Accepting the thesis of his initial discipleship at the workshop of Bartolomeo Caporali in Perugia, the early artistic productions of Pietro Vannucci, known worlwide as Perugino, must have been realized in Umbria, his own native region, even though this fact cannot be proved with absolute certainty. His style is commonly recognized in some of the tablets made for the niche of San Bernardino (Perugia) in 1473, but the first official work of the painter, who wasn’t even 30 years old yet, dates back to 1475-76, when he had already started to work also in Florence: it is the altarpiece regarding the Adoration of the Magi, now at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, commissioned by the Baglioni family for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Perugia, which was demolished due to the construction of the Rocca Paolina after 1540. The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria preserves another juvanile work, the detached fresco portaying Saint Jerome (1470-80).
Perugino worked in an artistically lively environment, also accepting commissions in the countryside outside the city of Perugia, an area probably controlled by the Baglioni family: in 1476, due to an epidemic of plague, Deruta entrusted him with the realization of the Eternal between the Saints Romano and Rocco,a votive fresco originally meant for the chapel of Sorrows in a church dedicated to S. Francis, and which is now preserved at the Pinacoteca Comunale. In 1478 Perugino was called in the hamlet of Cerqueto, near Marsciano, to realize a fresco for the St. Magdalene Chapel in the church of Santa Maria: the beautiful painting is still on site but it presents several gaps, and only the figures of St Sebastian, St Peter and St Rocco
are preserved nowadays.
Before the beginning of the XVI century, Perugino wa also called to work in one of the most important places for the Franciscanism, the Portiuncola in the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, where he realized a fresco depicting a Crucifixion, of which only a fragment is still preserved.
The most extensive work Vannucci realized in Perugia, which he probably perceived as the most important one of his artistic life since he also fiercely included his own portrait among the ones depicting the Greats of the past, is the fresco decoration for the Sala delle Udienze in the Nobile Collegio del Cambio (1496-1500), home to one of the most eminent Arts, that is to say, the “currency changers”. The fresco cycle, perfectly preserved, shows the Cardinal Virtues, together with the Illustrious Men of classical antiquity (including the aforementioned self-portrait accompanied by a high-sounding inscription in Latin and Perugino’s signature), Six prophets, Six Sibilles with the Eternal, the Nativity and the Transfiguration of Christ.
During the same years he also worked at the Polyptych of San Pietro now dismembered: only the panels depicting Santa Scolastica, San Pietro in Vincioli and San Mauro, which were at the bases of the columns of the altar machine, and the two predellas portaying the two patron saints of Perugia, Ercolano and Costanzo, are still in Umbria.
The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria also preserves the Madonna of Consolation, which dates back to the same years and was realized for the Brotherhood of the Disciplined; while in 1501 Perugino worked at Banner of Justice, where he portrayed a graceful Madonna with Child in glory, surrounded by angels, at the foot of which are San Francesco and San Bernardino from Siena, while the Disciplinati and a view of Perugia stand in the background.
The following year he was commissioned by the Franciscan friars of Monteripido convent (Perugia) to realize at least two works, now at the Galleria Nazione dell’Umbria: the lunette with the fresco of the Nativity, of which two preparatory drawings have recently been found, and the opistograph Altarpiece. Furthermore, in 1505 he realized an articulated painting showing the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian in Panicale, a village in the Trasimeno lake area, which is still preserved on site.
A few years later he also worked at the realization of a great double-sided Altarpiece for the important monastic complex of Sant’Agostino in the neighborhood of Porta Sant’Angelo (Perugia). Perugino conceived the altarpiece as a grandiose structure, and he worked at its realization in two different periods of his life: a first phase starting from 1502 to 1512, and a second one in the twenties, just before dying. The Altarpiece was composed of several tables arranged on the two sides, now currently scattered in different museums of the world. Only some parts are still in Perugia: the Baptism of Christ, an Angel, the Adoration of the Magi, the Sermon of the Baptist, the Wedding of Cana and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, all referring to the first decorative phase; the Adoration of the shepherds, Saints Jerome and Mary Magdalene, the Eternal Blessing, the Pietà, David, and Daniel date back to the second stage of work. For Sant’Agostino church in 1501 he also realized an altarpiece on commission of the Tezi family: while the predella is in Berlin nowadays, the Madonna in heaven among Saints is in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria; the same museum preserves a juvenile Annunciation (1487-89), owned by the Ranieri family.
In 1510 Perugino painted the Altarpiece depicting Saint John the Baptist with other Saints for the church of San Francesco al Prato, now at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria; around 1512-1513 he was in Bettona , a village in the countryside around Perugia, where he realized a banner dedicated to Sant’Anna, now in the Museum of the city, along with a Madonna of Mercy and a Saint Anthony with a devotee. The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria also preserves a Saint Jerome on canvas, which can be dated back to the same years.
Shortly afterwards, in the church of Santa Maria in Corciano, the painter realized an oil painting, the Assumption of the Virgin.
In 1521 he completed the lower part of the fresco depicting the Trinity of Saints, begun in 1505 by Raphael before his departure for Rome, at the Camaldolese Church of San Severo, of which only the chapel which houses the work remains.
A beautiful fresco portraying Our Lady of Grace is hidden in the cloistered convent of Sant’Agnese, in the neighborhood of Porta Sant’Angelo (Perugia), whose dating is still debated.
During the 1520s, he worked at the Pietà between Saints John the Evangelist and Magdalene in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello and at the decoration of the chapel of the Nativity at the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime in Trevi, depicting an Adoration of the Magi and, on the sides, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Not far from Trevi, in Foligno, Perugino had already worked at the decoration of the Oratorio della Nunziatella, where the fresco showing the Baptism of Christ is still well preserved.
He also realized several works in Città della Pieve, his birthplace, a town located on the border between Umbria and Tuscany: in 1504 he painted a monumental Adoration of the Magi in the Oratory of Santa Maria dei Bianchi and two works for the city Cathedral, the Baptism of Christ (1510) and a Madonna and Child with the Saints Peter, Paolo, Gervasio and Protasio (1514); in 1517, for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi, now part of the Diocesan Museum, he made a Deposition.
Perugino’s didn’t die in his birthplace: even though he was old, he was working in Fontignano, a little village in the Umbrian countryside, realizing a fresco of a Nativity (now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) in the church of Annunziata (where also a Madonna full of Grace depicting a Virgin and the Child is still preserved), when a contagious disease caught him.
Predella tablets, Polyptych of San Pietro – Pinacoteca Vaticana – Vatican City
The tablets belonged to the predella of the large altar machine of the church of San Pietro in Perugia.After the first dismemberment of the work,
Deposition from the cross – Church of Santa Maria dei Servi – Città della Pieve
The church where the two frescoes are located has undergone several works changes over the centuries. The monumental Deposition is still intact, except for the
Baptism of Christ – Oratorio della Nunziatella – Foligno
The fresco is part of the decoration commissioned by the rector of the Annunziata society Giovanni Battista Merganti, at the beginning of the sixteenth century,