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Overview

The central scene of the eccentric Florentine artist Piero di Cosimo's Visitation depicts the meeting of the Virgin Mary and the elderly Saint Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Saint Nicholas on the left, identified by his attribute of three gold balls alluding to his charity towards the daughters of an impoverished nobleman, and Saint Anthony Abbot on the right, identified by his cane, bell and ever-present pig, sit in the foreground as studious witnesses to the event. Additional scenes relating to the birth of Christ are depicted in the background: the Annunciation painted on a distant church wall, the Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds on the left, and the Massacre of the Innocents in the middle ground.

Piero's Visitation has an unbroken history, having been first described in 1550 by the artist-biographer Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists as an altarpiece painted for the Capponi family chapel in the church of Santo Spirito in Florence. The heightened realism of the painting probably has its source in Flemish art, in vogue in Florence at the time. Piero's composition, with a main central group and a saint on either side, recalls the traditional triptych format. However, its pyramidal quality, with the saints forming a base and the heads of Mary and Elizabeth as the apex, reflects the influence of recent work by Leonardo da Vinci.

Provenance

Commissioned 1489/1490 for the Cappella Capponi of San Niccolò, Santo Spirito, Florence; moved 1713 to the Villa Capponi a Legnaia, near Florence. The Hon. Mrs. Frederick West [c. 1772-1843, née Maria Myddelton, the second wife of Frederick West], Chirk Castle, south of Wrexham, Wales; by inheritance to her son, Frederick Richard West [1799-1862], Chirk Castle, and Ruthin Castle, west of Wrexham, Wales; by inheritance to his son, William Cornwallis Cornwallis-West [1835-1917], Ruthin Castle, and Newlands Manor, Milford on Sea, near Lymington, Hampshire. (Thomas Agnew & Sons, London); (Duveen Brothers, Inc., New York), by 1933; sold 1937 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[1] gift 1939 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1891
Old Masters Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, 1891, no. 154.
1933
Italian Paintings of the XIV to XVI Century, Detroit Institute of Art, 1933, no. 40.
1939
Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, 1939, no. 284, repro.
2015
Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015, no. 6 (English catalogue), no. 12 (Italian catalogue), repros.

Bibliography

1754
Richa, Giuseppe. Notizie storiche delle chiese fiorentine. 10 vols. Florence, 1754-1762: 9(1761):22.
1878
Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori. Edited by Gaetano Milanesi. 9 vols. Florence, 1878-1885: 4(1879):133.
1899
Knapp, Frtiz. Piero di Cosimo: sein Leben und seine Werke. Halle, 1899: 35-39, pl. 1.
1900
Haberfeld, Hugo. "Piero di Cosimo." Ph.D. diss., Universität Breslau, 1900: 54-57.
1901
Venturi, Adolfo. Storia dell’arte italiana. 11 vols. Milan, 1901-1940: 7(1911):706.
1903
Berenson, Bernard. The Drawings of the Florentine Painters. 2 vols. London, 1903: 1:131. 2:130, no. 1853.
1903
Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in Italy. 6 vols. Ed. Robert Langton Douglas (vols. 1-4) and Tancred Borenius (vols. 5-6). London, 1903-1914: 4(1914):48.
1909
Berenson, Bernard. The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. London, 1909: 165.
1920
Borenius, Tancred. “Two Tondos by Piero di Cosimo in Sweden.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 36, no. 204 (March 1920): 102.
1923
Marle, Raimond van. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. 19 vols. The Hague, 1923-1938: 13(1931): 350.
1932
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932: 454.
1933
Venturi, Lionello. Italian Paintings in America. Milan and New York, 1931: 2:cat.287.
1936
Berenson, Bernard. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936: 390.
1938
Berenson, Bernard. The Drawings of the Florentine Painters. 3 vols. Chicago, 1938: 1:150, 151. 2:257. 3:fig. 419.
1940
Paatz, Walter, and Elisabeth Paatz. Die Kirchen von Florenz: ein kunstgeschichtliches Handbuch. 6 vols. Frankfurt am Main, 1940-1954: 5(1953):156.
1940
Suida, Wilhelm. "Die Sammlung Kress: New York." Pantheon 26 (1940): 274.
1941
Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 125, repro.
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 153, no. 454, as The Visitation with Two Saints.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 248, repro. 167, as The Visitation with Two Saints.
1944
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Masterpieces of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1944: 42, color repro., as The Visitation with Two Saints.
1944
Frankfurter, Alfred M. The Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1944: repro. nos. 40, 90
1945
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 60, repro., as The Visitation with Two Saints.
1946
Douglas, Robert Langton. Piero di Cosimo. Chicago, 1946: 41-45, 83, 90, 98-99, 120, 125, 129, pls. XX, XXI.
1957
Morselli, Paolo. “Ragioni di un pittore fiorentino: Piero di Cosimo.” L’ Arte 22 (1957): 140.
1958
Morselli, Paolo. “Piero di Cosimo, saggio di un catalogo delle opere.” L’ Arte 23 (1958): 86.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 74, repro., as The Visitation with Two Saints.
1959
Zeri, Federico. “Rivedendo Piero di Cosimo.” Paragone 115 (1959): 42, 44, 45, 46, 48.
1963
Berenson, Bernard. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Florentine School. 2 vols. London, 1963: 1:177.
1963
Covi, Dario A. “Lettering in Fifteenth Century Florentine Painting.” The Art Bulletin 45 (1963): 15, 16-17.
1963
Grassi, Luigi. Piero di Cosimo e il problema della conversione al ‘500 nella pittura fiorentina ed emiliana. Rome, 1963: 53+.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 87, repro., as The Visitation and Two Saints.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 103.
1966
Bacci, Mina. Piero di Cosimo. Milan, 1966: 24, 26-27, 71, cat. 8.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:58, color repro.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 91, repro.
1968
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XV-XVI Century. London, 1968: 118, fig. 286.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, MA, 1972: 164, 646.
1973
Finley, David Edward. A Standard of Excellence: Andrew W. Mellon Founds the National Gallery of Art at Washington. Washington, 1973: 79.
1975
Craven, Stephanie J. “Three Dates for Piero di Cosimo.” The Burlington Magazine 117, no. 870 (September 1975): 572, 576, fig. 7.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 268, repro.
1976
Bacci, Mina. L’opera completa di Piero di Cosimo. Milan, 1976: 8, 88, cat. 13, pls. V-VIII.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: 1:369-371; 2:pl. 268.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 28, pl. 12.
1983
Castelfranchi Vegas, Liana. Italia e Fiandra nella pittura del Quattrocento. Milan, 1983: 227.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 102, no. 70, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 312, repro.
1986
Ford, Terrence, compiler and ed. Inventory of Music Iconography, no. 1. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York 1986: 2, no. 27.
1991
Capretti, Elena. The Building Complex of Santo Spirito. Florence, 1991: 35.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 156, color repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 25, repro.
1992
Santucci, Paola. La Pittura del Quattrocento. Torino, 1992: 220, repro.
1993
Fermor, Sharon. Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, Invention and Fantasia. London, 1993: 13-14, 39, 123, 125, 134, 169-170, fig. 87.
1996
Capretti, Elena, and Anna Forlani Tempesti. Piero di Cosimo: catalogo completo. Florence, 1996: 104-105, cat. 12.
1996
Capretti, Elena. “Antefatti della Controriforma in Santo Spirito: Tipologia, iconografia e sviluppo dell’altare, dalla ‘Visitazione’ di Piero di Cosimo all’altar maggiore del Caccini.” In Anna Forlani Tempesti, ed. Altari e immagini nello spazio ecclesiale: progetti e realizzazioni fra Firenze e Bologna nell’età della Controriforma. Florence, 1996: 45-51, figs. 2, 4, 5.
1996
Pons, Nicoletta. “Arcangelo di Jacopo del Sellaio.” Arte Cristiana 84 (1996): 380.
1997
Cavazzini, Laura. "Un documento ritrovato e qualche osservazione sul percorso di Piero di Cosimo." Prospettiva nos. 87/88 (July - October 1997): 125, 126.
1997
FIDELIO, Journal of Poetry, Science, and Statecraft, Washington, DC., 1997, front cover, repro.
1998
Faxon, Alicia Craig. “Visiting/Visitation." In Helene E. Roberts, ed. Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:927.
1999
Beck, James H. Italian Renaissance Painting. Cologne, 1991: 332-333, fig. 282.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 33-34, no. 23, color repro.
2006
Geronimus, Dennis. Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange. New Haven and London, 2006: 17, 28, 40, 44, 55, 83, 125, 164, 170, 198-204, 207, 326 n. 36, fig. 156.
2007
Westergård, Ira. Approaching Sacred Pregnancy: The Cult of the Visitation and Narrative Altarpieces in Late Fifteenth-Century Florence. Helsinki, 2007: 123-124, 160-193, fig. 28, pl. 4.
2010
Tazartes, Maurizia. Piero di Cosimo “ingegno astratto e difforme.” Florence, 2010: 48-57, repro.
2012
Fiorenza, Giancarlo. “Tadpoles, Caterpillars and Mermaids: Piero di Cosimo’s Poetic Nature.” In Melinda Schlitt, ed. Gifts in Return: Essays in Honour of Charles Dempsey. Toronto, 2012: 156 n. 9.
2013
"Vasari and the National Gallery of Art." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 48 (Spring 2013): 12-13, repro.
2013
Walmsley, Elizabeth. "Italian Renaissance Paintings Restored in Paris by Duveen Brothers, Inc., c. 1927-1929." Facture: conservation, science, art history 1 (2013): 58-77, fig. 7.
2014
Chiodo, Sonia, and Serena Padovani, eds. The Alana Collection, Newark, Delaware, USA. Vol. III: Italian Paintings from the 14th to 16th Century. Florence, 2014: 226, 233.
2014
Hirschauer, Gretchen A. "Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence." National Gallery of Art Bulletin no. 51 (Fall 2014): 30-31, repro.
2014
Kennicott, Philip. “An Enigmatic Giant of Renaissance Art Will Get D.C. Show.” Washington Post 137, no. 232 (July 25, 2014): C6, color fig.
2015
Brilliant, Virginia. “Piero di Cosimo in America.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 88, 89.
2015
Capretti, Elena. ““Fece in Fiorenza molti quadri a più cittadini, sparsi per le loro case”: Venere, Marte e Cupido e altri dipinti da camera con “storie di favole”.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 99.
2015
Cecchi, Alessandro. “Piero di Cosimo e Filippino, affinità e differenze.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 124, 132, fig. 1.
2015
Forlani Tempesti, Anna. “Piero di Cosimo: i disegni.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 45, 49.
2015
Geronimus, Dennis. “Plainspoken Piety: Drama and the Poetry of the Everyday in Piero’s Devotional Works.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 27-28.
2015
Hirschauer, Gretchen A. ““Building Castles in the Air”: The Story of Piero di Cosimo.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 2, 3, 8-9.
2015
Luchs, Alison. “Creatures Great, Small, and Hybrid: The Natural and Unnatural Wonders in Piero’s Art.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 62, 68.
2015
Padovani, Serena. “La mostra su Piero di Cosimo: una proposta per il suo percorso nel contesto contemporaneo.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 31, 32, 33, fig. 12.
2015
Padovani, Serena. “Piero and Portraiture.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 39, 42, 45.
2015
Silver, Nathaniel. “Review. Piero di Cosimo: Washington and Florence.” The Burlington Magazine 57, no. 1346 (May 2015): 377, fig. 98.
2015
Walmsley, Elizabeth. ““A Very Rich and Beautiful Effect”: Piero’s Painting Technique.” In Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, eds. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015: 72, 75, 76-78, figs. 4, 7.
2015
Walmsley, Elizabeth. “Come dipingeva Piero. Nota sulla tecnica pittorica.” In Elena Capretti et al, eds. Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Rinascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: 185, 190, 192, figs. 1, 10.
2017
Röstel, Alexander. “Review of Exhibition. The Liberation of Piero di Cosimo.” Renaissance Studies 31, no. 4 (September 2017): 635, 638, 640.
2017
Schumacher, Andreas, ed. Florentiner Malerei. Alte Pinakothek: Die Gemälde des 14. bis 16. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 2017: 484, fig. 32.7.
2017
Serres, Karen. "Duveen's Italian framemaker, Ferruccio Vannoni." The Burlington Magazine 159, no. 1370 (May 2017): 373 n. 40.
2019
Cadogan, Jean. “Piero and Ghirlandaio: Drawing the Figure.” In Dennis Geronimus and Michael W. Kwakkelstein, eds. Piero di Cosimo: Painter of Faith and Fable. Leiden, 2019: 238.
2019
Nethersole, Scott. Art of Renaissance Florence: A City and Its Legacy. London, 2019: 92, fig. 55.
2019
Nuttall, Paula. “Piero di Cosimo and Netherlandish Painting.” In Dennis Geronimus and Michael W. Kwakkelstein, eds. Piero di Cosimo: Painter of Faith and Fable. Leiden, 2019: 212, 214-215, 220-221, fig. 9.2.
2019
Walmsley, Elizabeth. “Deconstructing the Underdrawing in Piero di Cosimo’s Construction of a Palace.” In Dennis Geronimus and Michael W. Kwakkelstein, eds. Piero di Cosimo: Painter of Faith and Fable. Leiden, 2019: 267-270, 282-283, figs. 11.3, 11.4, 11.5.
2020
Fondaras, Antonia. Augustinian Art and Meditation in Renaissance Florence: The Choir Altarpieces of Santo Spirito 1480-1510. Leiden, 2020: 6, 71-72, 81, 93, 96, 100, 117, 121, 131, 133-134, 136, 163-215, 222, 272, 301, 310, 312, 315, figs. 5.1, 5.2, 5.3.
2021
Ekserdjian, David. The Italian Renaissance Altarpiece: Between Icon and Narrative. New Haven and London, 2021: 315.
2022
Conservation Division's Fiftieth Anniversary Committee. "Innovation and Collaboration: Fifty Years of Conservation at the National Gallery." Art for the Nation no. 66 (Fall 2022): 8, fig. 8.
2024
McHam, Sarah Blake. Piero di Cosimo: Eccentricity and Delight. London, 2024: 98-99, 101, 119-127, figs. 33, 45.

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