The painting career of Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522)
By Dennis Geronimus
PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, 2000
Abstract: In The Painting Career of Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522), I have sought to assemble a critical, monographic study of Piero’s painting oeuvre that presently includes close to fifty works that are either extant or exist only in references and sources. The Florentine painter has historically proven to be among the most elusive artists of the Italian Renaissance and yet acted as a seminal figure in the artistic transitions occurring from the close of the fifteenth century to the beginnings of Mannerism in Florence.
My thesis consists of close iconographic and stylistic analyses that have been balanced by archival work and technical examination. The latter involved numerous meetings with restorers in United States and European conservation laboratories. The resulting in-depth study of the physical states of Piero’s paintings as objects involving painting technique, working methods and present condition produces some of the most revealing results. My research with original documents and other primary sources in Florence also introduces a number of new discoveries, particularly from the early and middle stages of the painter’s life and career.
The varied nature of Piero’s art calls for a multidisciplinary approach. Combining iconographic, conservational and archival methods, I aim to contribute new insights into several specific areas. These include: a biographical grounding of Piero’s life and those of his known patrons; Piero’s advances in portraiture; the use of visual narrative forms and literary sources in Piero’s mythologies; and the painter’s large-scale devotional works.
The questioning of past assumptions concerning Piero’s work and biography also leads me to consider the larger scope of influence, legacy and modes of transmission between Piero and other contemporary artists. As one of the most important older innovators, living well into the sixteenth century, Piero was a major catalyst for the new generation of highly inventive artists such as Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo, both of whom passed through his studio. It was Piero, however, who proved to be perhaps the most groundbreaking practitioner in the domestic secular painting tradition before his pupils’ ascendance.