Pintoricchio – Life In Rome Continued

GIULIANO DELLA ROVERE, though his uncle was dead, was still a powerful cardinal when Innocent VIII. succeeded in 1484. He inhabited the Colonna Palace, where Vasari tells us that both Perugino and Pintoricchio worked in his service. Nearly all the Umbrian decorations were swept away later to make room for the work of Poussin and Zuccaro, but the ceiling of one great hall still boasts the design of Pintoricchio. It is a rich and splendid piece of work. Ornaments in chiaroscuro on a blue or gold groundwork frame four little medallions of classic fable or sacred story “Mucius Scaevola” and “Virginia,” the “History of Judith” and of “David.” Hoary river-gods, grasping sheaves of corn and overflowing cornucopias of fruit, recline on the backs of sphinxes, on either side of fountains. More fanciful still are monkeys swinging from ribbons, centaurs prancing, putti riding goats which are led by older boys, fauns waving banners, owls, garlands and serpents, all set in a rich plastered and painted framework, finished with gold rosettes.

Service in the private palace of the cardinal led on to employment by Pope Innocent, to whom, no doubt, Giuliano recommended Pintoricchio for this class of work, for in 1486 he was at work in the Belvedere. It was here that he painted the towns of which Taja speaks. ” Not long after,” says Vasari, “about the year 1484, Innocent VIII., a Genoese, made him paint several halls and toggle in the Palace of the Belvedere, where, among other things which the Pope wished for, he painted a loggia all with towns, and you could discern Rome, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Venice and Naples, all in the Flemish manner, which, being no longer much in use, pleased very well.” * No trace of them remains, nor is anything left of the great Madonna picture which Vasari says was painted over the principal entrance. The only remains of Umbrian art are to be found on the walls and ceiling of what is today called the Museo Pio Clementino. A graceful loggia was half obliterated here to give more room to the sculpture gallery, but above, the arms of Innocent VIII. and the date 1487 are still visible, surrounded by garlands and ornaments resembling those in the Colonna Palace. Little medallions of classic subjects still struggle dimly through decay and ochre wash. In the archways, seven couples of putti hold the papal shield, or play on musical instruments, and we can trace the proud device of the Cibo, the gleaming peacock and the motto ” Loyauté passe tout.”

In the two little rooms adjoining are prophets and philosophers, and here may be recognised the some what archaic assistant who helped Pintoricchio in the Borgia Tower. Only these poor scraps remain of the year’s service with the Cibo Pope, and hardly more of what he accomplished for his cardinals.

Domenico della Rovere, the cardinal of San Clemente, was one of Pintoricchio’s earliest patrons in Rome. He does indeed seem to have been as much friend as patron, and took both Perugino and Pintoricchio to lodge with him upon their first arrival in his spacious palace in the Piazza Scossacavalli, outside the entrance of which Pintoricchio painted a scutcheon supported by putti. The decoration of the interior of the palace then called Sant’ Apostoli was also entrusted to him. To-day it is inhabited by eleven brothers of the order of the Penitenzieri. It retains something of the fascination of a princely dwelling of the fourteenth century. In the mouldy courtyard are traces of almost obliterated paintings. Under the roof are heraldic devices, armorial bearings, sphinxes and dolphins. In the courtyard, orange trees grow round a well, which may have been the work of Bramante. Ivy half covers walls which were once gay with frescoes, but among the ruin and decay we see repeated countless times in the marble window frames, the name of the builder — DO. ROVERE, CAR. S. CLEMEN. and his pious device — SOLI DEO. Outside are faint traces of the shield of Sixtus IV. supported by two putti, the only part of the work which Vasari deigns to notice.

Inside, the three great halls on the ground floor, though partly whitewashed and even built up, keep some remains of past splendour. On a beam can still be read the date at which the palace was finished, 1490.

There is still a good deal of the original gilding left on the wooden ceilings, and where the whitewash has been scraped away, shadowy heads of apostles are to be seen, and fine and delicate Renaissance ornament. The whole resembles the designs for the Colonna Palace, and what can still be made out appears to be by the master himself, elegant and decisive in touch. All sorts of animals are made use of a winged stag drinks from a cornucopia, sea-gods and mermaids are instructing nymphs to ride on dolphins, a sphinx plays with a dragon, satyrs are placed in a vintage scene, sirens beguile centaurs with music all in the fancy of the Revival, exuberant, yet full of dainty grace. Bits of marble work strike the eye here and there the heraldic bearing of Rovere, the eagle of Alidori ; but there is little left to tell us of the glory of the princely house, of the great churchman who built it, or of the Umbrian master he employed to decorate it.

The exultant motto which he placed on a marble tablet to celebrate its completion, looks down from the decaying wall and speaks to us in words half sad, half mocking : ” This house shall stand till the ant has drunk up the sea, and till the tortoise has crept round the world.”

This plan of small landscapes and scenes set in a wide framework of fantastic objects, classic and mythological, musical instruments, garlands and ribbons, becoming more and more grotesque, was peculiar at this time to Pintoricchio. He may have taken the idea from walls in old Roman houses, since destroyed, but of which many were uncovered at this period. The same sort of decoration is to be seen today in the Roman rooms on the Palatine. Pintoricchio uses this mode of decoration again in the Borgia Apartments, and from him Raphael borrowed the idea for his loggie.

The beautiful church of Santa Maria del Popolo, restored by Pope Sixtus in 1472, and subsequently rendered a very storehouse of art by his successors and their cardinal kinsmen, would be, if it had been left with all its original decorations, one of the finest monuments to Pintoricchio’s art in Italy. A great deal still remains, but much has been swept away. We cannot be quite certain of the exact date of each chapel, but his work here, with the exception of the choir, was carried out during the next few years.

The church was a favourite one with the Rovere family. Pope Sixtus himself often went to vespers there. In 1480 he instituted his nephew, Girolamo Riario, as chief warden. Here he came in state to give thanks after the victory of Campo Morto had delivered Rome from the fear of the Calabrian invader. Roderigo Borgia, too, as early as 1473, had given a marble altar to be placed in front of a miracle-working picture of the Madonna. Vasari speaks of two chapels painted by Pintoricchio in this church : one with the history of St. Jerome, for Domenico della Rovere, as a memorial of his brother, Christoforo, who died in 1479 ; the other for Cardinal Innocenzio Cibo. The Umbrian frescoes were destroyed, and the baroque ornamentation we now see, substituted. There is a third chapel, dedicated to Santa Catarina, in which the painter executed half-lengths of the four evangelists in an arched ceiling, for a Portuguese ecclesiastic, Cardinal Costa.

Finally, a fourth chapel had been the gift of Giovanni Basso della Rovere, the brother-in-law of Pope Sixtus, whose portrait was already painted by Pintoricchio in the fresco of the Baptism in the Sixtine Chapel. Two of the half-lengths of the evangelists—” St. Jerome and Pope Gregory ” though both spoilt and repainted, remain as Pintoricchio’s work, together with two children supporting a scutcheon. In the chapel of St. Augustine, the three sons of Giovanni raised a monument to their father, and some years after his death (to judge by the introduction of grotesques) it was painted in frescoes, which guide-books still assign to Pintoricchio. They are in his manner, and were probably executed while he was working at the choir in 1505, for the papal shield of Julius II., who succeeded in 1503, appears on the ceiling. The “Pietà” in the lunette above the monument may possibly have been painted earlier than the rest of the chapel, and Schmarsow sees in it the hand of Pintoricchio, influenced by Melozzo da Forli. It is difficult to think that he can be answerable for it when we compare it with the “Pietà” over the polyptych at Perugia. The coarse, heavy body of the Christ, the badly-draped loin cloth, the clumsy attitude of the expressionless angels, seem rather to be the work of some pupil from North Italy, with a mingling of the Teutonic, and have nothing in common with the delicate and devotional Umbrian rendering, so evidently inspired by Perugino.

In the ” Assumption,” which fills the opposite wall, the figures are too ill drawn to allow us to think they can be Pintoricchio’s. The arms are too short, the feet out of drawing, the figure of the Madonna is unnaturally long, with sloping shoulders. Crowe and Cavalcaselle were the first to suggest as its author Matteo Balducci, a painter who has left several panels at Siena, which were for long assigned to Pintoricchio, under whom he worked in Rome. The ” Virgin and Child, with Saints ” over the altar is a very inferior work, entirely repainted. Round the top of the wall runs a series of scenes from the life of the Virgin. These have been attributed to the North Italian, Morto da Feltre. They are certainly not by Pintoricchio.

There remains, then, only the little chapel of St. Jerome, which, in spite of some restoration and some destruction, we can attribute. to the master. It has the freshness of early work, and both in colouring and style is akin to that of San Bernardino in Ara Coeli, while the influence of Fiorenzo has re-asserted itself. Over the altar is the ” Nativity,” which bears so close aresemblance to the older master’s “Adoration” at Perugia. In the finished sketch at Venice, for the tender figure of the Madonna, the drapery has the stair-like gradations of folds on both sides, which Morelli points out as characteristic of him, and the same critic draws attention to the type of hand, with long, bony fingers, that we find in his later Madonna dei Fossi. The landscape, which is soft and deep in tone, resembles that of the frescoes in the Sixtine Chapel. In two, at least, of the little series of the life of St. Jerome, we recognise Pintoricchio’s own hand. In one, the doctors of the Church come to visit the saint after he has retired to the desert. The study for the lion in this scene is in his sketch-book. On the other side of the chapel is the exquisite little panel in which St. Jerome argues a point of doctrine with an infidel. This is a bit of genre-painting with all the charm the Umbrian painters understood so well. The red-robed saint sits in his great arm-chair ; opposite him is placed a stately doctor in blue. Disciples are grouped on either hand, some have turbaned heads to suggest their unbelieving origin. Behind stand favourite dogs, and St. Jerome’s faithful lion. The scene is lit up by the painting of a little window in the centre, through which the company looks out on a sunny landscape, with trees and a lake lying in mellow light and floating evening shades. A rich cloth hangs across the broad sill. The idea of the little outlook, throwing air and contrast into the interior, is one often afterwards elaborated by Pintoricchio, and apparently was suggested to him by a panel in Fiorenzo’s miracles of San Bernardino.

In the Capitol is a fresco painting which Mr. Berenson ascribes to our master. Vasari speaks of his having painted such an altar-piece, but this, if the same, was entirely repainted in 1834. The colour of the angels’ robes was changed one from red to yellow, the other from yellow to white. The Virgin’s robe; now blue, was originally green. The face is painted out of all recognition. The shape is not oval, the mouth is full with parted lips, and the hair falls on either side of the face. The angels, with knees bending outward, are not Pintoricchio’s type only the Child recalls his Infant in the ” Nativity ” of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the hands are like his in outline.

In the tribune of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is a great composition of the ” Finding of the True Cross,” which tradition has assigned to him among others, and which has strong traces of Umbrian workmanship. This is entirely and heavily repainted, and its artistic value is nil, except for the design. We should welcome even such an obscured reminiscence as this, if it remained to us, of the paintings in Castel Sant’ Angelo. On a blue, starred vault, the Saviour is surrounded by a mandorla of cherubs. Below, St. Helena stands, holding the cross, with the donor, Cardinal Carvajal, kneeling at her feet. On either side are the miracles attending its recovery. On the left, the Emperor Heraclius rides in triumph, bearing the cross, rescued from infidels, to the city gates. The groups of women on the extreme left, and some of those standing behind the Empress-saint, are full of likeness to Pintoricchio’s figures in the ” Journey of Moses,” and the landscape (the only part which has not been quite repainted), with its purple tints, overhanging rocks, and parties of wayfarers, recalls the work of Fiorenzo. The whole has something of the direct simplicity of Pintoricchio’s narratives, but other figures remind us of Signorelli the forms are heavy and lumpy, and it is probably only by a follower, though one who closely imitated the Umbrian master.

( Originally Published 1908 )

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