The secrets of Pinturicchio
by Giulia Venturini
Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio, was born in Perugia in 1454 by Benedetto di Biagio, in the neighborhood of Porta Sant’Angelo. He was probably called Pinturicchio because of his tiny stature.
He was the heir to an important pictorial and miniaturist tradition, which has its precedents in Bartolomeo Caporali, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo and Benedetto Bonfigli. The Pinturicchio stood out as one of the architects of the great Renaissance season of rediscovery of classicism: in fact he copied the frescos of the Domus Aurea, and contributing to the spread of the grotesque.
He entered the Perugino’s workshop and collaborated with his teacher in Rome, between 1481 and 1482, creating two frescoes: the Baptism of Christ and the Circumcision of the sons of Moses in the Sistine Chapel.
In 1486 he executed the Stories of St. Bernardino that decorate the Bufalini Chapel in S. Maria in Ara Coeli. These frescoes were commissioned to the painter by messer Niccolò di Manno Bufalini, a concistorial lawyer, to recall the proximity between his family and the Baglioni of Perugia, thanks to S. Bernardino. In Rome he also came into contact with the painting of the Ghirlandaio and the Botticelli, who contributed to his artistic formation.
In the second half of the Fifteenth century, the artist made a small but delicious tempera on a table depicting the Madonna and Child and San Giovanni, preserved in the Duomo Museum in Città di Castello.
The small table depicts Mary, Child Jesus, standing on the knees of her mother and Saint John the Baptist, who holds the inscription Ecce Agnus Dei. The three figures are bright on a broad background, with a composed and severe stylistic language.
The artist returned to Perugia on 14 February 1495, concluding, with the religious of the convent of S. Maria degli Angeli in Porta S. Pietro, the contract for the realization of the Polyptych of S. Maria dei Fossi, now in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria. The contract for the work has reached us and contains very detailed instructions about the realization, which was intended for the high altar for the church, called dei Fossi. The painter was at the time at the height of his success, favourite by Pope Alexander VI for whom he had just concluded the great undertaking of the decoration of the Borgia apartment.
The altarpiece is now composed of seven main panels; in the centre stands the Madonna with the child and Saint John, flanked by Saints Augustine and Jerome, dressed as a cardinal and with a model of the church in hand, perhaps the same Santa Maria degli Angeli. Above them two panels with the Announcing Angel and the Virgin announced. On the tree stands the dead Christ supported by two angels and the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
In 1497 the frescoes were painted for the decoration of the Eroli chapel in the Cathedral of Spoleto, portraying the Madonna and Child between San Giovanni Battista and Leonardo, immersed in a sweet lake landscape typical of the Umbrian school.
In 1501 Pinturicchio made another of his best works the chapel Baglioni in Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello. The decoration was commissioned by the Prior Troilo Baglioni. The company was the last important commission of the Pinturicchio in Umbria, before leaving for Rome and Siena.
These frescoes bear the signature Bernardius Pictoricius Perusinus and represent on the walls: the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, Jesus among the doctors, in the sails instead the four Sibyls and a self-portrait.
The Piccolomini bookshop in Siena, built in 1502, is considered his absolute masterpiece: powerful chromaticism, taste of detail, great attention to the decorative aspect, characterize the intervention of Pinturicchio in the library built in 1495 by Cardinal Todeschini Piccolomini in honor of Enea Silvio Piccolomini.
The last documented work of the artist is the Madonna in Gloria among the Saints Gregory the Great and Benedict, for the Olivetans of the church of Santa Maria di Barbiano near San Giminiano.
It was Vasari, thanks to an anecdote, who recounted his last years: the painter had found accommodation at the Friars of San Francesco in Siena and asked insistently to remove from his cell a trunk, but during the move this broke, revealing its treasure: five hundred ducats of gold, which belonged to the friars, filling the painter with sadness until he died.
The artist died on 11 December 1513 in Siena. He rested in the parish of SS. Vincenzo and Anastasio.
 Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti, a cura di G. Milanesi, III, Firenze 1878, pp. 493-531.⇑
 Giorgio Vasari, Vite de’più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti, edizione commentata del 1878, vol. III, pag. 503-505.⇑