Art in Umbria

The school of painting of Perugino

A "ring" itinerary, from the dawn to the dusk of the Divine Painter's life and career, among the towns and the small hamlets that preserve his works and the artworks of his best pupils

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A "ring" itinerary, from the dawn to the dusk of the life and the career of Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, also known as "Perugino" and "the Divine Painter", among the towns and the small hamlets that preserve his works and the artworks of his best pupils.

Start this route from where it all began, in Città della Pieve, the hometown of Perugino. His perhaps best-known artwork, The Marriage of the Virgin, now on display in Caen (France), was originally exhibited in the Church of Saints Gervasio and Protasio, here in his hometown. But the art of the Umbrian Master is still present in the rich Cathedral with two great artworks, a Madonna in glory among Saints (1514) and a Baptism of Jesus (1520).

The other great artist who was born in Città della Pieve, Antonio Circignani known as "il Pomarancio", also finds his place in the largest site of worship in the town, with two of his greatest artworks, the Madonna del Carmine and the Marriage of the Virgin, which fortunately escaped the Napoleonic requisitions of the late eighteenth century. In the nearby Church of Santa Maria dei Servi you can admire the Deposition from the Cross (1517), which, although damaged, preserves all the beauty of the Divine Painter's art.

Even more evocative is however the artwork of Perugino preserved in the Oratory of the Bianchi, a few minutes from the Cathedral: the first room of the building, the only one open to the public, welcomes visitors with the famous Adoration of the Magi, a fresco of 1504 in which the grace of the figures in the foreground is accompanied by the gentle hilly landscape of the background, a typical element of the Umbrian school of painting.

Pass from the painted green hills of Umbria to the real ones, and leave Città della Pieve: a short distance away you will find Panicale, a a characteristic small town of the region and considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Here, in the Church of San Sebastiano, an entire wall is covered by the majestic fresco depicting the Martyrdom of San Sebastiano (1505). Another remarkable fresco in this church is the Madonna on the Throne by Giovanni di Pietro known as "lo Spagna", the first of the pupils of the Master's workshop that you will meet along the way. Among the many artworks in the Collegiata Church of Michele Arcangelo you will find an Adoration of the Shepherds (1519) by Giovanni Battista Caporali (pupil of Perugino's and Luca Signorelli's workshops).

Let's change area and head for Cerqueto now. In the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, the main place of worship of this small and little-known village in the municipality of Marsciano, there are two other remarkable artworks of the Umbrian school: the Crucifixion (1515) of Tiberius Diotallevi of Assisi, and St. Sebastian (1478), a surviving fragment belonging to a cycle of frescoes commissioned of a thirty-year-old Perugino and increasingly appreciated in the pictorial landscape of the Renaissance. Also worthy of attention is the nearby Wayside Shrine of Saint Lucia, decorated between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Tiberius of Assisi and (according to some critics) Raphael Sanzio who was a pupil of Perugino's workshop at that time, before his fame.

Continue your journey and head towards Foligno to reach the "balustrade of Umbria", as Montefalco is nicknamed because of its panoramic position in a beautiful landscape. Here, in another of the most beautiful villages in Italy, which is especially famous for the quality of its wine, there are many examples of the rich Renaissance art in Umbria, concentrated in particular in the Museum Complex of St. Francis. Here, among the many preserved artworks you can admire the Stories of St. Francis, a fresco of the mid-fifteenth century by the Tuscan Benozzo Gozzoli, some of the major artworks of Francesco Melanzio, born in Montefalco and influenced by the pictorial style of Perugino, as well as of one of the most famous pupils of the Divine Painter, Bernardino di Betto Betti called "il Pinturicchio"; and especially the beautiful decorations of the Church itself, commissioned first from Gozzoli and later from Perugino.

You will find another museum complex dedicated to the Saint of Assisi in Trevi, the next stop on the itinerary: admire the artworks that are preserved there, then visit the beautiful and ancient village, and finally stop at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Tears. Here are works signed by Perugino, who decorated the Magi's Chapel, including the fresco of the Adoration of the Magi (1521), and and by Lo Spagna, for the Transport of Christ to the Sepulchre (1518).

Now stay in the Foligno area to reach the charming Spello, another stage of our journey that is part of the club of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Among the many attractions, a must-see is the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, with its fine Deruta majolica floor and its chapels, especially the Baglioni Chapel, where we find the hand of Pinturicchio. In the church there are also two artworks of his master (and protagonist of our journey), a Madonna and Child, St. Catherine and St. Blaise and a Pieta with St. John and Mary Magdalene, both created around 1521, that is in his last years.

Let's close our short journey to the discovery of Perugino and his pupils with his last artwork: the final stage of our journey is in fact Fontignano, where in 1511 Perugino established his workshop in order to escape the plague. Ironically, the painter died of the plague in 1523, while working on a fresco depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds commissioned for the small Church of the Annunciation: here you will be able to find the tomb of the Divine Painter (dating back to 1929, after the examinations that confirmed his identity), the fresco left unfinished by Perugino (but finished by his pupils), and finally a Madonna and Child, the last artwork completed by him (in 1522).

We have reached the end of Perugino's life, and the last stop of the itinerary: but along the road from Spello to Fontignano we suggest that you pass through Perugia and visit the Nobile Collegio del Cambio and the National Gallery of Umbria, displaying many of the Master's artworks, from all the phases of his pictorial career. If you are passionate about trekking do not miss this route of 100 km, to discover the landscapes that inspired his work.