The Building of a Palace
by Piero di Cosimo, Italian 1462-1521
SN 22, Oil on Panel

by Robert Anderson.

Piero di Cosimo was a Florentine painter of the Italian Renaissance who was known primarily for his mythological scenes which were painted in a most ingenious, somewhat humorous but yet naturalistic style. He created a scene of utter pathos and tenderness in the Death of Procris in which he demonstrated his great ability as a painter of animals. The dog in that picture is depicted with mournful dignity and is one of his most memorable creations.

About half of his work consists of religious paintings, some of which are very beautiful, revealing the influence of his contemporaries, Sandro Botticelli to Fra Bartolommeo. It was said , however, that some of his Madonnas, Holy Families and Adorations had a whimsical quality about them which, to some critics, provided a welcome relief from the wholesale imitation of Raphael during this period. Not limited to religious and mythological scenes he also made a significant contribution to landscape painting.

The Building of a Palace is unique among Piero's paintings in that it shows the present rather than the past. It portrays his knowledge of contemporary building practices and architecture as well as the effective use of perspective in art.

Piero was known to be a highly eccentric character. It was written that he lived almost entirely on hard boiled eggs which he boiled by the dozen when boiling glue for sizing his canvases.

The painting depicts the construction of an impressive building. The clssic style of the building shows the influence of Giuliano da San Gallo, the leading architect in Florence in the 1480's who was a close friend of Piero. It is a visionary structure of an outmoded late 15th century type building and should be interpreted as a generalized picture based on the artist's concept of architecture - not based upon known project of the time.

While the painting demonstrates the various building crafts involved in the building of a palace, ( the statues on the building's roof would tend to indicate a palace), the subject and its meaning have still given rise to a significant amount of speculation. Was it a painting done to pay homage to a friend, the architect San Gallo ? Was it painted as an allegory of the way the artist thought a palace should look ? Was it merely painted to be a demonstration of the artists knowledge of architecture or of perspective ?

The painting shows numerous workmen in the foreground preparing material for the completion of the palace. The poses of the figures working are somewhat rigid and exaggerated. They are seen sawing wood, loading or unloading a cart, chipping at a large block of stone etc.

The palace, seen in the background has two wings connected by columns and terraces. A number of statues adorn the roof of the building which appears to be set in a rural valley area. Animals are seen either being ridden by workers or pulling wagons of material.

The systematic perspective and axial symmetry make this painting a fine example of the method of representing a three dimensional object and space on a flat surface. This is a fine example of centralized perspective in as much as the eye is drawn toward a vanishing point thru the center columns of the palace to a point between the two wings of the palace. It is an example of linear perspective in that there are a number of lines (ex. lumber being sawed, workers chipping at blocks and other stones ) which lead to the vanishing point between the wings of the palace. Note that the size of the individuals and objects become smaller as they are pictured closer to the palace in the background.

Historical Context:
Systematic, mathematically founded perspective, based initially on a fixed central viewpoint, was developed in the early 15th century, when it was invented by Brunelleschi, developed by Alberti in his treatise De Pictura, and put into practice by Masaccio. This type of perspective remained one of the foundations of European painting until the end of the 19th century.