|PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA (Sansepolcro, 1416/17 approx.-
Piero della Francesca is certainly one of the most important Italian painters of the XV century. His art was ample, monumental and rational, and represents one of the highest artistic ideals of the early Renaissance. The absolute mathematical rigour of his creations emphasises the abstract and iconic traits of his paintings and adds a powerful religious feeling to his masterpieces.
Piero was born around 1416 in Borgo San Sepolcro: his father, Benedetto, was a leather and wool dealer, while his mother, Romana di Perino, came from Monterchi, a village nearby.
Piero della Francesca's first works show a thorough knowledge of the art of his age and suggest that he might have spent some time in Florence; his presence in the Tuscan county town is mentioned in a document dated 1439, when he worked with Domenico Veneziano at the series of frescoes for the chiesa di Sant'Egidio (the church of Saint Egidio), now lost. After his Florentine experience, around 1440-1445 he painted the Battesimo di Cristo (Christ's Baptism, London, National Gallery). In 1445 he was asked to paint the Polyptych of the Misericordia for the chapel called "cappella della Confraternita della Misericordia di Sansepolcro", which was finished in 1460 (Sansepolcro, Pinacoteca). The stage scenes, probably devised by Piero, were then carried out by Giuliano Amedei, a Camaldolensian friar from Florence.
In the fifth decade of the XV century Piero visited the most important northern Italian courts and to his hometown. Between 1445 and 1450 the documents make us suppose that he was in Ferrara, where he worked for the Marquis Leonello d'Este, a refined Maecenas of the time: unfortunately, the frescoes that Piero painted in the Castello estense (the Este's family Castle) and in the chiesa di Sant'Agostino(Church of St. Augustine) were lost.
He then moved to Rimini where in 1451 he painted the fresco with Sigismondo Malatesta kneeling to Saint Sigismondo, in the Tempio Malatestiano (Malatesta's family temple), renovated by Leon Battista Alberti in Renaissance style. In the same years he probably painted also the two tables with San Gerolamo (Venice, Accademia and Berlin, Staatliche Museen) and the The Flagellation (Urbino, Galleria Nazionale), as well as the fresco called Madonna del Parto in Monterchi. Around 1452, at the death of Bicci di Lorenzo, a florentine traditionalist painter, Piero started to work at the frescoes of the The Legend of the True Cross in the choir of the chiesa di San Francesco (Church of Saint Francis in Arezzo). The Arezzo cycle, which was certainly finished by 1465, is a superb expression of Piero della Francesca's art in the central phase of his career and one of the best examples of the Italian murals of the XV century.
In 1454 the Augustinians of Sansepolcro asked him to paint a polyptych, which he finished only in 1469. The polyptych is now divided between various museums and part of it has been lost. Some documents tell us that he was in Rome in 1459. In the 1460's he worked for Federico da Montefeltro, the duke of Urbino, for whom he painted the dyptich with Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza (1465; Florence, Uffizi), and, later, the Madonna of Senigallia (Urbino, Galleria Nazionale) and the Pala di San Bernardino (1472-74; Milan, Brera). His last known work is most likely the Natività, in London (National Gallery). In Urbino he also worked at a treaty on the art of painting, the De prospectiva pingendi, where the artist describes in scientific terms the harmonious link between forms and the space around them. In 1482 he rented a house in Rimini; in 1487 he dictated his will. When he died, in 1492, he was blind.
After his death his works were soon forgotten, and he was mentioned only in Giorgio Vasari's "Vite" (biographies) and in the references to his activity as a theoretician of perspective that can be found in some architecture treaties of the XV century.