The idea to organize a conference on Piero di Cosimo was born in the spring of 2014 when Dennis Geronimus stayed at the Dutch Institute as a scholar-in-residence to work on the essays and entries for the catalogue that was to accompany the exhibition on the artist at the National Gallery of Art. When he informed me that the show would also come to Florence, it did not take the two of us long at all to settle on Piero as the subject of a conference, before the exhibition at the Uffizi would be over. Our conference took place only two days before the show closed at the Uffizi venue, allowing all of the conference participants to view and reflect on the show. I am extremely grateful to Dennis for the time and effort he invested in making our conference possible. It allowed us to translate the excitement we feel when looking at Piero’s work into a lively scholarly discussion aimed at a better understanding of his art and creative intentions.
The exhibitions in Washington and Florence made available for the first time to the public an unprecedented number of Piero’s paintings and drawings. The reviews I have read attest to the success with which the organisers have put together the first major monographic shows dedicated to Piero. I think it is safe to say that both exhibitions have successfully removed this endlessly interesting painter from the shadow of his more famous Florentine peers. No longer is Piero the “relatively undiscovered master” by the larger public, while students of the Italian Renaissance will have to correct their image of him, owed largely to Vasari, as mostly an eccentric inventor of the strange and bizarre. This is not to say that Piero was not a highly individualistic and atypical painter, but that, until recent years, the scope of his accomplishment had been largely overlooked.
At both exhibition venues, visitors were able to appreciate not only Piero’s exceptionally original and versatile imagination and sense of humour, but also his masterly brushwork, the technical precision and sophistication with which he executed his paintings and the astonishingly naturalistic and unexpected details they contain. With most of his important paintings brought together for the occasion, we have been able to see for ourselves what Vasari meant when he wrote that with each painting Piero changed his style. As one reviewer observed “there are some rooms in which one may feel that multiple painters are present.” Indeed, it seemed to me as if Piero took each commission as an opportunity to reinvent himself as a painter. That his paintings were in great demand attests to the fact that patrons appreciated this unpredictable and original aspect of his talent.
The year 2015 really was Piero’s year, and we could not have planned our conference at a better moment. Not only have we had the opportunity to see the majority of his works together, to enjoy, compare and scrutinize them, but we have also been able to benefit from the stimulating and enlightening essays and entries in the beautifully edited catalogues, put out by the National Gallery of Art and by the Uffizi. The two exhibitions occasioned an up-to-date and more accurate assessment of Piero and his artistic relationships, of the evolution of his style, his working methods and painting techniques, his approach to nature and use of sources, both written and visual, his extraordinary versatility and, of course, his intriguing visual imagination.
As always, questions and uncertainties remain, and that is why I am so pleased with our conference – and the present publication that has followed. This collection has provided us with the opportunity to elaborate on what has been said, raise new questions and continue the debate to further our understanding of Piero, who the late John Walker called “one of the most fascinating painters of the Quattrocento.”
Michael W. Kwakkelstein
Director Dutch University Institute for Art History in Florence