The Forest Fire
Piero di Cosimo (1461–1522), oil on panel, 71.2 x 202 cm.
Renowned for his originality and inventiveness, Piero di Cosimo painted many themes from classical literature. Dating from about 1505, this unusual scene may have been one of a series described by Vasari as painted for Francesco del Pugliese in Florence. Two other panels, The Hunt and The Return from the Hunt, both now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, are thematically related (and have similar forest fires) but seem to have been painted in the 1490s. All three are concerned with the history of early man, inspired by passages from Book 5 of De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (98–c.55 BC), who traces the origins of life on earth and the birth of community life, emphasizing the role of fire as a catalyst for change. The New York companion scenes vividly depict a primitive world, while The Forest Fire could have been made for a different patron, taking up particular themes relating to more advanced stages of human life. Piero painted a poetic interpretation of the classical source, with idiosyncratic details of hybrid beasts added at a late stage. The masterly rendition of the fire and distant landscape place him in the forefront of the development of landscape painting. [Presented by the National Art Collections Fund, 1933. WA1933.2]
Second Floor, Room 43, Italian Renaissance