( Originally Published 1955 )
Florentine painter of singular originality who absorbed many elements from the styles of others but made them an integral part of his own. Tales of his eccentric personality stem from Vasari an& may be pure fantasy but they are not inconsistent with some of his more bizarre works. His name was Piero di Lorenzo, but he derives his more familiar name from his teacher, Cosimo Rosselli, whose shop he entered in 1480. The next year he went to Rome with Rosselli to assist him on the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel walls. His hand in these may be distinguished from that of Rosselli by his closer observation of nature and his more luminous color. He was associated with the literary circle around Lorenzo de' Medici in the early 1490's, a connection that is reflected in a number of allegorical panels for private patrons. One of Mars and Venus (Berlin) is closely related to Botticelli; others deal with the early life of man on earth in a series recently analyzed by Erwin Panofsky as representing man's progress toward civilization as the result of the arts of Vulcan. Other groups deal with the contributions of Bacchus and of Prometheus to man's comfort. It is noteworthy that these were all produced at the time when the influence of the religious fanatic Savonarola was at its height and many artists destroyed their mythological pictures. Altarpieces by Piero are in the Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence, and the Louvre. He also painted portraits, of which the most famous is that representing Simonetta Vespucci as Cleopatra (Conde Museum, Chantilly). Piero's art reflects the influence not only of his teacher and of Botticelli, but also of Verrocchio, Signorelli, Filippino Lippi and Leonardo da Vinci. His inventiveness was such that he remained independent and cannot be classed as an imitator of any of them.