Piero Della Francesca, although forgotten for some time, came to be recognized in the twentieth-century for his contributions to early Italian Renaissance. While his paintings seem at first glance both simple and serene, there also exists an underlying geometrical scheme that gives them perspective and clarity.
It is presumed that the artist was born around 1420 in Sansepolcro, Italy. His father was a successful shopkeeper and therefore, Piero Della Francesca would have received a decent education. While it has never been documented, the style of his earlier paintings, including his first commissioned work ‘Madonna della Misericordia’, indicates that he may have painted with several skilled artists of the Sienese school who lived in Sansepolcro at that time, such as Florentine artists Donatello, Domenico Veneziano and Filippo. His refined technique and style is unique in that it has a mathematical lucidity combined with limpid beauty of color and light.
Piero’s most popular work is a series of frescos he began in 1452 entitled the ‘Legend of the True Cross’ which is located at the Basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy. The painter ignored the chronological sequence of the scenes and arranged them into a structured type of symmetry. He possessed an advanced knowledge of perspective and color that he conveyed in all his work. It set him apart from any other artist of his era. The fresco cycle starts with the dying Adam sending his son Seth to the Archangel Michael, who presents him with a seed from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Seth places the seed into Adam's mouth just before his death.
Piero Della Francesca was a slow and methodical artist who was known for his perfectionism. He often applied wet cloths to the plaster at night to keep his work from drying so that he could continue working on the same section the next day.
In addition to Florence, Piero Della Francesca also worked in Rimini, Arezzo, Ferrara, and Rome. One of his most popular works is a two panel painting that portrays Count Federigo da Montefeltro and his wife, which was probably done in honor of their wedding. The last two works the artist ever painted have been identified as being ‘The Madonna and Child’ and the unfinished ‘Nativity’ which now hangs in the National Gallery in London.
In the last years of his life, Piero Della Francesca ceased to paint because he was said to be losing his sight. He pursued writing and put together a treatise on painting, as well as on geometry and applied mathematics. Piero died in Sansepolcro on October 12, 1492. His will, dated 1487, declares him to be 'sound in mind, in intellect and in body', words written in his own clear handwriting. Somehow forgotten for centuries and then resurrected in the twentieth, he is remembered mainly for his mathematical skills and his painting genius.