inspired by some of the fundamental characteristics he used throughout his life. With Domenico he had probably already worked in Perugia in 1437-1438 and, according to Vasari, the two also worked in Loreto, in the church of Santa Maria, where they began to fresco “a work in the vault of the sacristy; But because they were afraid of plague, they left it imperfect. ” The painting was later finished by Luca Signorelli.
His first work, which has been preserved, is the Madonna and Child, already in the Florentine Contini Bonacossi Collection, attributed for the first time to Piero in 1942 by Roberto Longhi, which dates back to 1435-1440, during which Piero was still Collaborator of Domenico Veneziano. In the side of the table is painted a pot as a prospective exercise.
Rather controversial is the dating of what some think of the first work received by Piero della Francesca, the Baptism of Christ at the National Gallery in London. Some iconographic elements, such as the presence of Byzantine dignitaries in the background, would place the work close to 1439, the year of the Council of Florence in which the Churches of the West and the East were reunited. Others date the shovel later, even at 1460.
In 1442 Piero was again inhabitant of Borgo Sansepolcro where he was one of the “councilors popular” in the town council. On January 11, 1445, he received from the local Confraternity of Mercy the commission of a polyptych for the altar of their church: the contract foresaw the completion of the work in three years and its complete autograph, in addition to the obligation to control and eventually restore The painting in the next ten years.
In fact, the writing of the polyptych lasted for more than 15 years, with an unidentified student’s intervention, as shown by a payment to Brother Marco of Benedetto de ‘Franceschi, on behalf of Piero, carried out by the Brotherhood in 1462. In XVII Century the polyptych was decomposed, with the loss of the original frame, then transferred to the church of San Rocco; Since 1901 is kept in the Municipal Picture Gallery.
The polyptych consists of 15 plates: the main register is composed of three compartments depicting the saints Sebastiano and Giovanni Battista, the Madonna della Misericordia and the saints Giovanni Evangelista and Bernardino da Siena; In the second register there are, in the center, the Crucifixion, on the sides of San Romualdo, the Annunciating Angel, the Annunciated and St. Francis. They also survive the painted bands of the lateral pillars, with the depictions of six saints and two coats of arms of the Brotherhood of Mercy, probably by an unknown student; Five tablets constitute the predella, attributed to the Camaldolese painter Giuliano Amidei, perhaps also belonging to a different polyptych.
In the first tables (San Sebastiano, San Giovanni Battista) the figures recall the heavy and physical gravity of Masaccio, while San Bernardino da Siena, depicted with the halo, poses an important term post quem, since it was proclaimed holy only in 1450.
In the forties Piero stayed in various Italian courts: Urbino, Ferrara and probably Bologna, making frescoes that were completely lost. For example, Ferrara worked in 1449 at the Estense Castle and in the Church of Sant’Andrea, but today there is no trace of it. Here perhaps he had a first contact with Flemish art, meeting Rogier van der Weyden directly or through one of the works he had perhaps left at court. Flemish contact is particularly evident if one thinks of his early use of oil painting.
March 18, 1450 is documented in Ancona, as witness to the testament (recently found by Matteo Mazzalupi) of the widow of Count Giovanni of Messer Francesco Ferretti. In the document the notary specifies that the witnesses are all “citizens and inhabitants of Ancona”, so Piero was probably hosted for some time by the important Anconetan family and for them he painted the tablet of the San Girolamo penitent, dating back to 1450. In Agli The same years are more or less similar to the analogous Saint Jerome and donor Girolamo Amadi. In both, there is interest in the landscape and for the fine making of details, in variations of material and “luster” (that is, reflections of light) which can be explained only through direct knowledge of Flemish painting. Vasari also remembers a Sposalizio of the Virgin on the altar of St. Joseph in the Duomo, already disappeared in 1821.
Vasari remembers how Piero was “employed” by Guidantonio da Montefeltro, leaving a great deal of activity, but in 1550 he was “largely ill” because of the wars from which the urbined state was troubled.
In 1451 it was in Rimini, called by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta to work at the Malatestian Temple where he left the monumental votive fresco with St. Sigismondo and Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. Here he probably knew Leon Battista Alberti, and from here he moved again to Ancona, Pesaro and Bologna.
In 1452 he was appointed to replace Bicci di Lorenzo, deceased, in the mural decoration of the Chapel Major of San Francesco in Arezzo, where he painted the famous Stories of the True Cross. The documents recall the last payment for the fresco cycle in 1466, which could also have been completed before.
The first phase of San Francesco’s decoration dates back to 1458 and covers the lunettes and paintings framed by collaborators on the master’s cartons. The work was interrupted during his trip to Rome.
The cycle is characterized by scenes constructed prospectively and with a delicate and rich color, reproduced by Domenico Veneziano’s style. The design is rigorous, with a Florentine imprint, but its rigidity is gradually diminishing in the company.
At the same time, 1453 is also documented in Sansepolcro where in 1454 he signed the contract for the polyptych of the main altar of the church of Sant’Agostino, to which he will work mostly in later years, ending only in 1469.
In 1458-1459 Piero was active in Rome, called by Pope Pius II. Before leaving, he named Brother Marco as his attorney at Borgo San Tomb, probably due to a long absence.
In Rome, the Apostolic Palace carried out frescoes well documented but now lost, after they were destroyed in the 16th century to make room for the first of the Vatican Rooms of Raffaello. In Santa Maria Maggiore there is a fresco of San Luca painted probably by the shop of Piero, while nothing has been preserved entirely autograph works. The Papal Treasury issued a document dated April 12, 1459 for the payment of 140 florins for “certain paintings” in the “Chamber of Our Holiness Our Lady”.
The Resurrection of the Civic Museum of Sansepolcro, from the unreachable solemnity dates back to this period, given by the pyramidal composition and the ieratic frontality of Christ. These years are generally also dated to the Flagellation, the Madonna of Divorce and, according to some, the Baptism of Christ.
On November 6, 1459, Piero’s mother and his father died on February 20, 1464.
Rome Piero certainly met Flemish and Spanish artists, acquiring new awareness for the representation of realistic atmospheric phenomena, which will be the basis of the most experimental frescoes of the second phase of the Arezzo cycle, such as the night scene of the Dream of Constantine. In 1460 he was in Sansepolcro, where he signed and dated the fresco of Saint Ludovico in Toulouse. In 1462 he was paid for the Polytic of Mercy.
In late 1466, the Nunziata aretina confraternity commissioned a banner with the Annunciation to Piero, quoting in the contract the success of the frescoes of San Francesco as the reason for choice: at that date the cycle had to be finished. That same year, Piero painted the fresco of a Madonna in the Cathedral of Arezzo.
In 1467 Perugia carried out on behalf of the tertiary nuns of the convent of Sant’Antonio a polyptych, where the late-gothic setting desired by the commissioner was contrasted in the climax with an annotation of clear Renaissance mold with an extraordinary prospective escape of strings on background.
In 1468 it was documented in Bastia Umbra, where he had fled to escape the plague. Here he made at least one other painted gonfalon (lost).
The polyptych for the Augustinian church of Sansepolcro was commissioned in 1454, but completed only in 1469, with the payment of a payment, perhaps the last dated November 14th. The work is highly innovative, devoid of gold background, replaced by an open sky between classical balustrades, and with the figures of the saints with a linearity and monumental accentuation.
Piero is not clear at Urbino’s court by Federico da Montefeltro, where he certainly lived between 1469 and 1472. Despite this, Piero is rightly considered one of the protagonists and promoters of urbined culture, and in Urbino his Style reached an unsurpassed balance between the use of rigorous geometric rules and serenely monumental breathing.
About 1465-1472 dates back to the Double Portrait of the Dukes of Urbino, where Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza are portrait portraits in the foreground, and on the back in triumph over allegorical wagons and painted tribute paintings. Federico’s portrait was finished in 1465, while Baptist Sforza is known posthumously, and later on 1472. The portraits are placed in the background of a far-reaching and deepest Nordic landscape, in particular Jan van Eyck.
In 1469 Piero was documented in Urbino, where the Corpus Domini Brotherhood commissioned him to paint a processional banner. On that occasion the master also offered the painting of the troubled blade of Corpus Domini, already commissioned to Fra Carnevale, then to Paolo Uccello (1467), who painted only the predella, and finally completed by Giusto di Ghand in 1473-1474. In 1470 Federico da Montefeltro was documented in Sansepolcro, perhaps in Piero’s company.
In Urbino Piero he left mainly the Madonna of Senigallia and the Pala di Brera, majestic works, with an unequaled balance of rigorous painted architecture and light. The Palace of Brera dates back to 1475, since the Duke is portrayed without the decoration of the Order of the Garter, which he received in 1474. It is very likely that the painter Pedro Berruguete, also known as Pedro Berruguete, Whose brush Roberto Longhi attributed to Federico’s hands. The harmonious architectural backdrop recalls the creations of Leon Battista Alberti, in particular the church of Sant’Andrea in Mantova, while the figures are immersed in a clear light atmosphere.
In 1473 a payment was recorded, perhaps linked to the Polittico di Sant’Agostino. In 1474 he was paid the final payment for a lost painting destined for the chapel of the Virgin in the Badia of Sansepolcro. From July 1, 1477, with some interruption, lived until 1480 at Borgo San Sepolcro, where he regularly participated in the municipal council. In 1478 he painted a fresco lost for the Chapel of Mercy, always in Sansepolcro. Between 1480 and 1482 he was head of the Brotherhood of St. Bartholomew in his hometown.
At the last stage of Piero is attributed the Nativity, where stands out the prospective system and the loving care of details. Some critics hypothesize that the face of the Madonna was made by another “Flemish” hand.
At this time, Madonna and Child and four angels from the Williamstown Museum (Massachusetts) are also awarded.
Documented back to Rimini in 1482, where he rented a house, waiting for the writing of the Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus, completed in 1485 and dedicated to Guidobaldo da Montefeltro.
He made the will on July 5, 1487, declaring himself “healthy in spirit, mind, and body.”
In recent years, according to Vasari, he was hit by a serious eye disease that prevented him from working. He died in Sansepolcro on October 12, 1492, just on the day of the discovery of America, and was buried in the Badia of Sansepolcro.
In addition to artistic activity, he was also author of mathematical treatises and prospective geometry: a computational manual entitled Abacus treaty, De prospectiva pingendi and De quinque corporibus regularibus. In addition, in 2005, he was identified by James Banker in the Riccardiana Library in Florence (ms 106), an autograph containing a copy of the translation of much of the archimedeal corpus executed in the first half of 400 by Iacopo by San Cassiano. The text with geometric figures, specially designed for the occasion, attests to his study path and his interest in Greek mathematics and geometry.
In these three mathematical works there is a synthesis between Euclidean geometry, belonging to the School of the Dukes, and abachistic mathematics, reserved for technicians.
The first work was the abacus treatise, on mathematics applied, it was written perhaps already in 1450, thirty years before the De prospectiva pingsendi. The title was added only in modern times since it was absent in the original. The geometric and the algebraic part were very vast in relation to the habits of his time, as well as the experimental part in which the author explored unconventional elements.
In the second treatise De prospectiva pingendi continued its theoretical study line by codifying, first of all, the rules of modern prospective science, making remarkable novelties so that it could be defined as one of the fathers of new science and modern technical design. Among the problems faced there is the volume volume calculation and the architectural processing of the domes.
In the third treatise Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus, a treatise devoted to geometry, which has resumed ancient themes of Platonic-Pythagorean tradition, has been inspired by the Euclidean lesson for the logical order of expressions, references, and coordinated use. Complex theorems, while it was close to the needs of technicians in the determination of solid, polytric treated figures, and the absence of classical demonstrations and the use of arithmetic and algebraic rules applied to calculations. In the text, in particular, for the first time regular and semi-circular polygons were drawn, studying the relationships between the five regulars.
Piero’s deep interest in the theoretical study of perspective and his contemplative approach to his paintings are apparent in all his work. In his youth, Piero was trained in mathematics, which most likely was for mercantilism. Three treatises written by Piero are known to modern mathematicians: Abacus Treatise (Trattato d’Abaco), Short Book on the Five Regular Solids (Libellus de Quinque Corporibus Regularibus) and On Perspective for Painting (De Prospectiva Pingendi). The subjects covered in these writings include arithmetic, algebra, geometry and innovative work in both solid geometry and perspective. Much of Piero’s work was later absorbed into the writing of others, notably Luca Pacioli. Piero’s work on solid geometry appears in Pacioli’s “De divina proportione”, a work illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci. Biographers of his patron, Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino, record that he was encouraged to pursue the interest in perspective which was shared by the Duke.
In the late 1450s, Piero copied and illustrated the following works of Archimedes: On the Sphere and the Cylinder; On the Measurement of the Circle; On Conoids and Spheroids; On Spirals; On the Equilibrium of Planes; On the Quadrature of the Parabola; The Sand Reckoner. The manuscript consists of 82 folio leaves. It’s held in the collection of the Biblioteca Riccardiana and it is a copy of the translation of the Archimedean corpus made by the Italian humanist Iacopo da San Cassiano (also known as Iacobus Cremonensis).