THOSE are indeed unfortunate who, after most arduous studies to the end that they may assist others and leave a reputation behind them, are not allowed, either through sickness or death, to complete the works which they have begun. And it very often happens in cases where they have almost brought their works to completion, that they suffer from the presumption of those who endeavour to cover the rownass, hide with the honoured shin of the lion. And although Time, which is called the father of Truth, sooner or later brings the truth to light, yet they are for some time defrauded of the honour due to their labours. This was the case with Piero della Francesca of the Borgo a S. Sepolcro. A consummate arithmetician, geometrician and perspectivist, the blindness which came upon him in his old age and the termination of his life, prevented him from displaying the results of his labours and the numerous books written by him, which are still preserved in his native Borgo. The man who should have done his utmost to increase Piero's glory and reputation, who had learned from him everything which he knew, impiously and malignantly sought to annul his teacher's fame, and usurp the honour due to him, publishing under his own name of Fra Luca dal Borgo all the results of the labours of that good old man, who, besides his knowledge mentioned above, was also an excellent painter. Born in Borgo a S. Sepolcro, not then a city as it now is, and called della Francesca after his mother, for she had been left pregnant of him at the death of her husband, Piero was reared by her and assisted to attain to the rank which his good fortune procured for him. In his youth Piero studied mathematics, but although at the age of fifteen he was already on the road to being a painter, he did not relinquish the study of the other, but made marvellous progress in both. He was accordingly sent for by Guidobaldo Feltro, the old Duke of Urbino, 1 for whom he made many beautiful pictures of small figures, most of which have come to grief during the numerous wars from which that State has suffered. However, some of his writings on geometry and perspective are still preserved there, and in these he proves himself not inferior to anyone of his own day, or perhaps of all time. All his works give evidence of his skill, being full of perspectives, especially a vase represented so as to show its front and back, its sides, its bottom and its mouth. This is certainly a marvellous work, as he has carefully represented every detail, foreshortening all the curves with much grace. He acquired such a reputation at that court that he wished to make himself known in other places. Accordingly he went to Pesaro and Ancona. Thence, while very busy, he was invited to Fertara by Duke Borso, and in the palace there 2 painted many rooms, afterwards destroyed by the old Duke Ereole in order to modernise the palace. Thus nothing of Piero's has been left in the city except a chapel in S. Agostino painted in fresco, and even that has suffered from the damp. Being afterwards invited to Rome by Pope Nicholas V., Piero did two scenes in the upper chambers of the palace in competition with Bramante of Milan. 3 These were also destroyed by Pope Julius II. in order that Raphael of Urbino might paint the Imprisonment of Peter, the Miracle of the Corporale at Bolsena, together with some other things which Bramantino, 4 an excellent artist of his day, had painted.

As I cannot devote a separate section to the life and works of this man, for his things have been destroyed so that it is not worth while, I will take this opportunity to write a notice of him. In the works which he made and which were pulled down there were, as I have heard them described, some fine heads from life, so well executed that but for the gift of speech they seemed alive. A goodly number of these heads have been preserved, because Raphael caused them to be copied, as they all represented great personalities. Among them were Niccolo Forte- braccio; Charles VII., King of France; Antonio Colonna, Prince of Salerno; Francesco Carmignuola; Giovanni Vitellesco; Bessarione, the cardinal; Francesco Spinola; Battista da Caneto. All these portraits were given to Giovio by Guilio Romano, the pupil and heir of Raphael, and were deposited by Giovio in his museum at Como. At Milan, over the door of S. Sepolcro, 5 have seen a dead Christ foreshortened by the same hand, the whole painting being no more than a braccia in height, but showing the whole length with ease and judgment, though the task seems impossible. That city contains other of his works, in the house of the young Marquis Ostanesia, where the chambers and loggias are executed by him with great skill and power in foreshortening the figures. Outside the Versellina gate, near the castle, he painted in the stables, now demolished, servants grooming horses, among them being one which is so well done and so full of life that another horse, taking it for the reality, kicked it repeatedly with its hoofs.

But to return to Piero della Francesca. Having finished his work at Rome, he returned to the Borgo, his mother being dead. Inside the middle door of the Pieve there he did two saints in fresco which are considered very fine. In the convent of the friars of St. Augustine he painted the picture of the high altar, 6 a much-admired work, and infresco he made Our Lady of Mercy in a company, or as some say aconfratern1ty. In the palace of the Conservadori he made a Resurrection of Christ, which is considered to be the best of all his works in that city. At S. Maria of Loreto he began to paint the vaulting of the sacristy in conjunction with Dominico of Venice, but fearing the plague they left it incomplete. 7 It was afterwards finished by Lucada Cortona, Piero's pupil, as will be related in the proper place. From Loreto Piero proceeded to Arezzo, where he painted the chapel of the high altar in S. Francesco for Luigi Bacci, citizen of Arezzo, 8 the vaulting of which had been already begun by Iorenzo di Bicci. This work contains stories of the cross, from the time when the sons of Adam, when burying their father, sow the seed of the tree under his tongue, to the exaltation of the cross by the Emperor Heraclius, who, carrying it on his shoulders, enters Jerusalem bare-headed and bare-footed. The work contains many fine ideas and praise worthy attitudes, as, for example, the dresses of the women of the Queen of Sheba, executed in a smooth and novel manner, many Portraits anti (hue in style and full of life, a divinely measured row of Corinthian columns, a serf leaning on his spade awaiting the commands of St. Helena, while the three crosses are being dug up, all of which cannot be improved upon. Very excellent also is the dead man who is raised on touching the cross, as well as the joy depicted in the face of St. Ilelena, who kneels to adore, and the amazement of the bystanders. But the most remarkable indication of his resource, judgment and art is his painting of an angel fore- shortened, with its head downwards, which appears suddenly by night to carry the sign of victory to Constantine, as he is sleeping in a tent guarded by a chamberlain, and by some other armed men, obscured by the darkness of the night. The heavenly visitor illuminates with his own light the tent, the armed men and all the surroundings very admirably. In this work Piero shows how important it is to imitate reality and to draw from the things themselves. His success in this has led the modems to follow him and thereby attain to that high level from which we now view things. In this same history, in a battle, he has admirably expressed fear, animosity, skill, force and all other emotions produced in a fight, as the accidents, with a great heap of wounded, of the fallen, and the dead. He deserves great praise for having imitated the lustre on the arms in this work, and also for having made a group of horses in foreshortening on the other wall, which contains the light and drowning of Maxentius, most marvelously executed. It must be considered a work of surpassing excellence for those days. In the same scene he represented a man half-clothed and half-naked, like a Saracen, riding barebacked, very remarkable for its display of anatomy, a thing little known then, For this work he deserved the large reward he received from Luigi Bacci, whom he drew there with Charles and his other brothers- and many Aretines, distinguished men of letters of the day, assisting at the beheading of a king, and he also merited the love and reverence of that city which was afterwards accorded to him, having rendered it so illustrious by his talents. In the Vescovado of the said city he made a St. Mary Magdalene in fresco, 9 beside the sacristy door, and in the company of he Nunziata he made a banner for carrying in procession. At the head of a cloister in S. Maria delle Grazie fuor della terra he made a St. Donato shown seated, in perspective, in his pontificals, surrounded by infants, and a St. Vincent in S. Bemardo for the monks of Monte Oliveto, in a niche high up in the wall, a work much admired by artists. At Sargiano, a place of the bare-footed friars of St. Francis outside Arezzo, he painted in a chapel a beautiful Christ praying in the Garden at night. In Peruoaia also he did many things which may still be seen there. In the church of the nuns of S. Antonio at Padua, he painted on a panel in tempera the Virgin and Child, St. Francis, St. Elizabeth, St. John the Baptist and St. Anthony of Padua. 10 Above this he made a fine Annunciation, with an angel which really seems to have come from heaven, and, what is more, an admirable perspective of diminishing columns. In the predella‚ are scenes in small figures of St. Anthony raising a boy, St. Elizabeth saving a child which has fallen into a well, and St. Francis receiving the stigmata. At the altar of St. Joseph in S. Ciriaco at Ancona he painted a fine representation of the marriage of the Virgin.

Piero was, as I have said, a diligent student of his art who assiduously practised perspective, and had a thorough acquaintance with Euclid, so that he understood better than anyone else all the curves in regular bodies, and we owe to him the fullest light that has been thrown on the subject. It happened thus: Luca dal Borgo, a Franciscan friar, who wrote of regular bodies in geometry, was his pupil; and when Piero came to his old age and died, after having written many books, the same master Luca took upon himself to have them printed as his own, since they came into his hands on his master's death. Piero was in the habit of making clay models, covering them with soft cloth with a number of folds in order to copy them and turn them to account. Among his pupils was Lorentino d'Angelo of Arezzo, who in imitation of his style did many paintings in Arezzo, finishing those which Piero left incomplete when death surprised him. Near the St. Donato which Piero made in the Madonna delle Grazie, Lorentino painted in fresco some scenes from the life of that saint, and other works in many other parts of the city, and a quantity of things in the country districts both because he never rested and to assist his family, which was then very poor. In this same church delle Grazie he painted the scene where Pope Sixtuq‚ IV., between the cardinal of Mantua and the Cardinal Piccolomini, afterwards Pope Pius III., grants an indulgence to that place. In this scene Lorentino introduced the portraits of Tommaso Marzi, Piero, Traditi Ponato Rosselli and Giuliano Nardi, kneeling, all citizens of Arezzo and wardens of the church. In the hall of the palace of the priors he also made portraits from life of Galeotto, cardinal of Pietramala, the Bishop Guglielmino degli Ubertini, M. Angelo Albergotti, doctor of laws, and many other works which are scattered about the city. It is said that one carnival-tide Lorentino's children begged him to kill a pig, as is the custom of the country; but as he had not the means to buy one, they asked him, "As you have no money, how will papa manage it?" To this he answered, "Some saint will help us." When he had repeated this several times, but did not buy the pig, they lost all hope, the season being past, until one day a rustic came from the Pieve a Quarto who wanted a picture of St. Martin to fulfill a vow, but had nothing else with which to pay except his pig, worth hire. Finding Lorentino, he told him that he wanted a picture of St. Martin, but had nothing to give except the pig. A bargain was struck, Lorentino painted his saint and the rustic brought him the pig, and thus the saint provided a pig for the poor children of the painter. Another pupil, Piero da Castel della Pieve did an arch above S. Agostino and a St. Urban for the nuns of St. Catherine at Arezzo, which has been recently pulled down to rebuild the church. Another pupil was Luca Signorelli of Cortona, who did him more credit than all the others. Piero Borghese, whose paintings were executed about 1458, was rendered blind at sixty by a catarrh, and had thus until the eighty-sixth year of his life. He left a fine property in the Borgo, and some houses which he had built him- self. These were burned and destroyed by factions in the year 1536. He was buried by his fellow-citizens in great state in the principal church, then in the hands of the monks of Camaldoli, and now the Vescovado. The majority of Piero's books are in the library of Federigo II., Duke of Urbino, and their many excellencies have earned him the well-deserved reputation of being the best geometrician of his day.

  • 1 He was not born until 1472; Vasari probably means the famous Dulce Federigo of Montefeltro.
  • 2 i.e. Palazzo Schifanoia, which was raised a story in 1469.
  • 3 1444-1514.
  • 4 Bartolomeo Suardi, c. 1450- c. 1526.
  • 5 Now inside.
  • 6 Commissioned in 1454.
  • 7 There was plague in1447 and again in 1452. It is possible that the Dominico referred to was Dominico di Matteo, who was assassinated in Florence in 1448.
  • 8 1452-66.
  • 9 In 1468.
  • 10 Now in the Accademia, Perugia.

  • Index of Artists