Piero Benci and his brother, Antonio, known as the Pollaiolo brothers, were Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, and Goldsmiths, collaborating during the Italian Renaissance. Much of their work is historically difficult to separate into individual endeavors, as many of their pieces were joint efforts. They famously preceded Leonard da Vinci in dissecting human corpses to better understand anatomy, which became a defining skill in their work.
Antonio particularly had a skill for depicting the human figure in action, as seen in his painted works, Hercules Clubs the Hydra (1475) and in his single surviving engraving, Battle of the nude men, created sometime between 1470 and 1475. Most of the Pollaiolo Brothers’ paintings are attributed to Piero, but the higher quality works are said to be collaborative efforts. Antonio found his talents and independent success in sculpting and metal work, but several pieces are also jointly attributed to both Brothers.
In their painted accomplishments, a noted piece, Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (1475), shows a nude St. Sebastian at a symmetrical central point, whose figure is said to have been studied from an actual body. Though, the Archers surrounding St. Sebastian in the piece also have a great deal of attention shown in their anatomical detail. These figures exemplify the Pollaiolo Brother’s influence on depiction of the human body under strain, seen in later Florentine painting.
The Brothers’ painted works are in various collections around the world. Among those that have been, or are now in the Uffizi Gallery, are The Saints, Vincent, James and Eustace, Portrait of a Young Woman, Hercules and the Hydra and Hercules and Antaeus. Also in the Uffizi, are works attributed to Piero Benci, such as Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Temperance and, Charity. The latter two are from a series of six paintings representing the six virtues, completed around 1470, as the backs of chairs for the Hall of the Tribunale di Mercanzia. Piero painted his Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, based on a design from Antonio; it depicts the Duke of Milan, famous for his patronage of the arts and infamous for his lustful, cruel and tyrannical ways.
Antonio’s engraving of Battle of the nude men (or Battle of Ten Nudes) was also in the Uffizi. Their other work is seen in San Miniato al Monte in Florence, the Staatliche Museum in Berlin, the National Gallery of London, the Louvre in Paris, Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milian, The Yale University Gallery in New Haven, and The Metropolitan Museum of New York.
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