Perugino – In Full Strength

IN the early spring of the year 1496 Perugino was in Venice, but in the autumn back in Florence and in Perugia, although possibly the winter saw him in Bologna. In 1497 he was in Florence, in Perugia, and in Fano. In 1498 he was in Florence, and then again at Fano.

The proof that Perugino was in Florence in 1496 consists in the document quoted by Morelli recording the purchase of certain land in Florence with a view to a permanent residence in the city.

To this year Morelli attributes the ” Sposalizio ” from the chapel of the Anello at Perugia, which is now at Caen. Vasari states that ” for the altar of the Sacrament where the ring with which the Virgin Mary was espoused is preserved, this master painted an altar-piece representing the Marriage of Our Lady.” Mariotti quotes Vasari, and on his evidence gives the picture to him, and every succeeding writer, including Crowe and Cavalcaselle, and Morelli, continues the ascription.

What is quite clear is that the company of St. Guiseppe received, as Mariotti records, the grant of a subsidy for an altar-piece ; but Professor Adam Rossi states that up to November 1500 the picture had not been commenced. To 1500, therefore, Crowe attributes this picture, Morelli putting it earlier, in 1496. On these attributions a theory has been built up that Raphael in his ” Sposalizio ” (painted in 1503 or 1504) took as his motif the picture painted by his master Perugino, and improved considerably on the original conception. Crowe and Cavalcaselle in their inspection of the picture refer to its most striking quality, “its bright colouring,” and qualify their praise by stating that “the tones have not the glow” of the master’s usual work, and that ” the forms are less pliant than of old.” It is exactly these features that first attract the spectator and which, I must confess, puzzled me very considerably.

A little closer examination revealed the strange inequality in the surface of the picture, the stringiness and lumpiness of the draperies and the streaky character of the background. Much of my perplexity, however, ought not to have existed, inasmuch as in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, April 1896, Mr. Berenson had carefully examined the whole question, and ascribed the picture not to Perugino at all, nor to an earlier period than the Raphael ” Sposalizio,” but to the hand of Lo Spagna, and since 1504. With his opinion, although contrary to the accepted judgment, I am in the fullest accord, and I think that Vasari, going only upon hearsay, and with probably only a casual glance at the picture, if ever he saw it at all, makes a grave mistake when he attributes it to Pietro. Mr. Berenson examines all the evidence pro and con with his usual ability, and produces, in my opinion, overwhelming proof of his attribution. He compares the ” Sposalizio ” with the pictures by Lo Spagna in other places, the “Virgin and Child” at Perugia, the “Nativity” and the “Madonna and Child” at the Louvre, and the “Coronation of the Virgin,” Lo Spagna’s greatest work (dated 1511), and preserved at Todi.

He points out that several of the faces in these pictures are identical with faces at Caen, notably the face of the Virgin, which in every way, even in position, is the counterpart of the one in the “Nativity” in Paris. He finds the face of St. Joseph in more than one of Spagna’s pictures, and especially he refers to a figure in the Caen picture, the fourth to the right, a woman wearing a hood, which never once appears in any work of Perugino’s, but which does appear, line for line, not only in the Todi “Coronation,” but in another of Spagna’s pictures. Other points of close resemblance are to be found in the drawing of the ears, which are totally different from those of Perugino’s figures ; in the hands, which are broad and heavy in the Caen picture and in Lo Spagna’s usual work, but fine and delicate in Perugino’s ; and especially in the colouring, certain special tints such as a chartreuse-green and rose-salmon appearing in the Caen and Todi pictures, and never once to be found in Perugino’s accepted work.

One very instructive set of arguments Mr. Berenson draws from a close examination of Raphael’s ” Sposalizio” at Milan. Its shape is upright. Perugino always represented the scene in a long, narrow panel, the position of the Virgin and St. Joseph, and of the branch carried by St. Joseph, are entirely antithetical to the Umbrian fashion, while, curiously enough, Lorenzo Costa, who was probably a fellow-pupil of Raphael’s, under the influence of Timoteo Viti, painted in about 1504 or 1505 a ” Sposalizio,” upright as is this one, at Caen, and agreeing with it in many other ways. A masterly piece of reasoning shows that Raphael’s work is of the Ferrarese school and not of the Umbrian, and that instead of its being a souvenir of the Caen picture, and based upon it and greatly improved, it is, in fact, an original work upon which Lo Spagna based his picture which is now at Caen. When to these arguments are added the want of style and dignity in the Bramantesque temple at Caen, the absence of the colonnade that Perugino favoured, and which he drew from Piero della Francesca, the want of intermediate grouping, the stubborn heaviness of the draperies, so different from Perugino’s light, easy folds, the hard, empty density of the foliage, the change in the distant scenery, and the absence of horizon and cloud, and finally the entirely different drawing of the feet from the manner in which Perugino drew them, the case is practically proved, and to Lo Spagna must the Caen picture be attributed. If further evidence were needed, it is ready to hand in the fact that not one Perugian letter, document, or writer attributes the ” Sposalizio ” to Perugino, although all speak of it with great terms of reverence, while Vasari alone gives it to Vannucci, and, as is well known, his attributions must often be taken cum grano salis.

Having in all this agreed most gladly with Mr. Berenson, I must now part company with him in reference to another picture attributed to this same year.

Few pictures have exercised critics more than has the ” Apollo and Marsyas ” in the Louvre.

This charming little work was purchased by Mr. Morris Moore as a Mantegna. When sold to the Louvre in 1883 for 200,000 francs, it was agreed that it should be placed in the Salon Carré, under the title of ” Raphael de Morris Moore.”

It is still called a Raphael in the Louvre catalogue, although a note is added which only commits the authorities to the statement that it is unquestionably the work of an Umbrian artist. Morelli put it first to Timoteo Viti, but confesses that he did not examine it carefully. In a later work he withdrew this ascription, and says that “it belongs most probably to a master whose style is in close affinity with that of Perugino.” Mr. Berenson includes it in his list of Perugino’s works, but I am much more inclined to leave the attribution where Morelli left it.

The two figures are quite nude. This is almost a unique circumstance with Perugino, the only other nude figures in his pictures being some distant ones in his ” Love and Chastity.” Here is, therefore, a most exceptional circumstance ; and also the absence of any drapery deprives the critic of one of the most definite marks, the dark hollows, by which Perugino’s work is identified. Furthermore, there are birds in the sky, and I know of no sky of Perugino’s in which they appear. The feet of the two figures are very Peruginesque, the open and upward curling great toe is clearly defined ; but the hands have not the awkward tong shape of his earlier work, nor the very thin, bone-less appearance of his mature work. The landscape and the trees are like those of Perugino ; but the very prominent lyre has none of his characteristics, and in technique and handling is painted quite differently from Perugino’s method. The picture seems much more likely to be the work of Pinturicchio, and, in any case, I cannot personally attribute it to Perugino.

I agree, however, with Mr. Claud Phillips in attributing the ” St. Bernard” at Munich to this period of Perugino’s life. It is, of course, impossible to fix its date exactly, but from 1496 to 1500 one may safely put it, and, as regards its serene beauty, hardly too much can be said. The picture was originally in the church of San Spirito in Florence, and there is now a copy of it in that place. King Ludwig I. bought it in 1829 from the Capponi family, who held the rights over the Nasi chapel, where it hung, and although it has been cleaned and restored, it remains a beautiful and quite genuine work. It is well to compare the hands and the ears in this picture, with their delicate, sensitive beauty, with the heavy features in the Caen picture, to which reference was lately made, and the comparison will be wholly satisfactory, and in every way in favour of Mr. Berenson’s argument. An interesting study for this “Vision of St. Bernard ” is at the Uffizi, and comparison may well be made with a picture by Filippino Lippi in the Badia, illustrating the same scene.

To this same period we attribute the “Virgin in Glory” at Bologna, the “Family of St. Anne” at Marseilles, and the masterpiece in Florence, the “Crucifixion” of Sta. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi. In the Bologna picture we see the lovely figure of St. Michael, in armour, which also appears in somewhat different attitude in the Certosa altar-piece, now in the National Gallery. The great archangel is very full of beauty in this picture, his hands especially being of exquisite form and grace. There are three other adoring saints, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. John the Divine, and St. Apollonia.

Above in the sky is the glowing mandorla of cherubs, a favourite device of Pietro’s, glowing with rainbow radiance, and enveloping in its misty colour the cherub heads which belong to it. The conception is very lovely, the colouring subdued and sunny, and, while the picture recalls the Borgo and Lyons pictures, it yet fore-shadows the great Vallombrosan ” Assumption ” which the master was to produce a few years later on.

The Marseilles picture is remarkable in many ways. It represents a scene that was very seldom selected by the old masters, and which no one treated so beautifully as did Perugino (see Frontispiece). There are, perhaps, not more than half-a-dozen examples amongst all the old masters’ pictures which represent the “Family of St. Anne,” and yet the subject is one that is particularly worthy of carelful and thoughtful treatment. Perugino has adopted – a very fine arrangement. The Virgin is enthroned in the centre, and has the divine Child on her knee. Behind her stands St. Anne in a very motherly attitude, resting her two hands on her daughter’s shoulders. On the right of the throne stands St. Mary Salome, holding in her arms St. John the Divine, and by her side is St. Joachim, the husband of St. Anne. At their feet stands the child St. James. On the opposite side, to the left of the throne, stands St. Mary, the wife of Cleophas, holding in her arms St. James the Less. By her side stands St. Joseph, and near by another child, St. Joseph Justus. Two more children, St. Simon and St. Thaddeus, are seated on the steps of the throne, and above them is the inscription, PETRVS DE CHASTRO PLEBIS PINXIT.

The whole scene is under a wonderful and lofty archway, and beyond is an exquisite landscape of hills and rolling plain. The children are exquisite in grace and beauty, and two of them were copied by Raphael, and his picture still hangs in the sacristy of St. Pietro in Cassinense at Perugia. The artist has inscribed the name of each saint on the halo of light that surrounds each head, and the composition of the group is almost perfect, so well arranged and so well balanced. The colouring is subdued but radiant with sunlight, and few pictures are as typical of the master’s hand. All his peculiarities of painting, his unusual draperies, his exaggerated feet, his long slender hands with lumpy knuckles, and his restful, quiet, self-contained figures can be studied in it. Originally it was painted for the monastery of St. Anna, and later on was transferred to St. Maria dei’ Fossi in Perugia, and was brought to Marseilles with the Perugian spoil which was mentioned in a preceding chapter. There is an early drawing for the whole picture at Alnwick.

The wonderful fresco at Sta. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi was never seen by Crowe and Cavalcaselle or would have been recognised by them as one of the artist’s grandest conceptions. In Crowe’s time, the per-mission of the Archbishop of Florence was needed ere the picture could be inspected, and this permission Crowe could not obtain. The chapter-house in which it is situate is now secularised, and the fresco can be seen. Vasari speaks of the monastery under its old name of the Cestello, and records that a picture of St. Bernard was also painted for the same house, but this has been lost. The great fresco in question was ordered in 1493, for 55 ducats, by Pietro Pucci and his wife Giovanna, and was finished in this eventful year April 20th, 1496. The scene is represented under three arches. In the central one is the Crucifix, its arms stretching from wall to wall of the arch, its foot on the ground, and its upper extremity nearly touching the crown of the arch. At its foot kneels the Magdalen, gazing tenderly up at the crucified Christ, above the cross are the eclipsed sun and moon. On the left are the two figures of the Virgin and St. Bernard, and on the right are two more figures, St. John the Divine and St. Benedict.

There are only these six figures in the entire picture, which covers the whole wall of the chapter-house, but beyond them the arches seem to reveal a great Umbrian landscape, which stretches farther than eye can reach. It is practically the same view as can be seen from the city of Perugia, from the hill of Montefalco or from the monastery of Assisi, and is apparently limitless. There are the long sweeping outlines of the Umbrian Hills, the distant towns with their churches and castles, the pleasant waters winding in and out of the hills and gleaming in the evening light, and the delicate larch and olive trees crowning the hills and standing out so clearly and daintily against the sky, while above and filling nearly half of the archway space is the blue and purple sky, flecked with white gossamer clouds and reaching far up in its hollow dome beyond the range of sight.

As the spectator steps into the quaint chapter-house, this whole scene appears to open into view. The central crucifix with its solemn burden, and the five quiet figures standing so still and placid, full of that intense sorrow and tender pity which absorb the whole being, and which are so evidently the dominant passions that the mind of the spectator unites with them, and all who gaze on this sublime scene do so with reverend pity for the central figure, and intense sympathy for the spectators in the drama. There are two studies in existence for this work, one for the Christ on the Cross, on the back of a drawing of Pericles (252, 400) and the other for the standing figure of the Virgin (251, 417). Both are in the Uffizi Gallery. In the central compartment of the fresco will be recognised the prototype of the ” Crucifixion ” by Raphael now belonging to Mr. Ludwig Mond. There is, how-ever, far more pure beauty, definite purpose, and tender reverence in the work by Perugino than in that by the youthful Raphael, although the merit of the latter work is very great, and surprisingly so when the age of the artist is taken into consideration. There is a breadth and power and an originality about Raphael’s figure that is wonderful, but from the point of view of reverence and devotion, Perugino’s marvellous and touching creation is superior to it.

The Certosa altar-piece, now in the National Gallery is usually considered. to be one of the greatest pictures Perugino ever executed. One – sixth part of it only is still in situ, the central panel of the upper tier. This represents the Eternal Father within a mandorla of cherubs. The remaining five panels are copies, the two upper ones, after Borgognone, to replace originals in France, the three lower ones to replace the originals in London.

There are one or two points that merit special attention in this picture. It is desirable to mention that what has been called the monotony of Perugino can be clearly seen at this time. The figure of St. Michael has already appeared in the Albani altar-piece, in the Bologna ” Virgin in Glory,” and in other pictures.

The elaborately decorated shield and the quaint head-dress of the great archangel appear in the figures of the Cambio decoration, in the “Sposalizio,” and in the Sistine Chapel fresco. The angels which appear in the central panel will be marked again and again in later works.

Perugino in his lifetime was severely criticised for this failing. Lanzi expressly records the grumbling of many of Perugino’s patrons at his want of variety in treatment, the fact that his altar-pieces more or less closely resembled one another, and the artist’s reply that he robbed no one. His figures were admired in one picture, why should they not be in another? and if a figure was pronounced lovely and suitable at one time and for one place, why should it be condemned when used for a similar position in another place.

This complaint, made in the fifteenth century, has continued down to the present time, and has certain justification. There is a want of originality about Perugino’s conceptions beyond a certain point ; but this very monotony is a most useful aid in recognising and scheduling his pictures, while individually his figures are so graceful, and his groups so well composed, that those who love Umbrian art never tire of gazing upon his fascinating pictures.

This great altar-piece was completed in 1499. In the early part of that year the Duke of Milan, il Moro, wrote to the monks at Pavia complaining of the delay in the completion of the altar-piece he had commissioned, speaking of the large sum he had disbursed, and of his love for the Certosa and desire to see it completed, and begging the Carthusians to hurry on Perugino to complete his work. They did so, and by the end of 1499 the picture was in its place.

In the following year, 1497, Perugino was in Fano, and there again in 1498. In each of these years he was probably also in Perugia, and in one of them, perhaps 1497, he was at Sinigaglia and at Can tiano, two small places close to Fano. Of his visits to Fano we have two results : a ” Madonna and Child with Saints,” dated 1497, and an ” Annunciation,” dated 1498 ; while at Sinigaglia there is a “Madonna and Child with Saints” closely resembling the Fano one, and at Cantiano a ” Holy Family” of similar characteristics. In the intervals which enabled the artist to revisit Perugia we have evidence of his work in a “Madonna and Child,” dated 1497, now in the Gallery of Perugia, and in another picture attributed to the same period and now hanging in the same gallery. Even these visits do not complete his wanderings, for on the 26th of June 1498 he was certainly in Florence.

It is only an assumption on my part that the Sinigaglia and Cantiano pictures followed the Fano ones.

They may have just preceded them, and should perhaps belong to that already crowded year 1496, but I am strongly of opinion that such is not the case. Again, they should perhaps be given to a later period altogether, say to 1500 or 1501 ; but we have no evidence whatever connecting Perugino with this remote part of the sea-coast save in 1497 and 1498, and as in style and colouring, even in composition and design, the Sinigaglia and Cantiano pictures so closely resemble those at Fano, and the places were not easy of access save from Fano, and we do not hear of the artist being in this district on any other occasion, the attribution to that period is given.

Both of these pictures have signs of hurried execution, and do not appear to be in all their details the work of the master, and my contention is that they were planned when the Fano ones were in progress and executed partly by pupils under the control of the artist who was himself working close at hand. The 1497 altar-piece at Fano is really a fine picture, and the five predella pictures are remarkably good, perhaps the finest of this style of miniature-like painting that Perugino ever executed. In the predella scene can be noted Perugino’s method of representing the ” Sposalizio,” and the arcade and temple doorway, the arrangement and grouping of the figures, and the open air effect of the whole, and entire absence of crowding will all be noted as characteristics which the Caen picture does not possess. The lunette of this fine altar-piece is the same scene as the artist used in the scattered altar-piece for St. Agostino, and should be compared with the lunette from this altar-piece which now hangs in St. Pietro in Cassinense at Perugia. In the latter the Virgin and the Magdalen are each holding one of the hands of the dead Christ. In the Fano picture these hands hang down loosely and rest on the tomb. In other respects the two pictures are almost identical.

The other Fano picture is a very charming ” Annunciation.” The arched colonnade again appears. The Eternal Father, within a circular mandorla, is above, and below, flying towards the Madonna, is the white dove of the Holy Spirit. In the distance is Fano itself, and in the far distance the sea.

We now come to the two Perugia pictures. The one which is known to have been painted in 1497 for the altar of the noble confraternity of “San Pietro Martire,” represents the Madonna seated upon a throne or tomb, crowned, and holding the Christ on her knee. Above in the air are two angels bending in adoration, while on the ground around and partially behind the Queen of Heaven, are two groups of white-robed penitents. There is a study for this picture in the Uffizi. The crown is a later addition to the picture.

It ought to be quite easy to discover the exact date of the other picture. It was painted for the noble confraternity “della Giustizia,” who deposited it in the gallery, and it evidently alludes to the union of the original confraternity of San Andrea della Giustizia, with a smaller but similar body dedicated to San Bernardino and connected with the church of San Francesco. San Bernandino of Siena is one of the two saints who are kneeling in the foreground, and is distinguished by the tablet bearing the I.H.S. surrounded by rays of light which floats in the air close to him.

He lived at the convent of San Francesco al Prato, and close to the convent now stands the oratory dedicated in I461 to his memory, the front of which is decorated with Agostino Ducci’s wonderful marble and terra-cotta façade. The confraternity for whom the picture was painted, specially honoured the memory of San Bernardino, and therefore had a peculiar devotion toward his patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, in the picture in question, kneels opposite to San Bernardino. In the background is a large group of kneeling people headed by the Priori in their furred gowns, and near at hand are women and penitents, all intent upon the same petition. Still more remote is a representation of the city, differing in many respects from the view of Perugia given in the St. Agostino altar-piece painted in I521, and resembling much more closely the town of San Gemignano as it now appears.

One would have naturally expected that this picture would have been named by Mariotti, or that documents in Orsini or in the Perugian archives would have mentioned it. My chief reason for giving it to I498 is that in that year there was an outbreak of plague in the city which the records inform us suddenly ceased in response to great supplication, and it is possible that this picture was painted for the confraternity in commemoration of this answer to prayer. There are _ perhaps only two other instances in which St. Francis is represented, but the reason already stated may well account for his presence in this picture.

The ” Crucifixion,” now in the Accademia, may, I think, be ascribed to this period. It is an altar picture, and was painted for the Convent of St. Jerome in Florence, and there is definite evidence that in I498 Perugino did visit Florence and painted a picture in the city. There is much in this work which recalls the Pazzi ” Crucifixion.” The Christ is from the same model, but is a larger figure in every way and not quite so carefully drawn as in the Pazzi one. Its increased size and more hurried execution gives it a coarser and harsher effect. The Pazzi “Crucifixion ” has but one figure at the foot of the cross. The Accademia necessarily has two, as St. Jerome, with his lion and hat, had to be introduced. The Blessed Virgin is the same figure as in the Pazzi fresco, and in the same posture even to the twisting of the fingers in the clasped hands, but her feet are bare in the Pazzi fresco and in the St. Jerome picture are adorned with elaborate sandals.

The scene at the back of the cross in the Pazzi fresco is evidently not Florence, and was probably either a typical Umbrian town or one connected in some way with the donor’s early life ; but in the St. Jerome picture the city that is depicted is clearly Florence, and certain towers and spires can be recognised in the scene. The composition is more crowded than in the Pazzi fresco, and this element and the heavier treatment of the crucified Figure somewhat detract from its beauty ; but it is probable that the explanation of the whole circumstance is that the St. Jerome ” Crucifixion ” was intended to be placed high up above an altar and at the end of a long and somewhat dark church, whereas the Pazzi ” Crucifixion ” was on a level with the eye, rising up from the ground, and in a small and well-lighted chapter-house.