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Art: Florentine Revival

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Sometime around 1500 a queer Florentine named Piero, of whom it is recorded that he hated the amenities and liked anything wild, was commissioned to paint a decorative panel for the palazzo of one Giovanni Vespucci. A Rousseauist ahead of his time, Piero proceeded to turn out another painting of his favorite subject, primitive life.

Since anthropology then consisted mainly of the Greek and Roman myths as related by Ovid, he had to rely on his imagination. He painted a troop of satyrs and demi-mortals congregating in a meadow around a hollow tree, a young bibulous Bacchus, a grinning Silenus straddling a donkey. Most of the company were engaged in making a racket on tin pans, to coax a swarm of bees into a cluster. Title: The Discovery of Honey.

In Florence, Piero di Cosimo (he took the last name in honor of his teacher, Cosimo Roselli) was well regarded but not as illustrious as his contemporaries, Botticelli and Leonardo. In later, more grandiose times, he was not even well regarded. In the 20th Century, however, the wheel of fashion has coasted around to Piero. During the last twelve months three U. S. museums have acquired works of his and last week Manhattan’s Schaeffer Galleries exhibited seven altogether, including The Discovery of Honey from the Worcester Museum. There was great talk of Piero’s affinities with such meticulous moderns as Peter Blume (The Eternal City).

“Other masters, like Bosch and El Greco and Chardin, share an enthusiastic contemporary reception,” wrote Pundit Alfred M. Frankfurter for the catalogue, “but none of them comes so close to the dernière heure of modern taste. . . .” Pleased visitors were inclined to agree that the dernière heure would be a happier one if such sparkling craft and wit as Piero’s were more commonly wedded to unfettered fantasy.

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