Painter from Borgo San Sepulcro in Umbria. Active in Arezzo and Urbino, he was one of the major artists of the 15th century. His work has a solemn stillness and unusually solid figures, luminous colour, and carefully calculated compositional harmonies. It includes several important fresco series and panel paintings such as the Flagellation of Christ (c. 1455; Ducal Palace, Urbino), which is remarkable for its use of perspective.
Formal and austere, all his works, of whatever size or medium, show in their use of colour, perspective, and composition a fascination with mathematical order. His largest-scale work is the fresco series The Legend of the True Cross (1452–60, the Church of San Francesco, Arezzo); other works include the fresco The Resurrection of Christ (Pinacoteca, Borgo San Sepulcro) and the panel altarpiece Madonna with the Duke of Urbino as Donor (Brera, Milan). The two famous panel paintings in the National Gallery, London, the Baptism of Christ and the Nativity, though closely related in style, are considered to be an early and late work respectively.
His portraits include Federigo da Montefeltro (c. 1470) and Battista Sforza (c. 1470; both Uffizi, Florence).
The oil method of these portraits suggests some acquaintance with Netherlandish painting, but in general the art of Piero is strongly individual in its poetry and contemplative spirit, and the feeling of intellectual force conveyed by its abstract treatment of space and form.
He was probably the pupil of Domenico Veneziano, and is first mentioned 1439 when he was an assistant of Domenico, then painting frescoes in Sant' Egidio in Florence. He returned to his native town, no doubt with a valuable store of Florentine science, including that of perspective, and was employed there on panel paintings and frescoes. He also worked at Urbino, where he had the patronage of the Federigo da Montefeltro and his wife, of whom he painted famous portraits (Uffizi, Florence).
He visited Rome, where he painted frescoes in the Vatican for Nicholas V. These were immense works in the Vatican library, in poor condition as early as the 16th century, when Raphael was commissioned to replace them. He also worked in Ferrara, Rimini, and Arezzo, where he painted his masterpieces of fresco 1452–60. He returned regularly to Borgo San Sepulcro, to which he seems to have been very attached. He gave up painting when about 60, as his sight was failing, and devoted himself to mathematical and philosophical studies. Two written treatises remain on the laws of perspective and mathematics.
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