Sunday, 28 December 2014


“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve

Piero di Cosimo (January 2, 1462 - April 12, 1522), sometimes known as Piero di Lorenzo, was born in Florence, son of a goldsmith, and apprenticed under the artist Cosimo Rosselli (1439 – 1507), from whom he derived his popular name. He assisted Rosselli in the painting of the Sistine Chapel in 1481.

In the first phase of his career, Piero was influenced by the Netherlandish naturalism of Hugo van der Goes (1440 – 1482), whose Portinari Triptych (now at the Spedale of Santa Maria Novella in Florence) helped to lead the whole of Florentine painting into new channels. From him Cosimo acquired the love of landscape and the intimate knowledge of the growth of flowers and of animal life. The manner of Hugo van der Goes is especially apparent in Cosimo’s Adoration of the Shepherds, (Berlin Museum).

He journeyed to Rome in 1482 with his master, Rosselli and proved himself a true child of the Renaissance by depicting subjects of Classical mythology in such pictures as the “Venus, Mars, and Cupid”, and “The Death of Procris”. This also includes his Perseus and Andromeda series, of which the painting “Perseus Frees Andromeda” (see above) is now at the Uffizi. Cosimo’s mythical compositions show the bizarre presence of hybrid forms of men and animals, or the man learning to use fire and tools. The multitude of nudes in these works shows the influence of Luca Signorelli (1445 – 1523) on Piero’s art.

During his lifetime, Cosimo acquired a reputation for eccentricity; reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food. He lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574), "more like a beast than a man”.

If, as Vasari asserts, he spent the last years of his life in gloomy retirement, the change was probably due to the religious reformer, Savonarola (1452 – 1498), under whose influence he turned his attention once more to religious art. The death of his master Rosselli may also have impacted Piero’s morose elder years. “The Immaculate Conception with Saints”, (or Incarnation) at the Uffizi, and “The Holy Family”, at Dresden, best illustrate the religious fervour to which he was stimulated by the stern preacher. Cosimo enjoyed a great reputation as a portrait painter: the most famous of his work being the portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci (1453 – 1476), mistress of Giuliano de Medici (1453 – 1478).

According to Vasari, Cosimo excelled in designing pageants and triumphal processions for the pleasure-loving youths of Florence. Cosimo exercised considerable influence upon his fellow pupils on Rosselli’s workshop, such as Albertinelli (1474 – 1515) and Fra Bartolomeo (1472 – 1517). He was the master of the influential Florentine Mannerist, Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1531).

Perseus, in Greek mythology, was the son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius of Argos. As an infant he was cast into the sea in a chest with his mother by Acrisius, who knew of a prophesy that said he would be killed by his grandson. The chest grounded on the island of Seriphus where Perseus grew up. King Polydectes of Seriphus, who desired Danaë, tricked Perseus into promising to obtain the head of Medusa, the only mortal among the Gorgons (winged female creatures of a terrible beauty, whose hair consisted of snakes).

Helped by the gods Hermes and Athena, Perseus pressed the Graiae, sisters of the Gorgons, into helping him by seizing the one eye and one tooth that the sisters shared and not returning them until they provided him with winged sandals (with which he could fly), the helmet of Hades (which made him invisible), a curved sword, or sickle, to decapitate Medusa, and a bag in which to conceal the head. Because the gaze of Medusa turned all who looked at her to stone, Perseus guided himself by her reflection in a shield given him by Athena and beheaded Medusa as she slept. He then returned to Seriphus and rescued his mother by turning Polydectes and his supporters to stone at the sight of Medusa's head.

On his way to Seriphus, Perseus rescued the Ethiopian princess, Andromeda. Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids (sea nymphs), so Poseidon had punished Ethiopia by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. An oracle informed Andromeda's father, King Cepheus, that the ills would cease if he offered Andromeda to the monster as a sacrificial vicitm, which he did. Perseus, passing by, saw the princess and fell in love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa's head and afterward married Andromeda.

Later Perseus gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, and gave his other accoutrements to Hermes. He accompanied his mother back to her native Argos, where he accidentally struck her father, Acrisius, dead when throwing the discus, thus fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather. He consequently left Argos and founded Mycenae as his capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Heracles. The Perseus legend was a favourite subject in painting and sculpture, both ancient and Renaissance. The chief characters in the Perseus legend, Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and the sea monster (Cetus), all figure in the night sky as constellations. 

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