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Martirio di San Sebastiano - Città di Castello
Art in Umbria

Art in Umbria at the time of Perugino

Il Rinascimento in Umbria, da Città di Castello a Terni

Renaissance art in Umbria is not only Perugino, the Divine Painter: here is an itinerary that crosses the region from north to south, from Città di Castello to Terni, to discover the works of some of the artists active in the Umbrian art scene between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Let's start with one of the greatest interpreters of Renaissance painting: Luca d’Egidio di Ventura, better known as Luca Signorelli, worked in Città di Castello at the end of the fifteenth century. Some of his most famous works were commissioned right here, and then exhibited in international museums in London and Paris; his authentic masterpiece the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (1498) is still preserved in the town's Municipal art gallery.

After visiting the important centre of the Upper Tiber Valley, start moving south: before reaching Perugia, however, we recommend a visit to the small village of Montone, known above all for its ties with its most illustrious citizen, the mercenary captain Andrea "Braccio" Fortebraccio. The fortress of the village, restored by Fortebraccio, was immortalized almost half a century later by the Perugian painter and miniaturist Bartolomeo Caporali (at the time very active throughout Umbria, we will meet him again on our journey) in the banner of Our Lady of Mercy (1482), a recurring theme in Umbria to request divine protection in the years of the plague. Another Fortebraccio, his son Carlo, commissioned a Saint Anthony of Padua among four angels, Saint John the Baptist, the Archangel Raphael and Tobiolo from Caporali (1491), as decoration for a votive altar. Both works are on display in the village, at thel Museo Civico di San Francesco.

Let's move on to what is undoubtedly the most important museum in the region: the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, on the upper floors of the Palazzo dei Priori, in Perugia. Here the best of Umbrian art is displayed, with works by all the major artists who have passed through the region. The museum is full of admirable masterpieces, we mention only one work, by the hands of masters such as Perugino, Pinturicchio, Caporali (for decorations), Piermatteo d'Amelia and Benedetto Bonfigli: the Stories of San Bernardino (1473), eight panels commissioned by the Franciscan order for the Oratory of San Bernardino, located next to the Church of San Francesco al Prato. Also originally in a chapel of there, and now partly preserved in the National Gallery, was also the Deposition of Christ or Pala Baglioni (1507), with which Raphael Sanzio, a pupil of Perugino, immortalized in the evangelical episode one of the most famous blood feuds among the families that shared control of the city between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Baglioni and the Oddi. Another altarpiece for San Francesco al Prato, the Pala degli Oddi (1502), commissioned by the Oddi from Raphael, is now on display in London.

These few notes are enough to show that Perugia was an artistically very lively city, with churches, families and religious orders competing to engage the best Masters of the time. The same can be said, however, of almost all the towns, small or large, in the region. If you don't believe it, continue your journey south to Deruta, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and famous for its ceramics. A chapel in the Church of Sant'Antonio, as well as the small wayside shrine in the nearby town of Fanciullata, were richly decorated by Caporali, between 1459 and 1480.

At this point, follow the road south, to reach first Todi, where the splendid Coronation of the Virgin (1511) by Lo Spagna is preserved, and then to Orvieto, whose Cathedral houses the work of three of the greatest interpreters of the Italian Renaissance. The cycle of frescoes of the Stories of the last days, in the splendid Chapel of San Brizio, was commissioned in 1447 from the two artists Beato Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli; fifty years later, the decoration was finally completed by another top-level master, Signorelli.

After visiting Orvieto, continue toward Terni: the next stop on the way is Amelia, one of Italy's ancient towns and birthplace of one of the most active painters of the second half of the fifteenth century, Piermatteo di Manfredi called Piermatteo d'Amelia. After having taken his first steps in the workshop of Maestro Filippo Lippi (for example in painting the frescoes in the apse of the Cathedral of Spoleto), the painter from Amelia became famous for having completed the starry sky that constituted the first decoration of the vault of the Sistine Chapel, in Rome, before structural problems required its restoration and a new decoration (by Michelangelo). Of his works, kept in museums all over the world (in particular an Annunciation, in Boston), the Museo Civico di Amelia houses only one, Sant'Antonio Abate Enthroned (1475).

We find his hand in Narni, in a Madonna and Child with Saints Lucia and Apollonia (1482), in the Church of Sant'Agostino, while visitors to the Church of San Domenico can view the (unfortunately damaged) Annunciation, a work of 1449 by Benozzo Gozzoli.

We are about to reach the end of this journey through the works of the Umbrian Renaissance: our last stop is nearby Terni, a city of industry and of love, but also of art: the first floor of the CAOS Museum (Centro Arti Opificio Siri, known for its rich collection of modern and contemporary works) is dedicated to works dating back to the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries. Among these are a mystical Wedding of Saint Catherine and Saints (1466) by Benozzo Gozzoli and an altarpiece, the Polyptych of the Franciscans, made between 1445 and 1448 by Piermatteo d'Amelia for the Church of San Francesco.

Along this itinerary we have met some of the disciples of Perugino: if you want to further your visit to Umbria with an exploration of the works of Perugino and his workshop, retrace your steps and head to Città della Pieve, his hometown, to discover the places most closely associated with the life and works of the Divine Painter, Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci.