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Città della Pieve ca. 1450 – 1523 Fontignano

Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino, was a major artist in late fifteenth-century Italy whose classical style—an innovative combination of Florentine disegno with an Umbrian command of structure and space—contributed significantly to the evolution of Italian high renaissance painting. Unfairly, he is chiefly remembered as the teacher of Raphael (1483–1520) on whom he exerted a powerful influence. Perugino did in fact invent a poetic pictorial language which was entirely original. He left his native city of Perugia for Florence where he is recorded as a member of the local artists’ guild by 1472. Vasari’s Vite accounts that Perugino worked in the studio of Andrea Verrocchio (1435–88), along with the young Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), where he learned clarity of design, a fondness for elegant figural gestures and a taste for decorative detail. Perugino also apprenticed with Piero della Francesca (1415–92) whose luminous palette and compositional clarity exert a strong influence, especially in Perugino’s frescoes. In Florence, Perugino was among the first practitioners of painting in oil. 

Perugino’s wider recognition came rapidly after Pope Sixtus IV engaged him to work on the newly renovated Sistine Chapel in about 1480, along with a roster of the most celebrated artists of his time: Cosimo Rosselli (1439–1507), Botticelli (ca. 1445–1510), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448–1494) and Michelangelo (1475–1564). His papal clients also include Pope Innocent VIII and Cardinal della Rovere who became Pope Julius II. Until the mid 1490s, Perugino travelled extensively to execute commissions that poured in from all over Italy—from Naples to Venice. 

Following his numerous trips to Venice, recorded in 1494, 1495 and perhaps 1497, Perugino produced a series of works with a refined pathos that Scarpellini describes as characterized by a ‘dark and secretly sensual climate’, exemplified by the Pietà (National Gallery, Umbria) and the Mary Magdalene (Pitti Palace, Florence). The dark background and luminous palette reveal the influence of Giovanni Bellini (1430–1516) and Antonello da Messina (ca. 1430–79), both pioneers in the oil technique. Marked by the success, in 1499, of his decoration of the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia, and following Michelangelo’s mortifying comment that he was ‘a bungler in art’ and further critical rejection in Florence, Perugino returned to his hometown of Perugia. There, he ran a highly successful workshop that catered to a demand for his colorful and idyllic devotional works. Such was Perugino’s popularity in Umbria that artists continued to paint in his style for a generation after his death.


Top Auction Results for Perugino

Pietà in weiter Landschaft
Sold for €500,000 ($676,315)
Munich, Hampel Fine Art Auctions, 19 September 2013, Gemälde 16. - 18. Jahrhundert, lot 560

The Albizzi Pieta: The Dead Christ With The Virgin Mary Joseph Of Arimathea (?) And St. John The Evangelist (?)
Sold for £341,000 ($606,761)
London, Sotheby’s, 4 July 1990, Old Master Paintings, lot 35


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