Renowned for his originality and inventiveness, Piero di Cosimo painted many spalliera panels with themes from classical literature. Dating from c. 1505, A420 may have been one of a series described by Vasari as painted for Francesco del Pugliese. Two other panels of The Hunt and The Return from the Hunt, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, are thematically related but seem to have been painted in the 1490s. All three are concerned with the history of early man, inspired by passages from Book 5 of De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (98-c. 55BC), who traces the origins of life on earth and the birth of community life, emphasising the role of fire as a catalyst for change. The New York pendants vividly depict a primitive world, while this painting could have been made for a different patron, taking up particular themes relating to more advanced stages of human life. Piero painted a poetic interpretation of the classical source, with idiosyncratic details of hybrid beasts added at a late stage. The masterly rendition of the fire and distant landscape place him in the forefront of the development of landscape painting.
oil on panel
image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford