THE province of Umbria, which stretches far inland from the Adriatic, contains some of the most picturesque scenery in Italy. It is a mountainous region, seamed by deep ravines, and full of rugged hills with towns perched like eagles’ nests upon their summits. These have in many cases preserved much of their medioeval character, and none more so than Urbino, the birthplace of Raphael. Broken by many towers and campaniles, and crowned by the huge mass of the Ducal Palace, its picturesque outline stands against the sky, but little changed since the days when one of its humbler dwellings sheltered this child of genius. If this be true of the town, it is even more so of the surrounding country. What Count Castiglione, and the noble company who figure in the pages of his Perfect Courtier saw four centuries ago, when, after a night passed in discussing the laws of courtesy, they stood at an open window of the Ducal Palace, we may still see, ” at the hour when the east is suffused with the lovely rose-color which precedes the dawn, when all the stars have paled their ineffectual fires, save Venus, that sweet mistress who keeps the boundaries of night and day under her control.”
There, across the valley, are Monte Catria, whose summit rises 5,600 feet above the sea; Monte del Cavallo, so named from a famous race of horses bred by the later princes of Urbino in the luxuriant pastures at its base ; Monte Nerone, the legendary abode of him who played while Rome burned ; and the twin peaks, called the Sassi di Simeone, blue in the far distance towards the Tuscan frontier. To the north rise the triple peaks of San Marino, that tiny republic which, having kept the torch of liberty lighted through long centuries of surrounding darkness, has survived to see its hope-inspiring rays brighten into the daylight of freedom; and the Monte Carpegna, overlooking the cradle of that Montefeltrian race which gave those princes to Urbino, whose beneficent and paternal sway made the lot of its inhabitants so singularly fortunate.1
In the twelfth century they were feudal lords who, through the favor of Frederic Barbarossa,2 were enabled to extend their dominion and increase their power, and who, on the accession of the second and greater Frederic, had their devotion to the imperial cause rewarded by the confirmation and extension of the privileges granted to them by his predecessor.
The first really historical Montefeltro is Count Guido. Speaking to Dante out of the midst of flames, he tells him how he,
“A man of arms, at first did clothe himself n good St. Francis’ girdle, hoping so To have made amends. And certainly my hope Had failed not, but that he, whom curses light on, The high-priest, again seduced me into sin.”
That so ardent a Ghibelline as the poet should have condemned the old count to a fiery expiation is not to be wondered at, for he had twice joined hands with the Guelphs when temporary reconciliations were effected between the two parties by Pope Celestine IT., before he took the vows at the convent of St. Francis at Assisi, where he died in 1296, “in the odor of sanctity.”
Nearly a century after his death the house of Montefeltro, whose representatives had struggled with neighboring princes, suffered from Papal vengeance, and endured expatriation, was reinstated in the person of Antonio, a dutiful son of the Church, then governed by Boniface IX. During the great schism which followed, his son and successor Guid’ Antonio espoused the cause of Gregory XII. ; but when it was closed by the elevation of Martin V. to the Papacy, he made his peace with the Pope, and was appointed gonfaloniere of the Church, and Vicar-General of the Romagna. He was succeeded by his dissolute son, Odd’ Antonio, after whose assassination, which relieved his dominions of a monster, Federigo, the natural son of Guid’ Antonio, was raised to power. With the accession of this prince the duchy entered upon its golden age. Pre-eminent among Italian princes as a man of his word, at a time when to break faith was a common practice, and distinguished as a beneficent and paternal ruler, at a period when the governed were generally regarded as existing only for the advantage and profit of their superiors in power, Federigo had rivals in arms like the Sforza, and equals in the patronage of arts and letters like the Medici, but he stood alone in those moral qualities which become a prince even more than courage and aesthetic sense.
Born in 1422, he was early sent to Venice as a hostage, studied arms at Mantua under the Marquis Gian Francesco Gonzaga, and letters under that model among tutors, Vittorino de’ Rambaldini da Feltro (b. 1328, d. 1447), whom the marquis had intrusted with the education of his daughter and his two sons. His love for his pupils is fitly symbolized upon the reverse of his medal, by the pelican plucking the feathers from her breast to feed her young (Plate I. No. 1), and well expressed by the name of the ” Joyful Habitation,” which was given to the house where they pursued their studies with fellow-students from Italy, France, Germany, and even Greece. In the ” Joyful Habitation ” gayety was tempered by sobriety, and games succeeded studies. The eminent professors who taught grammar, dialectics, arithmetic, Greek, Latin, dancing, music, and equitation under the direction of Vittorino, had, we are assured, so great an affection for him, that they gave their lessons gratuitously. The young Federigo was here fitted for the high duties of his future position, and we cannot wonder that from the day when he assumed them, he discharged them with the utmost fidelity. Treating his subjects like his children, and regarded by them with filial affection, he appointed officers whose special duty it was to inquire into their wants, and himself made sure by personal inspection that those wants were supplied. His second wife, Battista Sforza, daughter of the Lord of Pesaro, whom he married after the death of his first wife, Gentile de’ Brancaleoni, was one of the most learned, accomplished, and charming women of her time. When not occupied in defending his territory from the incursions of such watchful enemies as the Malatesta, or on active service as a condottiere, Federigo passed his life in the society of his amiable duchess and that of the eminent men of letters who frequented the court. He built the splendid Ducal Palace at Urbino, and collected an immense number of manuscripts and printed books for its library.
A Dalmatian named Lutiano Lauranna was appointed head master and engineer to the duke by letters-patent issued at Pavia in 1468, but it is probable that the palace had been commenced several years earlier, perhaps by some other architect.7 Though imposing by reason of its immense size and striking position, its exterior effect is somewhat unsatisfactory. The towers appear disproportionately high, and the combination of palace, church, and convent in one building is perplexing to the eye. It is, however, a noble pile, and the many interesting associations which cluster about it are enough to make it beautiful in the traveller’s eyes. The ground-floor offers little of interest, but the second story, which is reached by a truly regal staircase, is rich in as perfect examples of decorative sculpture as are to be found in any of the Renaissance palaces of Italy. The marble architraves, doorposts, lintels, and chimney-pieces of the great hall and the rooms opening out of it are covered with trophies, amorini, arabesques and heraldic devices sculptured by Ambrogio da Milano in the purest style of the fifteenth century, with the most exquisite taste.8 The rose-bushes and carnations upon the chimney jambs in the . second room show the closest attention to the structure of the plants and to their principle of growth, and are as charming examples of the right use of plant-forms in ornament from a naturalistic point of view, as are the birds and amorini of that of animal forms. Well may Giovanni Santi praise “li mirabil fogliami, ond’egli (Ambrogio) agguaglia gli antichi in cio.”
To one who has some knowledge of sculpture, liberty to wander through and to work in the vast halls and corridors of such a palace gives a pleasure which once enjoyed can never be forgotten. While the pencil threads its way through the intricate designs of Ambrogio, the mind reverts to the past, and the stately forms of the noble dead who once peopled these marble halls, and enlivened them with their words of wit and wisdom, revive and pass before you. First comes Federigo, not as he appears in his well-known portrait by Piero della Francesca at the Uffizi, which was painted after the lance of an antagonist in the lists had marred his comely features, but as he was at the commencement of a reign whose bright lustre, like that of a lighted torch brought into a dark place, dispelled the gloom which had shrouded Urbino during that of his predecessor. Hand in hand with her noble spouse walks Battista Sforza, –
“d’onestate altera, Di pompa signorile, e d’alto ingegno, E di tutte virtu lucente sfera,” –
she who, at the age of twenty, addressed the learned AEneas-Sylvius (Pope Pius II.), at Milan, in a Latin improvisation of such elegance that he declared himself unable to answer her fitly; who graced the court of Urbino by her virtues and accomplishments, and seconded her husband in all his arduous enterprises; and who, when thinking herself dying while he was absent,
“Con un solo altissimo desio Stava, di rivedere il suo Signore Vittorioso, e poi tornar a Dio”;
and when he came, embraced him for the last time, placed their dearly bought son Guidobaldo in his arms, and then
“Chiuse quel santo, onesto e grave ciglio, Rendendo l’alma al ciel divotamente, Libera e sciolta dal mondan periglio.”
Behind his worthy parents walks the young Guidobaldo, his long fair hair crowned by the little round cap of velvet which he wears in his portrait at the Palazzo Colonna. He also holds a fair and virtuous lady by the hand, Elizabetta Gonzaga, daughter of the Marquis of Mantua (Plate I. No. 2), who presided as his wife over the réunions described in the pages of the Corteggiano, and was in every respect worthy to succeed her husband’s mother as Duchess of Urbino. Next comes a grave and learned personage, the Count Ottaviano Ubaldini, the tutor of the young duke, who exercised absolute authority over him, from the time of his father’s death until, at the age of fourteen, he won his spurs upon the battle-field. After him follow the ladies in waiting, beaded by Emilia Pia (Plate I. No. 3), the widow of the Lord of Carpi, one of the brightest ornaments of the court. Then come the brave and noble Genoese brothers Fregoso, Ottaviano, who freed his country from the French and was created Duke of Genoa, and Federigo, Arch-bishop of Salerno, versed in letters sacred and profane ; and behind them Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of Leo X.; Csar Gonzaga, who died young, just when ” he had begun to show more than hopeful qualities”; Cardinal Bembo, the chief ornament of the court of Leo X., who, to use the exaggerated language of his biographer, opened a new Augustan age, emulated Cicero and Virgil with like success, and rivalled the elegance and purity of Petrarch and Boccaccio in his writings”; Cardinal Bernardo da Bibbiena, author of La Calandra, one of the earliest comedies produced in modern times ;9 Count Balthasar Castiglione, author of the Corteggiano, the friend of Michelangelo, and of Raphael, who painted that admirable portrait of him now at the Louvre to which he himself, under the name of his wife, addressed one of the most perfect of modern Latin sonnets. After these corn other men of letters, together with a crowd of poets, musicians, and artists, such as Justus of Ghent, Piero della Francesca, Gentile da Fabriano, Ambrogio da Milano, and Giovanni Santi with the young Raphael, whose golden hair is cut straight across his forehead as in the fresco by his father at Cagli, and whose innocent eyes have that far-away look which tells us that he has already begun to see visions and dream inspired dreams.
As they pass on and vanish with the rest, our reverie is broken by the custode’s ” Si chiude, Signore,” and, gathering up our belongings, we go forth again into the world of to-day, grateful for the hours during which we have been allowed to forget it.
It would be ungracious, however, to leave the palace without saying a word about the Corteggiano, which contains so graphic an account of its former inmates. As its author modestly tells us in his Preface, “it is a painted portrait of the court of Urbino, not indeed from the hand of a Raphael or a Michelangelo, but from that of a second-rate artist, who knows how to put in the outlines correctly, but who cannot fill them in with lovely colors, and by the help of perspective make them appear real to the eye.” Its object is to portray the perfect courtier, such a courtier, in short, “that the prince who is worthy to be served by him, no matter how small his principality may be, shall be rightly considered a great man among princes.” This is done in a series of conversations between the eminent men and women of the court, who meet together every evening. “At Urbino,” says Count Castiglione, “all the hours of the day were occupied in honorable and pleasant exercises of body and of mind; but as it happened that the duke, on account of his infirmity (the gout), went to bed very soon after supper, the company generally adjourned to the apartment of the duchess, where the Signora Emilia Pia, who was endowed with lively understanding and judgment, took the lead, and inspired all with her wisdom and strength. At the sight of the duchess supreme content beamed from all faces. She was as a chain which united those who met together under her gentle sway in such friendly feeling, that never was there greater unity of will, or more cordial affection, than between them.” Music, dancing, and conversation, often prolonged until dawn broke over the Apennines, filled up the hours of the night. On one occasion the Signora Emilia Pia proposed “that each one should say with what especial virtue he or she would desire to see his or her beloved one adorned, and also what defect he or she could best tolerate in him or her, since every one must have some defect”; the object being to discover what are the highest virtues, and what the least objectionable defects. After discussing this question, Federigo Fregoso proposes that one of the company should give his idea of all the conditions and special qualities which are necessary to the perfect courtier and the perfect court lady. The highest gifts and accomplishments are bestowed by the speakers upon each, so that no one quality of mind or body needful to manly or womanly perfection is forgotten. Despite the presence of such models of womanhood as the duchess and Emilia Pia, two of the disputants dare to maintain the general inferiority of the female sex, and one of them, Don Gasparo, whose ideal of a perfect female courtier, as Donna Emilia tells him, is a woman “who only knows how to cook and to sew,” – jeeringly asks Giuliano de’ Medici, the champion of the sex, why it happens that, having ascribed all virtues and capacities to women, he does not advise that they should be made governors of cities, and legislators, and captains of armies, leaving the men at home to attend to household duties. To this Giuliano, who has previously declared that all men of worth esteem and reverence woman, and consider her qualities and consequent titles to respect in no wise inferior to those of man, makes answer: “And if I did so advise, perhaps I should not be much in the wrong. Do you not know that Plato, who had no very high opinion of women, makes them guardians of the city, and gives all martial offices to men ? Do you not believe that many women are quite as capable as men of governing cities and armies ?” This shows us that the woman question was a mooted one long before our day, in a country which was at the time famous for women of extraordinary gifts and attainments. The last chapter of the Perfect Courtier is devoted to the discussion of the question, as to what is the highest beauty in man or woman ; and the conclusions arrived at are those of Plato, Savonarola, and other great Idealists, that the good and the beautiful are identical, and this especially in “human bodies, whose chief beauty is the beauty of the soul, which, as it is an emanation from the Divine Source of beauty, makes that beautiful with which it comes in contact, unless the body is of such vile material that the soul cannot make any impression upon it.”
“Beauty,” says Cardinal Bembo, “is the sign that the soul, by reason of its divine power, has won a victory over matter, and with its light has dispelled the darkness of the body.” In the same spirit Savonarola said, in one of his sermons at Florence,10 ” Compare two equally beautiful women, the one virtuous, the other vicious, and you will see that the first is of an almost angelic beauty, with which that of the other can-not be compared. This is so because the good soul partakes of the beauty of God, and radiates its celestial loveliness through the body.” So also Castiglione, in almost the very words of Plato, declares ” that through the perception of individual beauty we rise to the perception of universal beauty, and thus at last arrive at a conception of divine beauty.”
It is well to know that while Alexander VI. ruled at Rome, and Lorenzo de’ Medici at Florence, there were men like Savonarola who uttered such sentiments as these; and that while Leo X. sat more like a pagan emperor than a Pope upon St. Peter’s chair, and not only tolerated but applauded comedies like La Calandra at the Vatican, there was such a court in Italy as that of Urbino, where virtuous women and high-minded men were rather the rule than the exception, and where lofty sentiments could be publicly professed, without fear of ridicule or risk of contempt.
It is not necessary to follow Guidobaldo through the complicated mazes of political events in which he was constantly entangled. Suffice it to say that he was twice driven out of his states by Caesar Borgia, who, having made himself master of the Romagna, seized upon the duchy of Urbino and obliged him to take refuge in the Venetian territory, which he reached with great difficulty, owing to his disabled condition. After the death of Alexander VI. and the downfall of his infamous son, the duke adopted Francesco Maria della Rovere, nephew of Pope Julius II., as his heir, and thenceforward maintained the most amicable relations with the Holy See.
As the political history of Umbria is henceforward connected with Guidobaldo’s successor, Francesco Maria della Rovere, and his uncle, Pope Julius II., we will now take up its artistic history prior to the time of Raphael, who, though by far the greatest of Umbrian masters, was by no means the earliest. He was in fact the latest born, the Benjamin of a school which since the thirteenth century had produced painters and workers in mosaic of more than ordinary ability, at Gubbio, Perugia, Foligno, and Fabriano. The artists in these different towns knew little of each other until the time when they began to study the frescos at Assisi, and were thus brought into contact. Our knowledge of the first famous Umbrian painter, Oderigi Bonagiunta, generally called Oderigi d’Agobbio, miniaturist and illuminator, is due to Dante. In the eleventh canto of the Purgatorio he tells us how he met one bending beneath a weight like that we sometimes feel in dreams, and thus addressed him :
” ‘Art not thou Oderigi ? Art not thou Agobbio’s glory, glory of that art Which they of Paris call the limner’s skill?’ ‘Brother,’ said he, ‘with tints that gayer smile Bolognian Franco’s pencil limns the leaves.’ ”
We do not know the year of his birth,l2 but it is clear from this mention of him that he died in the early part of the fourteenth century. In 12645 he was living at Gubbio, and in 1295 at Rome, where Dante may have known him. No certain works from his hand exist, but Cavalcaselle conjectures that the miniatures which adorn the pages of two Masses in the Archivio de’ Canonici at Rome may have been painted by him. Another Umbrian painter, Guido Palmerucci (12801345), who was driven into exile with other Ghibellines when Napoleone Orsini, rector of the duchy of Spoleto, took and sacked Gubbio in the year 1300, and not permitted to return for eighteen years, may have been brought into contact with Dante through his acquaintance with Bosone de Raffaelle, but he is not mentioned in the Divina Commedia. ” Under the eyes and in response to the songs of Dante and Bosone,” says a late writer upon the painters of the Umbrian school, “Palmerucci, their brother in art and in exile, confided the inspirations of his fancy to his brush, and upon the roofs and walls of the silent churches of Gubbio portrayed a people of angels and of saints.” His works there and at Cagli are gigantic miniatures, replete with the tender softness of the early Umbrian painters, and one of them, a St. Anthony, at S. Maria Nuova di Gubbio, is especially interesting as an indication of the source whence the school of Perugia took its rise.
A fresh impulse was given to the development of the Umbrian school by Gentile da Fabriaiio, one of the really great Italian painters’ of the fifteenth century, and by Ottaviano, the son and scholar of Martino Nelli, whose best work is the Madonna called “del Belvidere” in the church of Santa Maria Nuova at Gubbio.17 Its brightly colored angels and saints are grouped around the Madonna, who sits in their midst holding the infant Jesus upon her knee. Their faces are full of a gentle sweetness, but neither mystic nor elevated in character. The sweetness of the Virgin and the radiant expression of the angels fill M. Rio 18 with an ineffable ecstasy, but to the prosaic Cavalcaselle the picture is nothing but a ” simple combination of saints and angels of different sizes cast symmetrically on a blue ground.” The extreme contrast between these two judgments shows how the point of view taken by men of very opposite temperaments may influence their opinion about a work of art, which is after all of a rather neutral character.
Ottaviano Nelli’s fellow-pupil, Gentile da Fabriano (born between 1360 and 1370, died about 1450), was an artist of far higher rank, who though he lived in Florence in the days of Paolo Uccelli and Brunelleschi, remained a true Umbrian in his art. His masterpiece, the Adoration of the Magi, in the Academy at Florence (painted in 1423), is Umbrian, like his other works, in its want of aerial perspective, its abundant use of gilt ornament in relief, its minute finish, absence of shadow, and bright contrasts of color. Although he has been called both master and pupil of Fra Angelico, Gentile had nothing in common with him save a love of finish, for the angelic candor and mysticism which formed the essence of Fra Beato’s art were unknown to him.
Fra Angelico and his scholar Benozzo Gozzoli both took from and gave to Umbria. It was about 1409 that Fra Angelico and the Dominican monks of his convent at Fiesole stole silently out of its gates at midnight, and, pilgrims for conscience’ sake, directed their steps towards the Tuscan frontier. Their prior, Antonio da Milano, had been thrown into prison by order of the superior, because he persisted in adhering to the party of Pope Gregory XII., who, together with Benedict XIII., had been deposed by the Council at Pisa and replaced by a third pope, Alexander V. Upon this the monks, seeing no safety but in flight, determined to go to Foligno, where they could safely support the cause of Gregory. There, after a long journey, they were received with rejoicings by their brothers of the same persuasion in the Dominican convent. Having thus escaped from the uncongenial atmosphere of Florence, which had become impregnated with the love of classic art and classic literature, into a region where such ideas had not penetrated, Fra Angelico found a congenial spirit in Federigo Frezzi, the prior of the convent at Foligno, where he long resided. With him Fra Angelico doubtless studied the Paradiso, and fed his spirit upon its mystical language. Together they must have often climbed the steep path which leads up the mountain-side to Assisi, to study those works of the early Tuscan painters which were so well calculated to strengthen in the painter monk that love of religious art, of which he was to be the peculiar exponent among the Florentines. In the convent at Foligno he found miniature-painters working in a truly devotional spirit, and in the churches of that city he saw the works of a past generation of painters, who had been bred up within the region which the spirit of St. Francis long kept under its gentle sway. Upon Mezzastro, Alunno, and other Umbrian painters of his time Angelico had a decided influence, as well as upon the development of the school of Perugia which, though it held an insignificant place in the fourteenth century, led the Umbrian school in the fifteenth. This influence was strengthened by his scholar, Benozzo Gozzoli, whose early works at Montefalco, begun in the very year when he had parted company with his master at Florence (1449), are replete with his spirit. They represent scenes from the life of St. Francis, whose shrine (Assisi), seen across the beautiful valley of the Clitumnus, looks like a speck upon the Apennines. Though Gozzoli cannot be said to have rivalled his master or even approached him in his peculiar walk, some of his works at Montefalco, especially a Virgin and Child with seven lovely angels in a lunette, and a second Madonna group at Sta Fortunata, have mystic qualities which warrant us in ranking him, at that period of his life, as a worthy pupil of the Blessed Painter. For the time he was a stranger to the intellectual movement which was going on, and the great political changes which were taking place in the world around him. At Montefalco he was raised as upon a rock, out of the reach of those rising waters of paganism, which even before this had left their mark upon the doors of St. Peter’s Church at Rome and upon the walls of the Temple of St. Francis at Rimini. Over Umbria, where religious feeling in art manifested itself longest, these waters were not as yet to flow, and the torch which Giotto and Cavallini had lighted at the altar-fires of Assisi was to pass unquenched from the hands of Perugino into those of the young Raphael.
Unlike the Umbrian painters of the earlier period, those of the next generation were more or less affected both by the Sienese and Florentine schools. The mystical, graceful, and tender style of such Sienese painters as Domenico and Taddeo di Bartolo, who found their way to Umbria, affected the pleasing, gentle, and passionless manner of its native artists, and blended naturally congenial elements ; while at the same time the scientific knowledge of such artists of the Florentine school as Piero della Francesca made Giovanni Santi and other painters of his day acquainted with the artifices of linear perspective and foreshortening, of which their predecessors, Palmerucci, Nelli, and Nuzi da Fabriano, were ignorant. Unscientific, like the Florentines of their day, these latter were not, like some of them, capable of the fervor of religious feeling which shows itself in the Pietà in the Lower Church at Assisi, painted by Giotto’s pupil, Pietro Cavallini, so full of a sad, tender, and deep sentiment, not to be met with in their works. We are at a loss to account for this in men who lived within the range of the influences which radiated from Assisi, and cannot explain it by the supposition that they lived more out of their studios, and mixed more in politics, than their Tuscan brethren, for neither troubled themselves about anything but art, which in the fourteenth century was greatly under the control of the Church. Palmerucci was an ardent Ghibelline, but he was an exception to the general rule. Dante may have influenced him in favor of the Imperial party, but this is mere conjecture. He was intimate with Giotto, and yet we know that that great painter worked for men of all parties and monks of all colors, as Niccola Pisano did for the Emperor Frederic II. and for his mortal enemy Charles of Anjou, for the Dominicans at Bologna and the Franciscans at Padua. And so was it with the Umbrian masters for the most part. Ottaviano Nelli, who was an active citizen of Urbino and held a civic office, worked for the Trinci whom the Church anathematized, and Maestro Bartolomeo of Foligno represented the excommunicated bishop, Rinaldo Trinci, kneeling tranquilly before the Madonna, as if indifferent to the thunderbolts of the Roman See, which were launched against him and his family on account of their Ghibellinism. Evidently, however, they were not bigoted politicians or churchmen, nor were they, judging from their works, artists of strong religious sentiment. They kept alive the traditions of Oderisio, as the Giotteschi did those of Giotto, and were not receptive enough to feel foreign influences when brought in contact with them. This is more or less true also of their successors in the fifteenth century; almost entirely so of Gentile da Fabriano, to a great extent of Niccolo di Liberatore da Foligno, better known as Alunno, and not a little of Pietro Perugino, who maintained the repose and dignity of his style in all its freshness, although he lived and worked so much out of Umbria. The school to which he belonged by birth and natural affinity was eminently contemplative, like the Sienese. It developed from within, was subjective, seeking its inspirations in the soul ; while the Florentine school of the second half of the fifteenth century, which passed into the idealistic school of Masaccio out of the symbolical, historical, and to some extent dramatic school of Giotto, was as markedly objective, nourishing itself from without, studying to imitate and reproduce natural objects without selection, and growing less spiritual as it became more scientific.
Among the Umbrian artists of the fifteenth century not yet spoken of is Giovanni Santi, who, besides his personal claim upon our attention, is specially interesting as the father and first instructor of Raphael. Cavalcaselle goes too far perhaps on the one hand, in speaking of him as one of the men who contributed to the brilliancy of the constellation in which Piero della Francesca, Mellozzo da Forli, and Luca Signorelli shone with such conspicuous lustre, and Grimm25 too far on the other, in saying that his pictures are only interesting as the work of Raphael’s father. He was not indeed a man of genius, but a painstaking, conscientious artist, who availed himself of those opportunities for improvement which the visits of eminent artists from other parts of Italy to Urbino brought within his reach, and thus acquired a technical skill far surpassing that of Palmerucci or Nelli. He was born towards the end of the first half of the fifteenth century at Colbordolo, a little castellated town on the summit of a mountain in the duchy of Urbino. His family name of Sante or Santi, afterwards changed to Sanctius or Sanzio, had been represented at Colbordolo for a century before his birth, and might have continued to be so in his own person, had not Sigismund Malatesta, the mortal enemy of the Count of Urbino, laid the greater part of it in ashes, A. D. 1446.
The fearful night when his “paternal nest was devoured by fire,” which lived in the boy’s recollection, led to the removal of the family to Urbino, where his grandfather Peruzzolo, fearful of the return of Malatesta, and hoping to better his fortunes, established himself four years later. Here Sante, the father of Giovanni, carried on so successful a trade as a huckster, or vender of small wares, that after some years he was able to buy a house in the Contrada del Monte, No. 276, now famous as the birthplace of Raphael (Fig. 1), where he lived with his two sons, Giovanni and Bartolomeo, and his two daughters, Margherita and Santa. Bartolomeo became a priest, while his brother followed the paternal trade, and tried other ways of gaining a living until he was nearly thirty years old, when he began to study painting, ” which admirable art,” as he tells us, ” would be a heavy burden for the shoulders of Atlas.”
At such an age the difficulties which he met with in his new profession may ,well have seemed formidable to him, and it is not a little remarkable that, although his shoulders were not of Atlantean strength, he eventually carried his burden so creditably. Pungileoni suggests that the frescos at Urbino by the brothers Jacopo and Lorenzo da San Severino may have influenced his style, but their character is too Giottesque to render this probable. Either Paolo Uccello, who came to Urbino in 1468, or Piero della Francesca, who followed him in the succeeding year, and was lodged in Giovanni’s house at the expense of the Company of the Corpus Domini while painting an altar-piece for their chapel, or Melozzo da Forli, of whom he speaks so warmly in his Chronicle, may have instructed him.30 But we suspect that Melozzo, who is “so dear ” to him, and “who is so great a master of perspective,” taught him that science which he understood so well, and which was the passion of the time. Certain it is that when Giovanni painted the large fresco in the Tiranni Chapel of S. Domenico at Cagli, he had mastered the difficulties of linear perspective in no mean degree, for he correctly carried the lines of the real entablature into the design. Aerial perspective was, however, unknown to him, as its total absence of atmosphere shows. The varied attitudes of the sleeping soldiers in the Resurrection, which forms the subject of the upper portion of this fresco, prove that he had attained considerable skill in fore-shortening. The Virgin below the lunette, who sits enthroned in a tabernacle with the child upon her knee, amid saints and angels, forms an effective point of repose in the somewhat mannered composition, which though not remarkable for expression is pleasing and well arranged. One of the angels, that to the left, is said to be a portrait of Raphael (Fig. 2) at the age of nine. This would fix the date of the work in 1492, several years later than is generally supposed, and make it one of the painter’s last works.
It is not certain that the angel is a portrait of the boy Raphael, but the face is characteristic, and it is reasonable to suppose that he served his father as a model both in this fresco and in one of the child Jesus sleeping in the Virgin’s arms, which he painted on the wall in one of the rooms of his house. The Madonna may be a portrait of Raphael’s mother, Magia Ciarla.
She was the daughter of a merchant of Urbino named Battista Ciarla, and a most amiable and excellent woman. Her eldest son, Raphael, was born on the 6th of April, 1483, at about nine o’clock in the evening. 34 As we know nothing about his early education, we are left to conjecture that, being the son of an artist, and endowed with every instinct of genius, he took to the pencil and the brush as soon as he was old enough to hold them, and that his father taught him what painters’ apprentices always learned in an artist’s studio, namely, how to grind and mix colors and how to apply them. That he was always more ready to watch his father at work than to study his lessons at school may be inferred, but we have no such direct statement to this effect as we have about so many other embryo artists of exceptional genius. As long as his mother lived his home was a happy one ; but after her death, when he was seven years old, it assumed a changed aspect under the control of a harsh step-mother, one Bernardina, whose heart was as hard as the gold cups and platters which her father, the goldsmith Pietro di Parto, hammered out in his workshop. Giovanni Santi died two years after his second marriage, leaving directions in his will that his brother, the priest Don Bartolomeo, should be Raphael’s guardian and tutor, and that so long as Bernardina remained a widow she was to be allowed to live with him in the family mansion. As both were ill-tempered persons, this arrangement turned out most unhappily, and their quarrels at last ended in a lawsuit brought by the priest against his sister-in-law, with the hope of ejecting her from the premises. Raphael’s life would have been altogether wretched had he not found a second father in his maternal uncle, Simone di Battista Ciarla, who watched over him with tender care during the six years which elapsed between his father’s death and his removal to Perugia. During this time he probably placed him under the direction of some artist resident at Urbino, such as Timoteo Viti, who, having completed his studies under Francia at Bologna, returned home a year after the death of Giovanni Santi; or Luca Signorelli, who was at Urbino about the same time. This temporary arrangement gave him time to decide which among the eminent painters of the time should be intrusted with the task of developing the wonderful gifts of his nephew.
There were Andrea Mantegna, whom Raphael’s father regarded as the greatest of artists, Francesco Francia, and Lionardo da Vinci, and many others whose praises he had sung in his Rhymed Chronicle; but Mantua, Bologna, Milan, and Florence were far-off cities, and the fond uncle preferred to look nearer home for the desired master. Fortunately for Raphael, this master was at last found in Pietro Vannucci, a native of Città della Pieve, though commonly called Perugino from his long residence at Perugia, who having been commissioned by the guild of the Cambio (the Exchange) at Perugia to decorate their audience-hall, had left Florence in 1499, after a residence of six or seven years, and established himself there with his scholars and assistants. Umbrian in feeling, Florentine in scientific acquirements, and well acquainted with the various styles and discoveries of all the great artists of his day, Perugino, then about fifty years old, seemed in every respect the best of masters for the young Raphael, who became his pupil in the following year. The fresco decorations of the Sala del Cambio, then in progress, belong to the period when he had reached the apogee of his fame and his success, and were, as we may say, the text-books of his great pupil. They are to Perugino what the frescos of the Stanze are to Raphael, or those of the Sistine Chapel to Michelangelo, with this difference, that their mythological and historical subjects were less well suited to the peculiar bent of his genius than those which Raphael and Michelangelo treated were to their special powers. Perugino had, however, no choice in the matter. The subjects which he was called upon to represent were selected by a professor of rhetoric named Matanzio, and submitted to him by the auditors. He was told to decorate the groined roof with representations of the seven planets and the signs of the zodiac, and to fill the wall spaces with personifications of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance, seated in the clouds above twelve portrait-figures of classic personages eminent for these virtues .36 The religious subjects assigned to him were God the Father with Prophets and Sibyls, the Nativity, and the Transfiguration. The pilasters and flat spaces of the ceiling and walls were to be decorated with arabesques. Perugino painted all this work, with the exception of the ceiling, which he intrusted to Pinturicchio, Lo Spagna, Alfani, and Girolamo Genga, who also gave him such other assistance as pupils were accustomed to give to their master. Though always dignified, correct, and simple in his religious subjects, Perugino cannot be said, in those treated at the Cambio, to have attained that serene but deep feeling which marks his best works ; while in dealing with the classical figures, though some are exceptionally noble and dignified, he was evidently ill at ease.
Ranged in a formal row, like a set of actors called before the curtain to receive the plaudits of an audience, these mediaevalized heroes and lawgivers stand stiffly and timidly below the seated figures which personify their especial virtues. Pericles looks like a Jewish high-priest, Leonidas like a St. George, Cincinnatus like one of the Magi. But it will not do to be too critical about historic truth, which we nowadays consider of the first importance, as Perugino did not pretend to trouble himself about it. He was neither a scholar nor a poet. We have only to look at the portrait which he painted of himself in a medallion on one of the pilasters of this hall, at that in the Uffizi, or at that which Raphael introduced into the right-hand corner of the School of Athens, to see that he was a shrewd, sturdy, rather matter-of-fact personage (Plate II.). In all, the face is square and somewhat rugged in form, the eyebrows are heavy, the expression is intelligent but not at all poetical. They show but few of the qualities which belong to a great artist, and in some respects verify what we are told of him by Vasari, who, however, evidently wrote with a leaven of prejudice against Perugino, which should make us cautious about accepting his statement that the disciple of a school which made the painting of religious subjects its special occupation was an unbeliever. “Pietro,” he says, “was an irreligious man, who could never be brought to believe in the immortality of the soul; on the contrary, with words as hard as his porphyritic brains, he obstinately refused to follow the right path. His every hope was placed in the goods of fortune, and he was ready to make any evil contract for the sake of money.” He may have been avaricious and keenly alive to his own interests, but he was quick to resent any show of suspicion as to his honesty : witness the answer which he gave to the Prior of the Ingesuati at Florence, who had accused him of abstracting the greater part of the ultra-marine which he gave him to paint with, instead of using it in his work. “Here,” he said, as he returned it, “take what is your own, and learn to trust honest men who never cheat those who trust them, though if they would they could easily deceive distrustful persons like yourself.”
To gainsay these accusations made by a writer, who, as he was only twelve years old when Perugino died, must have got his information about him from others, we have no other evidence than that of such pictures as the Adoring Madonna at San Agostino at Perugia, the Crucifixion at S. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi at Florence, the Pietà at the Pitti, or the Assumption at Lyons. The man who painted these works can hardly have been an infidel. They are the products of a quiet, calm, self-possessed spirit, troubled with no doubts, though in no sense ascetic or passionately mystical like that of Fra Angelico. They look like the work of a sincere and honest man who felt what he painted, and who was incapable of simulating religious feeling or feeling of any other sort. On the other hand, letters found in the archives at Mantua do not present Perugino in the most favorable light. He appears in them as a person not to be relied on, greedy for commissions which he hurried over or laid aside if others of a more profitable nature offered, fond of money, and of a rather matter-of-fact nature. “He who pays him best for his day’s work will be by him best served.” He was mockingly called “el buon cristianaccio” and the “patriarch ” by his contemporaries.
Despite all that has been said, we know of no one among the Umbrian artists of his day who is apparently so sincere as Perugino, or has such depth of expression. Neither Alunno nor Bonfigli, his reputed masters, nor Pinturicchio or l’Ingegno, his fellow-workers, could have painted a head so full of wistful, tender affection as that of the St. John in his Crucifixion, or one so full of sympathetic sorrow as that of the Magdalen in his Pietà. He did not always or even often attain such excellence. His temperament was phlegmatic, and his emotions were not easily stirred. The habitual coldness of his nature showed itself in the formal arrangement of his compositions, and the indolence of his genius betrayed itself in his habit of repeating the same subject with but little variation, for whenever occasion offered he undisguisedly recurred to a once adopted type. When required to repaint an episode he took out the old cartoon and applied it afresh, instructing his pupils, no doubt, to think meanwhile of the original at the Sala del Cambio or elsewhere. Not only did he repeat whole compositions of the same subject, but he used portions of the cartoons made for one picture in painting another subject. He seriously injured his position at Florence by this practice of reproducing himself, and gradually lost his pupils, who left him to pursue their studies under more prolific masters. Poverty of inventive genius, or mental sluggishness, can alone explain such a practice. An artist may repeat himself unconsciously, and may appropriate the ideas of others without being accused of poverty of invention ; but if he is constantly in the habit of plundering himself, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that he is a man of few ideas. Are we to suppose that the penuriousness of which Vasari accuses Perugino in regard to money-matters ran through his whole character and showed itself even when dealing with art ? Was he miserly about his ideas as he was about his ducats ? This can hardly be. Ideas are not like doubloons, which can be locked up by those who have them, and we may suppose that Perugino in his long life made use of all he had. An examination of his works, which, as we have said, are so full of repetitions that it is hardly going too far to say that a tracing from almost any one out of four of his standing figures will generally be found to fit the other three, shows clearly that he had, so to speak, but very few notes in his voice, and yet his song is well worth listening to for its sweetness, its impressiveness, and its devotional tone.
Though limited in its range of thought, and narrow in its scope, Perugino’s spirit was progressive. He went on steadily improving until, in his later years, press of work and the habit of mechanical repetition made him somewhat negligent. He was a very careful draughts-man, an excellent colorist, though over-fond of strongly contrasted deep reds and greens; he understood anatomy and perspective, paid special attention to his backgrounds, both landscape and architectural, and was conscientious and diligent in the treatment of accessories. While perhaps no one but Giovanni Santi has ever regarded him as the equal of Lionardo da Vinci, none have ever denied him that high place among the artists of his day which he deserves, not only by reason of the intrinsic qualities of his works, but also because they form a preface to those of his great scholar, which flow from them so naturally that it is difficult to point out the moment when they begin to be individual.
From the absolute correspondence of Raphael’s early manner to his own, we may argue that Perugino was a strict disciplinarian, who required his pupils to copy his style to the letter. Did he take Raphael as an apprentice, or, in consideration of his already advanced knowledge and exceptional gifts, did he give him the position of an assistant and pay him for his services as Ghirlandajo paid the young Michelangelo ? This question, which naturally presents itself at the outset, is one which can only be answered according to probabilities, though we can have little doubt that the latter is the correct supposition. Raphael was in his seventeenth year when he entered Perugino’s studio, and had long before learned all apprentice-work, besides acquiring great facility in drawing and painting. He doubtless, there-fore, immediately took rank as an assistant, and was employed in such advanced work as the putting in of skies, draperies, and backgrounds, from which he soon passed to the painting of heads, hands, and even whole figures, after his master’s cartoons. If this be so, the frescos of the Sala del Cambio, which were in progress on his arrival at Perugia, gain in interest and value ; for who can say how much in them may not have been painted by the hand of Raphael?