The Florentine Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo was a very eccentric fellow, according to his first biographer, Giorgio Vasari. “He would never have his rooms swept, he would only eat when hunger came to him, and he would not let his garden be worked or his fruit-trees pruned, for it pleased him to see everything wild, like his own nature… He could not bear the crying of children, the coughing of men, the sound of bells, and the chanting of friars.” According to the same source, Piero lived on nothing but eggs, which, in order to save fuel, he hard-boiled fifty at a time on the same fire that he used to boil up the glue with which he sized his panels before painting. So, to mark the start of British Egg Week and the British Egg Information Service’s “Egg a Day” campaign, this week’s picture is Piero’s The Forest Fire.

One of the earliest landscape paintings of the Renaissance, this delightful work may be one of several pictures showing “different fantastic things… drawn from fables” which, Vasari tells us, originally decorated a chamber in the house of the Florentine wool merchant Francesco del Pugliese. The inspiration behind it seems to have been two well-known classical texts. The fifth book of the ancient philosopher-poet Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura describes how the origins of civilisation were laid when early man conquered his fear of fire and learned how to use it to work metal. The same theme was developed by the Roman architect Vitruvius in the second book of his De Architettura:

“In the olden days men were born like wild beasts in woods and caves and groves, and kept alive by eating raw food. Somewhere, meanwhile, the close-grown trees, tossed by storms and winds, and rubbing their branches...

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