Piero della Francesca

Piero della Francesca pyĕˈrō dĕlˈlä fränchāsˈkä [key], c.1420–1492, major Italian Renaissance painter, b. Borgo San Sepolcro (modern Sansepolcro). All his masterpieces were created in towns of central Italy, but early contact with the art of Florence proved decisive in Piero's development. In the Baptism of Christ (c.1445; National Gall., London) he had already absorbed the Florentine theories of perspective and added his own acute perception of nature. He delighted in the play of mathematical ratios and painted The Flagellation of Christ (c.1450; Urbino) in a measured, symmetrical manner. His most famous cycle, The Story of the True Cross (1452–66; Church of San Francesco, Arezzo), depicts scenes from the Golden Legend. Particularly notable are the imposing portrayal of the Queen of Sheba, the stately array of battle scenes, and the stark night scene of the Dream of Constantine. He painted several court portraits, including one of Sigismondo Malatesta before his Patron Saint, a simple geometric conception. This contrasts with the scrupulous detail he used in painting the profile portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Uffizi). Piero also executed the massive Resurrection (Sansepolcro) and several altarpieces, parts of which have been lost or scattered. One panel of a saint is in the Frick Collection, New York. He always painted slowly and deliberately, and after 1475 his activity slackened. The Nativity (National Gall., London) and Virgin and Child with Saints (Brera, Milan) are among the few pictures he produced in his later years. Devoting himself to works of a more theoretical nature, he wrote Libellus de V Corporibus regularibus [notebook on the five regular bodies] (MS in Vatican Library) and De Prospectiva pingendi [on perspectives in painting] (MS in Ambrosian Library, Milan).

See J. R. Banker, Piero della Francesca: Artist and Man (2014); L. Witham, Piero's Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca (2014); studies by K. Clark (2d ed. 1970), C. de Tolnay (1966), A. Angelini (1985), and J. and M. Gilland (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: European Art to 1599: Biographies