why piero?


Various attempts have been made to explain Piero’s unique qualities since his “rediscovery” in the late nineteenth century, many of them insightful. Early on, John Addington Symonds claimed that “by dignity of portraiture, by loftiness of style, and by a certain poetical solemnity of imagination, he raised himself above the level of the mass of his contemporaries.”1 Of course, Piero was also indebted to some of those contemporaries, and his relationship to Florentines such as Domenico Veneziano and Uccello, as well as to Flemish artists, has long been acknowledged. Yet in most respects the influence of others upon his work seems to be fairly minimal, and one might argue that he had a greater debt to the architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti than to any of his painting predecessors. What is it, then, that makes him so distinct from his contemporaries? Piero’s innovative use of oil paint and his perfection of perspective are two qualities that have been often discussed, as have his use of color to express form and his ability to evoke space. His phenomenal mastery of light and his breathtaking depiction of it have also been repeatedly noted.2 But Piero’s singular importance in the history of landscape painting has, so far as I am aware, rarely been adequately appreciated…

more from Walter Kaiser at the NYRB here.