Bio: Piero della Francesca
(approx. 1420-1492)

Special thanks to the Microsoft Corporation for permission to use following biographical information from Microsoft® Encarta '97:

Piero Della Francesca was an Italian painter of the first rank whose style was one of the most individual of the early Renaissance.

Piero was born in Borgo San Sepolcro, a small city in southern Tuscany, around 1420. He appears to have studied art in Florence, but his career was spent in other cities, among them Rome, Urbino, Ferrara, Rimini, and Arezzo. He was strongly influenced by Masaccio and Domenico Veneziano. His solid, rounded figures are derived from Masaccio, while from Domenico he absorbed a predilection for delicate colors and scenes bathed in cool, clear daylight. To these influences he added an innate sense of order and clarity. He wrote treatises on solid geometry and on perspective, and his works reflect these interests. He conceived of the human figure as a volume in space, and the outlines of his subjects have the grace, abstraction, and precision of geometric drawings.

Almost all of Piero's works are religious in nature—primarily altarpieces and church frescoes—although his serene and noble double portrait Federigo da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza (1465, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) is one of his most famous works. The undisputed high point of his career was the series of large frescoes Legend of the True Cross, (1452?-1465?), done for the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo, in which he presents scenes of astonishing beauty, with silent, stately figures fixed in clear, crystalline space. These frescoes are characterized by broad contrasts—both in subject matter and in treatment—that create a powerful effect of grandeur. Thus, for example, the nudes in Death of Adam are contrasted to the sumptuously attired figures in Solomon and Sheba, the bright daylight of Victory of Constantine with the gloom of Dream of Constantine (one of the first night scenes in Western art). In addition, each fresco is organized in two sections—a square paired with a longer rectangle—which he exploits to create a marked sense of rhythm.

Piero's later works show the probable influence of Flemish art, which he assimilated without betraying his own monumental style. In works such as the Sinigallia Madonna (1470?, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino), he adapted to his own purposes an attention to detail and a meticulous treatment of still life that were characteristic of Flemish art.

Certain aspects of Piero's work were significant for the northern Italian painters Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini, as well as for the later Raphael, but his art was in general too individual and self-contained to influence strongly the mainstream of Florentine art. He died in Borgo San Sepolcro on July 5, 1492.

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