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 Piero Della Francesca  (c. 1415 - 1492)

/ pee-AIR-oh del-luh fran-CHESS-kah/
About: Piero Della Francesca


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Lived/Active: Italy      Known for: landscape and religious narrative painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Dei Franceshi, Pietro de Benedetto, also called Piero Borghesi was born in Borgo San Sepoloro  in Umbria between 1410 and 1415.  Borgo San Sepolcro was an agricultural commune in the northeastern pocket of central Tuscany. His mother, Romana di Perino, came from a merchant family in nearby Monterchi.  His father, Benedetto dei Francheschi, was a storekeeper, listed successively in the town records as a tanner and a dealer in textiles and wool clothing.  Any record of his birth otherwise seems to have been lost.  He never married and there is no mention of his having fathered any children. 

Piero studied at Florence, then returned to Borgo San Sepolcro to get his first major commission.  He traveled through Italy painting in Rimini, Ferrara, Rome, Arezzo and Urbino, then settled down to spend his last fourteen years in his native town compiling two mathematical treatises.   

He was one of the greatest Italian painters of the 15th century, yet his name was not widely known outside his own land until recent times. This was in part because most of his great works are located off the beaten path (the traveler still finds it hard to see some of them).  It may also have been because Piero's qualities as a painter were unique; they were adopted by no follower, they gave rise to no school or style of painting. Fresco was his ideal medium. He was a practiced master in the plain, professional sense.  His perspective theory is expounded in the most forthright practical prose.  He was one of the first Italians to work distinctively with oils.  

Piero showed mathematical ability in his early youth and went on to write many mathematical treatises.  None of his mathematical work was published under his own name in the Renaissance, but it seems to have circulated quite widely in manuscript and became influential through its corporation into the work of others.   

Piero was an upstanding citizen who preferred, after the itinerant years of his twenties and thirties, to stay pretty close to home.  He served three terms as an elected member of the People's Council.  In later life he headed the Confraternity of San Bartolomeo, locally the most powerful laymen's religious organization. He proved himself a competent architect.  The house he redesigned in middle age for his brothers' families and himself was restored as a study center to his memory,  Vasari claimed that Piero lived well into his eighties.  He reputedly died rich.  It may also be that in the last years of his life he went blind, suddenly, from glaucoma.  Nearly sixty years after he died, a street-lantern-maker named Marco di Longaro recorded that as a small child he used to lead the old, blind painter around town by the hand. He died at Borgo San Sepolcro in October 12, 1492.   

Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:   
Metropolitan Library of Home Art Exhibits: Piero della Francesca   
Time Magazine, January 17, 1955   
From the Internet:   
What Piero Knew, by Bill Berkson, Art in America, December 1993.

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