Piero della Francesca began travelling at an early age, spending most of his life at the most important Courts in Central and Adriatic Italy.
Perugia: the Baglioni’s and Domenico Veneziano
Perugia and the Baglioni’s Court were the first cultural centre where Piero worked.
Florence at the time of Cosimo il Vecchio
It was in Perugia that the artist of Borgo Sansepolcro first met his guide and master: Domenico Veneziano.
They worked together on the cycle of frescoes The stories of the Virgin Mary, in the Church of Sant’Egidio in Florence.
In 1434, when Cosimo de’ Medici came to power, Renaissance art had not yet expressed its full potential and was just about to develop, open to a wide range of new possibilities.
Although in Florence only the last remnants of the late Gothic style could be found, the style was nonetheless dominant throughout Italy.
Hence, while in Florence the second generation of figurative Humanism was already in full force, the last medieval remnants were still widespread throughout the rest of the country.
Ferrara and the Estense’s
In 1450, Piero della Francesca was invited to Ferrara by Borso d’Este (in sul più bello del lavorare fu dal duca Borso chiamato a Ferrara [at the peak of his activity, he was called by Duke Borso to Ferrara]). In fact, Piero did not go to Ferrara for Borso, but rather for his learned and refined step-brother Lionello, who succeeded his father Nicholas III in 1441, and presumably died on 1st October 1450.
Rimini and the Malatesta’s
Piero’s stay in Ferrara, of which no documents can be found, is nonetheless proven by the impact that Piero had on early Renaissance painting in Ferrara.
According to Giorgio Vasari, Piero painted “many rooms in the palace which were later ruined by Duke Ercole the Elder, who modernized the palace” as well as “a chapel” in Sant’Agostino – in truth, it was in Sant’Andrea Church of the Augustinians – which, at the time, was already “spoilt by humidity”.
In the early 15th century, the Malatesta’s dominance extended from Cesena to Senigallia; it also included Sansepolcro until 1434. The commercial and social connection between eastern Tuscany and the Adriatic coast was still fruitful in the 1450s, possibly prompting Piero to go to Rimini in 1451.
Rome and the Pope’s Court
In the late 1440s, when Sigismondo Malatesta promoted a conscious renaissance of the arts, he summoned Leon Battista Alberti, Agostino di Duccio and Piero to his Court.
There ensued eclectic works combining humanistic ideals with essentially Gothic shapes: the most famous example is the Tempio Malatestiano, which Piero also contributed to.
In 1458-59, Piero was asked to go to Rome by Pius II.
Urbino and the Montefeltro’s Court
In the Eternal City, Piero’s art was deeply affected by ancient statues and architecture, which the artist could finally see at such close range - an ideal setting where to develop his monumental and a-temporal view of history.
Among the wide number of Italian Courts, a special place was occupied by Urbino. A small centre in the hills of the Apennines inland, cleverly turned by Duke Federico da Montefeltro into one of the most lively centres of the Renaissance, Urbino gradually become the capital of the intellectual and mathematic orientation of the arts.
The Duke was a learned man. He loved the theatre, was keen on philosophy, and entertained correspondence with the Florentine Neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino.
The first evidence of Piero’s stay in Urbino dates back to 1469, when he was asked to complete an altar table for the Corpus Domini Confraternity, for which Paolo Uccello had already made the foot-pace.