Francesca, Piero Della

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Like many artists of the Renaissance, Piero della Francesca did not limit himself to art. He is famous today for his paintings. But in his own day, he was equally well known for his mathematical theories.

Piero, as he is known, was born about 1420 in Borgo San Sepolcro, a small town in the region of Umbria in central Italy. As a boy he showed a remarkable ability to learn. He was especially interested in Latin and mathematics. When he was about 20, Piero went to the nearby city of Florence—the artistic center of the early Renaissance—where he worked with the artist Domenico Veneziano. Piero also worked in Rome, Ferrara, Rimini, Urbino, and Arezzo. But he often returned to his home in Borgo San Sepolcro.

In 1452, Piero began work on a series of frescoes (paintings done on wet plaster) for the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo. The ten scenes illustrate the legend of the True Cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified. Piero applied his mathematical theories to this monumental work. His solid, stately figures are calm and motionless, arranged like columns in a geometric pattern.

In 1478, Piero returned to his native town. He devoted the rest of his life to studying and writing, completing books about solid geometry, perspective, and his theories on painting. In his last years, Piero became blind.

Piero della Francesca died on October 12, 1492. His work was not widely admired again until the 1900's.

Reviewed by S. J. Freedberg
National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)

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