Rogier van der Weyden, Saint George and the Dragon

  • Here is Rogier van der Weyden's painting of Saint George and the Dragon, created around 1435.

The Renaissance Myth of Gothic License

  • Today I will critique the idea, popularized in the Renaissance, that Gothic buildings like Strasbourg Cathedral, seen at left, are chaotic and disorderly and that architectural harmony depends on the use of the classical orders, seen at right as shown by Serlio. Mine might seem like an unnecessary project, since the Gothic tradition has had many champions in the intervening centuries, but it’s my sense that this myth of Gothic disorderliness continues to shape the writing of art history even today, contributing among other things to the vexed position of architecture in discussions of the Northern Renaissance. Although I am speaking in broad terms about the Gothic and Renaissance design traditions, I recognize the fuzziness and permeability of such categories. I use these terms not only because I find them genuinely helpful in trying to grapple with the complex patterns of European architectural production, but also because this basic framing has figured so prominently in the historiography of the period. For sake of clarity, I will briefly outline my theses before going on to consider that historiography and its consequences.

Piero di Cosimo- Construction of a Palace

  • This painting shows the worksite around a palace, with workers in the foreground. The palace now rises nearly to the top edge of the painting, which was trimmed, suggesting that the panel was originally at least a bit taller.

Piero di Cosimo- Perseus Rescuing Andromeda

  • Here Perseus appears twice : arriving from the upper left borne by his winged sandals, and again wielding his sword against the sea-monster that threatens Andromeda, who flinches away at left.

Piero di Cosimo- Mars, Venus and Cupid

  • This panel of Mars and Venus has a fairly subtle proportional scheme based, rather surprisingly, on the idea of decagonal symmetry ; several steps will be necessary to see this. The first clue in this direction may be seen near the bottom right corner, where the sharp reflection in the shoulder joint of Mars’s discarded armor has the characteristic 72-degree slope characteristic of decagons. Not only the angle but also the location of this reflection line proves significant.

Piero di Cosimo- The Death of Procris

  • This panel is 2.828 times as wide as it is tall, which is a proportion of 2√2 : 1. Geometrically, this proportion results from unfolding the diagonals of two squares, which are here placed side by side. It should be noted that the foliage in the upper left and right corners of the painting actually follow the arcs of this unfolding. The right margin of the right square traces the foreleg of the dog, and the diagonal follows the axis of its nose. The left margin of the left square, similarly, passes through the shoulder of the satyr, and the falling diagonal traces his forearm, and the upper arm of the nymph. The other diagonal in this left square traces through her face and shoulder, while the comparable diagonal in the right square passes along her foot. This painting is the property of the National Gallery of Art, London, England. This analysis was based on the image:

Piero di Cosimo- Prometheus

  • This painting depicts the story of the titan brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus. At left, Epimetheus kneels before the clay man that he had made, which the god Jupiter destroys, being angered at the titan’s presumption to the creation of life. In the middle of the panel stands a more successful statue made by Prometheus, who converses at right with the goddess Minerva, who then takes Prometheus aloft to seek the spark of life.

Piero di Cosimo- The Discovery of Vulcan on Lemnos

  • This painting depicts six nymphs tending to Vulcan, who had been hurled from Olympus.

Piero della Francesca- Brera Alterpiece

  • Here is the so-called Brera Altarpiece, painted by Piero della Francesca, showing the condottiere Federico da Montefeltro in adoration of the Virgin and Child, surrounded by saints. Piero della Francesca is famous for his writings on perspective and solid geometry, but this composition was actually governed by a simple two-dimensional geometrical scheme whose logic would have been familiar to any compass-wielding Gothic architect or early medieval craftsman. To see this, start by considering a few details of the painting. First, its sides have been slightly trimmed, and the elbows of John the Baptist at left, and of Andrew at right, thus appear slightly truncated. Second, these two saints hold their attributes in ways that serve as geometrical markers, which is particularly conspicuous in the case of the Baptist’s staff. Both the staff and Andrew’s book are aligned at 22.5 degrees from the vertical.

Piero di Cosimo- Catherine

  • Here is Piero di Cosimo’s depiction of the Virgin and Child adored by saints including Elizabeth of Hungary, at left, and Catherine, at right.