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Pietro Vannucci, known as Il Perugino, is considered one of the greatest exponents of humanism and the greatest representative of Umbrian painting in the 15th century. The painter moves in a historical context that is that of late humanism. «In the city of Perugia was born to a poor person from Castello della Pieve, called Christophe, a son who at baptism was called Peter (…) studied under the discipline of Andrea Verrocchio». (The lives of the most excellent Italian architects, painters, and sculptors, from Cimabue to our times. Part two. Giorgio Vasari).

Self-portrait

Perugino was born in 1450 in Città della Pieve and its first Umbrian artistic experiences were probably based on local workshops such as those of Bartolomeo Caporali and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. From a very young age he moved to Florence, where he started attending one of the most important workshops: Andrea del Verrocchio’s. The city of the Medici was fundamental for its formation.
His masterpieces conceal religious intimacy: the gentle hills typical of Umbria, the wooded landscape realized with more shades of green, the soft-patterned characters and the fluttering tapes of the angels are his decorative styling that he then transmitted also to his pupil: Raphael.

The works in Umbria and beyond

One of his first documented works is The Adoration of the Magi, and the gonfalone with the Pietà, both in the exhibition halls of the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria. In 1473 Perugino received the first significant commission of his career: the Franciscans of Perugia asked him to decorate the niche of San Bernardino.
Later (1477-1478) is the detached fresco, today in the Pinacoteca Comunale of Deruta, with the Eternal Father with the saints Rocco and Romano, with a rare view of Deruta in the lower register; probably commissioned to invoke the protection of the Saints Roman and Rocco, since an epidemic of plague raged in the territory of Perugia. In 1478 he continued to work in Umbria, painting the frescoes of the Chapel of La Maddalena in the parish church of Cerqueto, near Perugia.
When he reached fame, he was called to Rome in 1479, where he carried out one of the greatest and most prestigious works: the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, work in which also Cosimo Rosselli, Botticelli, and the Ghirlandaio. It is here that he realizes one of his many masterpieces: The Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter, the Baptism of Christ and the Journey of Moses to Egypt. In the next ten years Perugino continued to gravitate between Rome, Florence and Perugia.
Between 1495 and 1496, he created another masterpiece: the Pala dei Decemviri, so called because it was commissioned by the decemviri of Perugia. In the same period he worked on the decoration of the Sala dell’Udienza in the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia, a cycle completed in 1500. In 1501-1504 is the year in which he made the Marriage of the Virgin, painted for the Chapel of the Holy Ring in the Cathedral of Perugia, iconography taken by Raphael for the church of San Francesco in Città di Castello.

 

Marriage of the Virgin

 

Perugino continued to receive commissions; in fact he realized the Madonna of Consolation, the gonfalone of Justice and the Pala Tezi, preserved in the exhibition halls of the National Gallery of Umbria and the Resurrection for San Francesco al Prato. Excellent works of the painter are also preserved in Città della Pieve, not far from the border with nearby Tuscany. At Santa Maria dei Bianchi and the Cathedral of SS Gervasio and Protasio, there are some of his most significant works such as the Adoration of the Magi.[1]
Following the footsteps of Perugino, you must sop in Panicale, a picturesque village that is part of the most beautiful villages in Italy. In the Church of San Sebastiano there is the work the Martyrdom of San Sebastiano, an entire wall frescoed by the artist.

 

Martyrdom of San Sebastiano

 

Another important stop to discover the whole art of the Divin Pittore is Fontignano, where in 1511 Perugino established his workshop to escape the plague. But the painter died because of the plague in 1523-1524, while he was working on a fresco depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds commissioned for the small Church of the Annunziata. That fresco then was finished by his students, and finally a Madonna with child, the last work he completed in 1522.
Perugino was the initiator of a new way of painting; the artist goes in constant search of landscapes of wider breath, admiring the example of previous Florentines such as Filippo Lippi, Domenico Veneziano and Beato Angelico. The Perugino proceeds towards a slow and gradual conquest of the natural. The harmony inherent in the landscape of Perugia was created by a mystical approach with nature and by an art that, rather than being based on the intellect and training of the eye, as happened in Florence, flowed from the heart and strength of feelings.[2] The Perugino thus marked the taste of an era.

 


[1] Emma Bianchi, “Petro penctore”: l’Adorazione dei magi e la confraternita di Santa Maria dei Bianchi di Città della Pieve, in Perugino e il paesaggio, Silvana Editoriale, 2004, pp. 119-128.
[2] Silvia Blasio, Il paesaggio nella pittura di Pietro Perugino, in Perugino e il paesaggio, Silvana Editoriale, 2004, pp. 15-41.

Summer in Florence is hot, down below the Apennines and far from the sea. Even Perugia is far from the sea, but at least it is at the top of a hill and there is always a wind chill refreshing.

Surely in that hot July 1503 Pietro Vannucci was regretting his city. Work and family had brought him to Florence and he was forced to deal with the heat. There are times when the heat also takes away the power to think, not even knowing that the summer is bound to finish, can relieve the feeling of being inside an oven.
But he had to work despite the heat and, while he was working, he sucked his sugared almonds. His supplier was Di Giovanni who provided him, at a high price, with those little delights that cheer the long hours spent sitting in front of the canvases.
Di Giovanni was the apothecary of the Al Giglio pharmacy, and he was used to listen to the artists’ requests, and we’re not talking about painters or stonebreakers, but of the most famous Italian artists of the Renaissance.

 

The painter in black

In the highest spheres of Olympus there was Perugino, the painter with a round, plump face, high forehead, long hair, a cap and an elegant black velvet jacket. Perugino portrayed himself exactly like in the description above, in the Sala del Cambio in Perugia.
Pietro Vannucci from Città della Pieve, known as Perugino, was one of the most influential painters of his time, and like all the best ones, he worked in Rome for the Pope and for the most prestigious customers of that time. Perugino and his colleagues – the painters of the Renaissance – did not use much black because it was considered  the color of mourning. They preferred the delicate colors.
Pietro Vannucci used the black color in the Lamentation of the Dead Christ and in Depositions because the pain inspired by the topics required it. On the other hand, in his portraits he always wears a black jacket, perhaps because it was fashionable among the artists. Even in the portrait done by his pupil, Raphael, he wears a very elegant black jacket and on his head he has a paired black cap.

 

Il Perugino

Confetti with a heart

In July 1503 the artist sucked the sugared almonds with coriander seeds. The sugared almonds make the flavor last for a long time in the mouth. Perugino was a well-to-do gentleman who could afford confetti. Confetti had been known since Roman times because considered digestive, and Lorenzo de ‘Medici offered them at the end of his wedding dinner.
The apothecary  Di Giovanni recorded that in July the painter’s employees, bought three ounces of sugared almonds, about two hundred pounds, so as other delicacies: pink and violet sugared candies, candy quinces and other specialities which were the medicinal preparations of the time.
If Mary Poppins sang: “just a little sugar and the pill goes down”, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the processed sugar was the pill. Sugar and quinces were the base to use with spices and sauces of plants, in order to obtain medicines in the shape of dates, hands, rods and also of clamps.
Perugino was like a rich oilman and he did not pay any attention to the expenses to satisfy his pleasure and care for his big family, because the products that he bought were, from the “Florentine Pharmaceutical Recipe book of 1498: only for the rich and powerful”.

 

 

The Vannucci’s family food

Unfortunately, not everything was so easy. In 1503 his fame as a Vannucci went through a crisis because new trends were advancing and more torment in painting and sculpture was requested. The serenity of Humanism was no longer in fashion and did not correspond to the harshness of the times. The fact of not being appreciated and even criticized, as had happened at the Gonzaga court, had left its mark, and he slept badly. Di Giovanni prepared him some pills which contained poppies to reconcile sleep, as it was believed.
The apothecary’s records are precious, because he noted all the purchases of his customers allowing us to know, over the years, the diseases that occurred in the Vannucci family. So we know that the stomach and intestines were his weak points and also the same for his wife. They often sent somebody to buy the powder of Cassia and Agaric which are laxative plants, so as the Trifera persica.
This remedies of ancient Persian origins, were a very complicated preparation and contained a wide variety of plants: prunes and agaric, but also red roses, oils of violets and dried violets.
It was thought that an ancient remedy was a guarantee of effectiveness. In fact, pieces of mummy were also used, because if the mummy after millennia was still existing, it meant that it was something certainly effective.
The”stomachic things”, were good remedies for treating the stomach of his wife. Chiara Fancelli, daughter of a famous Florentine architect, was the wife and mother of Perugino’s five sons.
He  painted “Our Lady” dozens of times. To paint the Madonna he always used young and beautiful models and perhaps, the most beautiful, was Chiara Fancelli, who seems to have a fragile constitution. Perhaps because of the parties which debilitated the woman.
The products that came out of the ancient pharmacies were remedies with various indications, from the plague, to the headache, to the dog’s fleas.
At home Vannucci come two preparations that are almost panaceas, but that may have to do with childbirth. In fact, the Galen Infringing ointment was also considered an aid to labor pains, while the maidenhair water was considered useful after the birth. Will it be true? We’ll never know. But the aphotecary Di Giovanni has brought down Perugino from Olympus, close to us. Because he suffered from stomachiche and struggleed to sleep too and he loved sucking sugared and sweet things.

 


  1. A. Covi, New sources for the study of Italian Renaissance art., 1969.
  2. Covi, Tacuinum de ‘spezierie, Perugia, ali & no, 2017.

Giovanni di Pietro, called Lo Spagna, after his familys Spanish origins, (Spain 1470 – Spoleto 1528) is one of the protagonists of Umbrian pictorial art between the XV and XVI centuries. Not as well known as other followers of the Umbrian master Pietro Vannucci (some of his more famous students: Pinturicchio and Raffaello), he is an interesting and pleasing artist and worthy of closer study.

The Master

The young Giovanni was probably in Florence around 1493 when Pietro Vannucci, known as Il Perugino, was among the four more prominent masters in the city together with Botticelli, Filipino, and Ghirlandaio. Perugino at that time assumed a leading role by opening the workshop near the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova; his studio was on of the most active and was also frequented by numerous students from all over Europe who came to learn “the grace that he had in his own colouring technique” (G.Vasari, 1568). This has led us to believe that our artist may have come into contact with the Umbrian master, subsequently becoming his pupil and collaborator.

Influences and first Works

When in 1501 Perugino opened a workshop in Perugia, a rich town that wanted to renew its style and adopt a more contemporary feel, Giovanni followed him, where he probably also came into contact with Raffaello, another young follower of Perugino. Giovanni worked together with the Master on a series of frescoes for the Franciscan Convent of Monteripido, of these only a fresco of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata remains. It was located on the gable of the façade of the Church and attributed to Lo Spagna and which is now preserved at the National Gallery of Umbria.

Critics agree that in the pictorial style of Giovanni di Pietro there is a strong similarity to Peruginos style of models, which was a fundamental step in the formation of the painter and in obtaining commissions, and also in his ability to grasp the influence of Raffaello while maintaining a personal and simple language that is rich in the fine use of colour and grace. Some of his works form part of collections of some of the most important museums of the world, among which are: The National Gallery, London, The Louvre, Paris and the Vatican Museum Art Gallery, Rome.

From the first keeps to Success

At the beginning of 1500 the Perugino environment was under the control of the Bottega del Vannucci and in common with Perugino collaborators including Pinturicchio, Lo Spagna needed to move on in search of work in order to be able to create his own entourage. His artistic career finally took off in other Umbrian towns.

The beautiful and elegant town of Todi, that dominates the valley of the Tiber is significant: in 1507 a contract was agreed in Todi between the painter and the body of the Church of San Potito to create an altarpiece depicting the Coronation of the Virgin (Todi, Museo Civico) (fig.1), which was completed in 1511 when the artist went to live there and set up a business. In addition to the Montesanto altarpiece, Giovanni worked in the cathedral where he painted various chapels with frescos (between the 1513 and 1515) and he also decorated the organ (1516). Two tablets remain depicting St. Peter and St. Paul and a fragment of a fresco depicting a Trinity (fourth nave on the right, Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata, Todi).

Another important Umbrian centre in Lo Spagnas career is the city of Trevi, a village at the top of Monte Serano, beautifully dominates the Spoleto valley, the seat of powerful local families. Here the artist was commissioned by Ermodoro Minerva, ambassador of Ludovico Sforza, to decorate the chapel of San Girolamo in the church of S. Martino. The lunette with the Virgin in Glory with Saints Jerome, Giovanni Battista, Francesco and Antonio da Padova dated 1512 is a fresco with clear Perugino references with its ideal and pleasant landscape, but in more decisive colours. He also created the imposing altarpiece with the Coronation of the Virgin in the same church in 1522 (now at the Pinacoteca of the San Francesco Museum complex). It is rich in pure refined iridescent tones, with solidly constructed figures and subjects and items carefully rendered in an illusionary style, derived from the prototype of Filippo Lippi in the Cathedral of Spoleto (1467-69) and by the Coronation of the Virgin of the Ghirlandaio that he created at San Girolamo in Narni in 1486; both were also referenced to Raphael in 1505 for the altarpiece at Monteluce in Perugia. While at Trevi, the Master Lo Spagna, who by now was in demand and lauded by the whole of Umbria, decorated the church of the Madonna delle Lacrime between 1518 and 1520 with references to the sought-after style of Raffaello, shown in particular in the scene of the transportation of Christ (fig.2), where there is a strong association to the masterpiece by the Urbino Master carried out for the Cappella Baglioni in Perugia in 1507 which is today curated at the Borghese Gallery in Rome. This was testament to Lo Spagnas development in rapid and continual renewal, stimulated by continuous in depth study, in keeping with the requests for special commissions by the more affluent.

In 1516 he was granted citizenship of Spoleto, witness to the fact that Giovanni had resided in Spoleto already for several years. On 31 August 1517 he was appointed Head of Art for painters and goldsmiths, confirming his recognition in the role of Head of the school. From 1516 onwards, his activities were based in Spoleto and the surrounding centres, based on documentary evidence as well as by a large body of work which reveals the presence of assistance and workshop activities that had assimilated his style. Among the more interesting and significant works are the Madonna Ridolfi a Madonna with Child between Saints Giacomo, Niccolò da Tolentino, Caterina and Brizio commissioned by Pietro Ridolfi (fig.3) who was governor of Spoleto from 1514 to 1516 (Spoleto, Palazzo Comunale), the Virtues painted for the Rocca, removed in 1824 and reconstructed in a monument dedicated to Leo XII (Palazzo Comunale). The arrangement and the iconography of the three allegorical figures, justice at the top, with charity and mercy on each side, suggests their destination was to have been an environment with judicial functions. In Charity, conceived in accordance with a rotating composition, and in Clemency, characterised by the perspective that confers rhetoric in gestures and postures, there are also solutions developed by Raphael in the Roman year, thus suggesting a history ahead of its time.

Along the Via Flaminia, not far from Spoleto in the church of San Giacomo Apostolo, the patron saint of pilgrims, Giovanni di Pietro is asked to decorate the apse and two chapels in 1526. The semi-dome depicts the Coronation of the Virgin (fig.4) and the wall depicts San Giacomo and the Miracle of the hanged man and the Miracle of the chickens. With an extraordinary richness of gilding, colours and grotesque ornaments and crowded with figures, it is scenically complex and it is here Lo Spagna achieved the pinnacle of his career, a rare Umbrian display in a modern style.

Spoleto – San Giacomo

Durign this time, together with his workshop, Lo Spagna worked at Valnerina: in the church of S. Michele Arcangelo in Gavelli, where there are frescoes dated 1518 and 1523; to Visso in the church of S. Augustine; at Scheggino, where, finally in 1526 he signed the contract to decorate the church gallery of S. Niccolò for which he was offered 150 guilders.

Inheritage

Lo Spagna may have died of plague in October 1528 confirmed by an entry in the Town Archives of Spoleto which reports that on 9th day of that month candles for the funeral ceremony were received: “die 9 octobris, havemmo per la morte dello Spagna pictore quatro torcie” (Gualdi Sabatini, 1984, p. 395). (“ day of 9 October, we received four candles for the death of the painter Lo Spagna)

Dono Doni was the best known of his followers, but not the only one to collect the baton; his flourishing workshop still today constitutes a characterizing feature of the artistic heritage of the area of Spoleto and the Nera Valley. Among the collaborators to be remembered are also Giovanni Brunotti and Isidoro di ser Moscato, Giacomo di Giovannofrio Iucciaroni (circa 1483-1524) active in Valnerina and Piermarino di Giacomo who in 1533 completed the Scheggino frescoes.

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATIONS:

TodiMuseo civico (closed on Mondays. Open: 10.00-13.00/ 15.00-17.30), Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata (open all day: 9.00-18.00). Tourist Office tel. 075 8942526

TreviPinacoteca complesso museale di San Francesco (open from Friday to Sunday: 10.30-13.00/ 14.30-18.00), other spaces open on request). ProTrevi tel. 0742 781150

SpoletoPalazzo Comunale (open from Monday to Friday: 9.00-13.00; Modays and Thursdays: 15.00-17.00). Tourist Office tel.  0743218620/1

 

 

 

 


Fausta Gualdi Sabatini, Giovanni di Pietro detto Lo Spagna, Spoleto, Accademia Spoletina, 1984.
Pietro Scarpellini, Perugino, Electa, MIlano 1984.
Perugino: il divin pittore, cat. della mostra a cura di Vittoria Garibaldi e Federico Francesco Mancini, (Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria 2004), Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo 2004.
Giovanna Sapori, Giovanni di Pietro: un pittore spagnolo tra Perugino e Raffaello, Milano, Electa, 2004