Perugino – The Cambio

IT has already been shown that the statement of Crowe and Cavalcaselle that Pietro resided entirely in Florence at this time is incorrect, but it is quite open to believe that he had desired to do so. He invested some of his earnings in the purchase of land in the Borgo Pinti in 1498, and in the deed is referred to as ” habitator in populo S. Petri Majoris.” In January 19th, 1497, he was called in to assist Benozzo Gozzoli, Cosimo Rosselli, and Filippino Lippi to value the frescoes of Alesso Baldovinetti in the church of Sta. Trinità in Florence, and in June 1498 he was present at a meeting called to discuss the repairs of the lantern of Sta. Maria del Fiore.

The church had been struck by lightning, and the question of the repair of the injured lantern was submitted to a meeting of architects, sculptors, and painters, and at this meeting Filippino Lippi, Lorenzo di Credi, and Perugino all • tendered their advice. At about this time came an invitation from the Priori of Perugia for him to undertake the entire decoration of the chief room in the Cambio ; and this invitation seems to have finally disposed of the Orvieto con-tract. He wrote to the Orvietans stating that he could not come as he was otherwise engaged ; and there is no trace of his ever visiting their city during his life.

The flattering request of his adopted townsmen was well pleasing to Perugino ; the terms offered him were satisfactory ; and early in 1499 he left Florence and commenced in Perugia what I consider to be the most important work of his life.

The scenes in the decoration of what is still called in Perugia the ” Noble Cambio,” are not the most beautiful that Pietro painted, nor are they the finest of his works in the way of drawing, composition, or colouring. They, however, form part of a complete scheme of decoration, carried out, it is true, under certain definite restrictions laid down by the Priori, but, subject to these restrictions, designed throughout by the master, and mainly executed by his own hand.

It has already been said that to understand Perugino it is absolutely necessary to visit Umbria. The dictum can be made even more definite. It is needful to see not only Umbria but Perugia, and not only Perugia but the Cambio, in order to have an adequate idea of the artist’s power. The quaint little room must be visited again and again if the student is to really understand its beauty. When at first one steps from the brilliant sunshine of the street into this dark chamber, it is not easy to realise the rich decoration which covers its walls. Gradually, however, as the eye becomes accustomed to the more subdued light, it reveals itself, but part only of the room can be studied at a time. The room is very much as Pietro left it, and in its way is one of the most beautiful in all Italy.

The lower part of the walls is wainscotted with dark wood inlaid in tarsiature. Near the entrance is the throne for the judge, and below it the desks and seats for the money – changers, all exquisitely carved, and then all around the room, above the wainscotting, is Perugino’s fresco decoration, and above it the vaulted ceiling painted from his designs by his pupils. There is unity about the whole which is perfect. Perugino is at his best, straining his utmost to give honour to the town of his adoption, stimulated by the very nature of his commission, exercising all the fertility of his talent in design, and labouring with intense sympathy and determination, convinced that in Perugia he can execute a work that will perpetuate his name for ever and ever.

The decoration is curiously illustrative of that strange mingling of spirits which the Renaissance produced. The popular mind at this period was deeply affected by the study of the classics, and sacred and profane literature were being considered side by side. The predominant spirit was certainly Christian and not pagan, but in a building intended for secular work the classic spirit had a fuller development than in a church, and, as Perugino frankly stated in the contract for the decoration that his aim was “to recommend the merchants and magistrates therein assembled never to forsake the path of duty, but to remain faithful to the dictates of wisdom, of natural reason, and of religion,” so it was quite admissible for him to appeal to great classic heroes for the lessons he desired to teach, and to emphasise and spiritualise all by the teaching of pure and humble Christianity.

It appears from Mariotti and Marchesi that the subjects were submitted to Pietro on the part of the Priori by Francesco Maturanzio, Professor of Rhetoric at Perugia, and secretary to the Priori. In a MS. of poetical works by Maturanzio, still preserved at Perugia, the inscriptions on the tablets of the decoration appear, and Maturanzio himself; according to Marchesi, derived some of his inspiration from a MS. Cicero, in which are miniatures of the Virtues and of the classic heroes who specially exemplify them. Near the door Pietro has painted Cato, then on the left wall, in two bays, are groups of philosophers and warriors in groups of three, each group consisting of a Greek between two Romans, and underneath each figure is his name. Above are representations of the Virtues, and opposite to these two bays is one in which are depicted the “Prophets and Sibyls,” while at the end of the room appear the ” Nativity ” and the ” Transfiguration.”

These figures are arranged in one long line, each figure standing separately apart from the others, lonely and abstracted. The warriors are singularly unlike what a more pagan artist would have depicted. They are dainty, dreamy, gentle knights, almost feminine in their grace of limb and countenance, and in their elegance of costume and pose. In their head-dresses the fancy of the artist has run wild. Nothing is too extraordinary for Perugino to devise, and, fond as he always was of eccentric helmets and mitres, he has given full play to his imagination in these Cambio groups, and decked his heroes in the most extraordinary and extravagant helmets that even his fancy could invent. The armour and the costume of the figures also show how exuberant was the artist’s fancy, and in the shape and decoration of the shields especially he gave it full play. Despite all these drawbacks, there is a certain stately grace about the figures, the drawing is accurate, the proportions good, and the attitudes natural, although just a little forced. The most important work of all is in the large bay opposite to the warriors and philosophers. This is styled the ” Triumph of Religion,” and represents the Prophets and the Sibyls standing together in converse, and above them is the Eternal Father, who is attended by two angels, and who is raising His hand in blessing. There is more power, breadth, and movement in this group than in the others, and there is closer connection between the various figures. They are more certainly interested one in the other, and in conversation one with the other; while as regards their draperies there is a broad, full sweeping treatment that is very marked, and deserves careful attention.

One more point may well be noted, that, fond as Perugino was of inscriptions and names on his pictures, of Latin verses, and of Latin signatures, in none of them is there such a profusion of inscriptions as in the Cambio, and every letter is most carefully drawn with the pencil, and is admirable in its proportions and clearness. One scene is practically unique. On but one other occasion, as far as I am aware, did Perugino paint the ” Transfiguration,” and then he carried out but little of the picture himself. Vasari incorrectly styles it the ” Resurrection.” This latter scene Pietro represented many times, and even Crowe and Cavalcaselle, careful as they usually were, have confused the ” Transfiguration ” with the ” Resurrection ” when they refer to the Fano altar-piece. The three disciples in the Cambio fresco are grouped very much in the way in which Pietro grouped the sleeping disciples in the Accademia picture. The attitude of the Christ closely resembles that of the Christ in the Vatican “Resurrection”; but, this resemblance accepted, the connection between the two representations is at an end.

There are no angels in this picture, which, for Perugino, is most unusual ; but Moses and Elias, fine, well-drawn, powerful figures, take the place of the usual singing angels who float in the sky. The half-startled look of the disciples is very cleverly presented, and the glow of the ethereal light upon their faces, partially warded off by St. John with his upraised hand, is beautifully depicted.

The transfigured Christ is an imposing figure, full of dignity and peace, and demanding reverence from those around. There is a sense of space, of distance, and of mystery in this fine fresco, which Perugino seldom, if ever, exceeded.

When, at the very close of his life, Perugino painted for Sta. Maria Nuova his other fresco of the ” Trans-figuration,” he used the same cartoon as he adopted for the Cambio, reversing the three figures on the ground. The result is, however, far different, and but little of the fresco is really the work of Perugino. In place of a mandorla of rays of burning light, there is the usual one of cherubs, cut across by an awkward cloud, and almost all the figures have lost their dignity and power.

His fellow – citizens paid him the compliment of desiring that his portrait should be identified with his important work, and probably Maturanzio composed the complimentary verses which are written beneath it, and which Perugino himself could certainly not have selected. The inscription runs :

Perdita si fuerat pingendi his retulit artem ; Si nunquam inventa est hactenus ipse dedit, which Rev. H. R. Ware has thus rendered :

If we had lost the painter’s art, ’tis here restored in better part ; If it had always been unknown, he ‘s given it as his very 0wn.

The portrait of the artist may well be compared with the one in the Uffizi, which was so long believed to be his, but which has now been removed from its old position and hung in the Tribuna as the portrait of Francesco delle Opere, according to the inscription on its back.

With the knowledge that the one in the Cambio is genuine, it is surprising that the Uffizi portrait should for so long have been called Perugino’s, and a whole story spun to account for the words ” Timete Deum ” which occur in the man’s hand.

In not one feature do the two portraits, however, resemble one another, and the one of Perugino in the Cambio reveals him as a man of strong, healthy appearance, of unusual determination and great power. The. features reveal strong sense of ideality, good know-ledge of form and of colour, and some dry, lurking humour of a cynical and malicious type. To a certain extent the face is sensual, but not lascivious or voluptuous ; but its main characteristic is its determination, the ability to conquer difficulties, to labour hard and long, and to produce a vast amount of work in a short time. It is also the face of a thoughtful man, not so much of a loveable one, as of one who was masterful and resolute.

Opposite to the portrait of the artist, close by the fresco of “Prophets and Sibyls,” is a label with the words, “ANNO SALVT M.D.,” giving the definite information in what year the work was completed. It was, I take it, at this period of Perugino’s life that the great Raphael first became his pupil. Vasari’s statement as to Giovanni Santi taking the lad to Pietro is unconfirmed, and must be received with caution, especially as we know that Santi died in 1494.

As has already been shown, Perugino was wandering, in the years previous to 1500, far and wide, and was seldom at Perugia for long together ; and, as Morelli was the first to point out, it would have been impossible-for him to give the regular and continuous instruction to the young lad Raphael at that time. In 1504 Raphael painted his “Sposalizio,” in 1505 the fresco at S. Severo in Perugia, and probably it was several years previous to this that he painted the Dudley ” Crucifixion.” Professor Rossi of Perugia has announced that documents exist in that city proving that Raphael actually did not leave Urbino till the end of 1499. The information is quite credible, and is what might be expected ; but it lacks confirmation, and when at Perugia I was quite unable to verify its statement.

The question is still an open one. Morelli gives Raphael’s earlier training to Timoteo Viti, who transmitted to him the traditions he had himself received from Costa and Francia. It is perfectly certain that the lad was also a pupil to Perugino, and, of course, possible—although hardly conceivable—that his tuition was taking place during the busy wandering years which preceded 1500. My own notion is that the tuition began in 1499 or 1500, and that Raphael, together with the other pupils, took his part in the Cambio decoration, probably in the work of the ceiling. There is, of course, a local tradition that in two of the faces in the fresco of ” Prophets and Sibyls ” are immortalised the features of Raphael and Pinturicchio. Nothing is more likely. Both pupils were of unusual and remarkable appearance, and the master may quite as well have used them as his models while working with them in the room. There can be no definite proof of what part Raphael took in the scheme of decoration, but it is pleasant to conceive him as working side by side with the master whose art influenced him so strongly, and between this time and that of 1505, when the San Severo fresco was executed, Raphael may well have been assisting Perugino in all his work, and learning from him the art in which in later days he was to reign so triumphantly as king.

For the Cambio decoration Perugino appears to have received 350 large gold ducats, but the final payment of the money is not made till 1507, when the juror of the Cambio, Alberto de Mansueti, records with pride the fact that he had finally settled the Cambio payments and obtained Perugino’s receipt in full, dated 15th January 1507.