Study Of Art – Painters Of Perugia

Benedetto Bonfigli. 1425?-1496.

Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. 1440?-1522.

Perugino (Pietro Vannucci). 1446-1524.

The art of Perugia has two definite characteristics. The first is religious sentiment. The second is landscape, that wide sweep of fertile valley and distant hills, a low horizon line, and the luminous sky, with which the outlook from their own hill town had made the artists familiar.

The first of these is exemplified by Benedetto Bonfigli. His work consisted in scenes from the lives of the saints in local setting, painted in the Prior’s Chapel of the Municipio, and in banners and altarpieces for Perugian churches. His work is mediaeval and provincial.

Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, a more direct forerunner of Perugino and probably his teacher, made large use of landscape in his scenes of the miracles of St. Benedict. Fifty easel pictures and frescos attributed to him represent the status of art before Perugino.

Perugino, so named from Perugia, where much of his work was done, was born in Citta della Pieve as Pietro Vannucci. The influence of Fiorenzo and Piero della Francesca is seen in his work. Vasari tells us that he studied under Verocchio. From 1472 until 1506 he was often in Florence. His first important work was in the Sistine Chapel (1481-1482). Later he decorated a portion of the Stanze, the ceiling of one room being carefully preserved by Raphael. Of his many altar-pieces, now widely scattered, the two in many parts, that of the Villa Albani, Rome, M 8, and the Certosa altarpiece, B 264, are the most beautiful. His decoration of the Cambio is the most complete example of his art on a semi-secular theme. The wide sweep and clear light of the Umbrian landscape are characteristic of his art, and a religious sentiment which, often repeated, tends to become empty and monotonous. He trained many younger men, Raphael being his most distinguished follower.


No. 233. Angels bearing Emblems of the Passion.

Vannucci Gallery, Perugia.

Portions of a larger work by Bonfigli, formerly in the sacristy of S. Francesco. The spear, the reed and sponge, the column and nails are here represented. Religious sentiment so characteristic of Umbrian art is suggested, though but partially realized.

No. 234. Annunciation. Vanucci Gallery, Perugia.

Painted by Bonfigli for the College of Notaries. St. Luke, their patron saint, is seated in the center as scribe, his winged ox by his side. The dove comes on a shining path direct from God. The neatly plaited garments of the short-waisted angels, the halos, and the entire conception are more mediæval than the architecture. The faces of the Madonna and the angel have much beauty.

No. 235. A Miracle of San Bernardino.

Vanucci Gallery, Perugia.

Tempera on wood, 21 feet high. One of a series of eight panels painted by Fiorenzo and pupils, formerly in S. Francesco, believed to have formed the shutters of a niche to hold Bonfigli’s banner of S. Bernardino.

The miracle, the liberation of a prisoner, is far from obvious, the artist’s interest being in the arrangement of figures, in costumes of the time, and still more in the landscape. More than half the panel is given to the sky, against which the delicate trees are set.

No. 236. Adoration of the Magi.

Vanucci Gallery, Perugia.

Painted, in mixed medium, on gesso laid on linen, and mounted on wood, for S. Maria Nuova, Perugia. 7 feet 9 inches by 5 feet 10 inches. Formerly attributed to Perugino. There are points of resemblance to Pinturicchio. If painted by Fiorenzo it is a late work, as contrasted with 235, which is early.

No. 258. Madonna, Child and Two Angels.

Poldi-Pezzoli, Milan.

Panel, 11 by 9 inches. Called an early work by Perugino, though its mannerisms suggest the later copying of earlier models. The full oval of the face, the round high forehead and the tiny mouth are characteristic features, often used with great beauty.

No. 259. Sposalizio.

Museum, Caen.

In oil, probably painted between 1495 and 1500. Once the altarpiece in the Chapel of the Ring, in the Cathedral of Perugia, where the betrothal ring of the Virgin is kept. Carried to Paris in 1797. The picture is mentioned in Vasari’s life of Perugino, and has always been considered his, the prototype of Raphael’s Sposalizio in the Brera, Milan. Late critics are inclined to agree with Berenson that it is by Lo Spagna, and painted after Raphael’s picture and not before it. (Berenson, Studies in Italian Painting, II, 1-23.)]

Few more illuminating comparisons can be made than that between this picture and Raphael’s, C 147, showing the subtle means by which the youthful artist secured his perfect result. (Handbook of Later Italian Art, 168-169.) Compare this picture with the fresco in the Sistine Chapel, 263.

No. 260. Adoration of the Kings.

S. Maria delle Lacrime, Trevi.

Fresco painted in 1521. The design is one used by Perugino at Città della Pieve and in the Cambio. The glow of the Umbrian sunlight can be appreciated even in the print.

Study the faces, figures and attitudes, all very characteristic of Perugino’s manner.

No. 261. Assumption of the Virgin.

Academy, Florence.

Oil on wood. Painted in 1500 for the high altar of the monastery of Vallombrosa. Below are four saints of the order, S. Bernardo degli Uberti, the cardinal; S. Giovanni Gualberto, the founder; St. Benedict and the Archangel Michael. In the Academy is a beautiful study of the head of a monk from life, for this picture. The central band is repeated with variations from pictures in Borgo San Sepolcro and in Bologna. The mandorla with cherub heads, and the angels standing on clouds, are favorite devices. The division of the picture into upper and lower portions independent of each other persists throughout Raphael’s work. The spottiness and lack of coordination in this great altarpiece are very disturbing.

No. 262. Christ at Gethsemane.

Academy, Florence.

On wood, painted for the church of the Gesuati, Florence, where there were frescos by Perugino.

The early evening hour is suggested in the color of the sky. In the background are the scenes of Christ with his disciples and the ” multitude with swords and staves,” coming to take Him.

Study the grouping, the sense of distance, the landscape and sky in their effect upon the sentiment of the picture. Note the decorative value of the angel.

No. 263. Christ delivering the Keys to Peter.

Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome.

Fresco painted 1481-1483. Perugino’s pictures on the altar wall were destroyed to make place for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

Compare with the scenes by the Florentine artists. Notice here the impression of wide spaces, the immediateness with which the main theme is brought to the eye and the mind. Study the means the artist has used to that end. (Read Berenson, Central Italian Painters, 96.)

This is the one picture, in the long series below the windows, which one sees while in the chapel without distinct effort, because of its skilful ” space composition.”

No. M 8. Adoration of the Child.

Villa Albani, Rome.

Painted in 1491, while Perugino was in Rome working for Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, later Pope Julius II.

The use made of architectural perspective, especially in the small panels of the Annunication, shows more plainly than any other of his works the training under Piero della Francesca. Compare M 7, p.1209. Compare the lunette of the Crucifixion with the large fresco, 268, the lower portions with the Certosa Altarpiece. The pietistic art of the early Renaissance finds its most perfect expression in these two altarpieces by Perugino. They are also interesting as showing the complex form of the medieval altarpieces from which these are derived.

No. 264. Virgin adoring the Child; Archangels

Michael and Raphael. (Certosa Altarpiece.)

National Gallery, London.

Oil on wood, completed 1499. This triptych is the lower half of an altarpiece painted for the Certosa of Pavia at the order of Il Moro, Duke of Milan. Only the central panel of the upper portion remains in its original position, a God the Father in a mandorla of cherubs.

This is perhaps the most beautiful of Perugino’s altar-pieces, especially the central panel, where his Madonna type reaches its highest form. Many of the figures are found in later and in earlier pictures. Perugino was much criticized for this by contemporaries. When repetition leads to greater perfection, as here, it is only admirable. When it becomes perfunctory, merely stamping upon the new panel patterns prepared for other work, the artistic quality suffers.

No. 265. St. Sebastian.

Louvre, Paris.

Oil on wood, 5 1/2 feet high. Perugino repeated the subject several times. His first remaining work is a St. Sebastian, painted in 1478 in Cerqueto.

Study the modeling and proportions of the body, the characteristic position of the feet, the sentiment of the face and attitude, the beauty of landscape and sky, the effect of the architectural frame upon the scene beyond.

No. 266. Portrait of a Youth.

Uffizi, Florence.

Formerly attributed to Lorenzo di Credi. Recognized by Morelli as a study for the Deposition in the Pitti,269, where the same head may be seen at the extreme right. It is very simply painted in oil on wood in tones of brown against a dark background.

No. 267. Vision of St. Bernard.

Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

On wood, 51 feet square. Painted about 1496—1500 for S. Spirito, Florence.

Compare with Filippino Lippi’s picture, 210. The Madonna has the same perfected beauty as in the Certosa altarpiece, 264, and the Madonna in adoration, 270. The architectural setting appears often in earlier work, and suggests the training under Piero delIa Francesca. Compare the attendant behind St. Bernard with the head of Joseph, 259.

No. 268. Crucifixion.

S. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, Florence.

Fresco finished in 1496. Commissioned in 1493 by Pietro Pucci and his wife Giovanna. The picture fills the side wall of the chapter house, the arches being painted to correspond with the vaulting of the ceiling. On the left are Mary and St. Bernard, on the right SS. John and Benedict; Mary Magdalen kneels at the foot of the Cross. Behind stretches the Umbrian landscape.

Utterly different from the realistic scenes of the actual event, the aloofness, the silence, the meditation full of grief and resignation make this the most poignant of all representations of the great tragedy. In this impression the wide landscape in which these figures stand alone plays a large part.

No. 269. Deposition.

Pitti, Florence.

Oil, painted in 1495 for the nuns of S. Chiara, Florence.

Study the composition, the drawing of individual figures, the centralizing of attention by the light on the white of the foreground. Notice the aloofness and individuality of sorrow in many of the figures, the absence of outcry, especially the tenderness in expression and action of the Madonna. Consider the part played in this unusually impressive scene by the beauty and tranquillity of the landscape.

No other Deposition until we reach Michelangelo, C 464, and Titian, C 301, realizes so truly the pathos of the scene. Perugino has far excelled his pupil Raphael’s similar scene in the Borghese, C 157.

No. 270. Madonna in Adoration.

Pitti, Florence.

Oil on wood, 2 feet 10 inches square. A later version of the central panel of the Certosa altarpiece, 264, though the landscape more nearly resembles that of Christ in the Garden, 262. The red and blue of the Madonna’s dress and mantel are rich and beautiful. The borders are embroidered with delicate patterns in gold. The Child is seldom beautiful in Perugino’s pictures.

No. 256. Strength and Temperance.

No. 257. Venus.

Audience Hall, Cambio, Perugia.

In 1499 the Priors of Perugia engaged Perugino to decorate the Collegio del Cambio or Chamber of Commerce. The audience hall is a small room on the ground floor opening directly from the main street. Above a tall wainscoting of inlaid wood are the frescos. At the left Prudence and Justice, Strength and Temperance, in two bays; opposite are the Judge’s desk and throne richly carved, and the fresco of Prophets and Sibyls. At the end a Nativity and Transfiguration. The vaulted ceiling is decorated in arabesques and medallions designed by Perugino, perhaps painted by pupils. Mr. Williamson suggests that Raphael and Pinturicchio may have worked here with their master. The work was completed in 1500.

The subjects were given by a learned professor of Perugia. In 256, Strength with the shield and bow, and Temperance with the cup, are throned on the clouds. Below as historical examples of these virtues stand, from left to right, Lucius Licinius, Leonidas, Horatius Cocles, Scipio, Pericles and Cincinnatus. The colors are dark but rich and pure, according well with the tones of the carved wood. Few rooms in Italy are at once so harmonious and characteristic both of painter and locality.

There is no attempt at historic accuracy. The figures are as purely decorative, set in a frieze against the Umbrian sky, as are the arabesques of the ceiling, which define the structural lines of the vaulting with true instinct, a principle quite forgotten later by Raphael in his ceilings of the Stanze.

As historic characters these figures are absurd, as decorations they are admirable. We can forget their mannerisms in the rhythm of line and fretwork of design, in which the artist so evidently delighted.