A very characteristic work by Piero, called di Cosimo, after his godfather and master, Cosimo Rosselli. Piero's peculiarities are well known to all readers of George Eliot's Romola, where everything told us about him by Vasari is carefully worked up. The first impression left by this picture—its quaintness—is precisely typical of the man. He shut himself off from the world, and stopped his ears; lived in the untidiest of rooms, and would not have his garden tended, "preferring to see all things wild and savage about him." He took his meals at times and in ways that no other man did, and Romola used to coax him with sweets and hard-boiled eggs. His fondness for quaint landscape ("he would sometimes stand beside a wall," says Vasari, "and image forth the most extraordinary landscapes that ever were") may be seen in this picture: so also may his love of animals, in which, says Vasari, he took "indescribable pleasure."

The Death of Procris. Piero di Cosimo.

The Death of Procris.
Piero di Cosimo.

The subjects of his pictures were generally allegorical. In Romola he paints Tito and Romola as Bacchus and Ariadne; here he shows the death of Procris, the story in which the ancients embodied the folly of jealousy. For Procris being told that Cephalus was unfaithful, straight-way believed the report and secretly followed him to the woods, for he was a great hunter. And Cephalus called upon "aura," the Latin for breeze, for Cephalus was hot after the chase: "Sweet air, O come," and echo answered, "Come, sweet air." But Procris, thinking that he was calling after his mistress, turned to see, and as she moved she made a rustling in the leaves, which Cephalus mistook for the motion of some beast of the forest, and let fly his unerring dart, which Procris once had given him.

But Procris lay among the white wind-flowers,
Shot in the throat. From out the little wound
The slow blood drained, as drops in autumn showers
Drip from the leaves upon the sodden ground.
None saw her die but Lelaps, the swift hound,
That watched her dumbly with a wistful fear,
Till at the dawn, the hornèd wood-men found
And bore her gently on a sylvan bier,
To lie beside the sea,—with many an uncouth tear.

Austin Dobson: Old World Lyrics.

A Popular Handbook to the National Gallery (London and New York, 1888).