The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Late 14th-century Florence spawned a cluster of painters remembered
as much for their eccentricities as for their genius. For some—Leonardo
and Michelangelo—their foibles had little impact on their critical reputations.
For others, Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521) among them, the impact was considerable:
stories of his personal life—of his terrors, fears, annoyances, rages,
even his daily habits and his diet—were preferred over studies of his
work. Thus, from Vasari (who, it should be noted, was only 10 years old when
Piero died), we learn that Piero was terrified by lightning (though he liked
the rain) and locked the door against the thunder; that he was frugal, cooking
50 eggs at a time to save fuel; that he would not permit his garden to be
weeded, his vines to be pruned, or his room to be cleaned; that he was enraged
by flies and annoyed by shadows; and that he could not bear "the crying of
children, the coughing of men, the jingling of bells, and the chanting of
friars." Still, as Vasari writes, in his younger days Piero had great humor
and was a good companion; he could make people laugh at his often outrageous
statements, marvel at the fantastic images he put on canvas, and watch with
awe the wonderful spectacles he conjured for the Florentine Carnival procession.
Though much of Vasari's account rests on hearsay, its endurance bears witness
to the perverseness of human nature, which often has greater appetite for
stories of tragedy than of triumph.
Southgate MT. The Visitation With St Nicholas and St Anthony Abbot. JAMA. 2002;288(21):2647. doi:10.1001/jama.288.21.2647