PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA
(b. 1416, Borgo San Sepolcro, d. 1492, Borgo San Sepolcro)

St Jerome and a Donor

1451
Panel, 49 x 42 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

In 1451 Piero was in Rimini. Before that he painted two small panels, St Jerome and a Donor (in Venice) and Penance in St Jerome (in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). We do not know exactly for whom these were painted, but they are probably to be included amongst the "many of small figures" mentioned by Vasari as being commissioned by several rulers during the artist's journeys in the Marches and Emilia-Romagna.

In this small panel we can see for the first time Piero's signature, on the tree trunk that forms the base of the Crucifix in the left-hand corner. On the ground, in the foreground, there is also an inscription indicating that the panel was commissioned by Gerolamo Amadi "veneziano" who is shown kneeling in prayer before the saint. The donor and his protecting saint appear to be conversing as equals, for it was obviously Piero's intention to exalt the human dignity of his patron, as he was to do again in the case of Sigismondo Malatesta in Rimini. The bright hues of colour are similar to the clear sunlit atmosphere of the London Baptism of Christ, and even the background, with its rolling hills and steep country paths, confirms a vision of landscape that was first anticipated in the London painting.

Compared to Paolo Uccelo's nighttime, rather abstract and fairytale landscapes, or Fra Angelico's gentle and precious ones, Piero's are closer to Veneziano's, or even Masaccio's, with bare hills, partially covered with vegetation. And Piero makes his landscapes even more real and alive, for the vegetation is burnt out by a Mediterranean sun, the city walls are made of white lime and the water of the river is transparent.