PAINTING DURING THE EARLY RENAISSANCE (1400-1495). PAINTERS OUTSIDE TUSCANY. Pinturicchio

Bernardino di Betto (Perugia, 1454 – Siena, December 11, 1513), acquired the nickname Pinturicchio (meaning “little painter”) because of his small stature. According to Vasari in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550), Pinturicchio had the misfortune of being unattractive and having various physical limitations, including deafness, which is why for a long time he was called “il Sordicchio“. During his apprenticeship years he was a paid assistant in Perugino’s workshop. In his early works, Pinturicchio strongly imitated the style of his master Perugino; although he soon went on to create new and extremely elegant works. Many times he chose secular, pagan and social issues as motifs for his paintings. That strange sense of melancholy that made Perugino’s work monotonous disappeared in the work of Pinturicchio, and from his master he only kept the freshness of the color, the light, and the delicacy of the drawing. Pinturicchio’s teachers were most probably Umbrian painters such as Fiorenzo di Lorenzo and Bartolomeo Caporali, although he was also influenced by painters active in Umbria such as Fra Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Fra Filippo Lippi. The influence of the work of Piero della Francesca in the work of Pinturicchio is also evident, particularly in the treatment of monumental spatiality, dominated by perspective and by a solemn compositional structure. Through the study of his works, we will see that the high esteem that accompanied Pinturicchio throughout his life was dictated not only by his talent, but mostly by his exceptional ability to interpret the demands of his high-profile clients.

The first works of Pinturicchio must be found in the Oratory of San Bernardino, in Perugia, where there was a chapel decorated with eight panels representing the Histories of San Bernardino (ca. 1473), painted by a group of young artists, between them Pinturicchio. The figures of three episodes (panels) are generally attributed to him: Healing of the Blind, Saint Bernardino resurrects a man found dead under a tree, and The Liberation of the Prisoner.

Saint Bernardino resurrects a man found dead under a tree, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1473 (Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia).
Saint Jerome in the Desert, oil on panel, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1475-1480, 149.8 x 106 cm (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA). This is one of the earliest dated paintings attributed to Pinturicchio painted after his panels for the Miracles of St. Bernardino series (see picture above).  St. Jerome (ca. 347-420), one of the four Latin Fathers of the Church, is known for translating the Bible into Latin, known as the Vulgate Bible. The saint spent four years in the Syrian desert as a hermit, mortifying his flesh and elevating his spirit through study. Pinturicchio chose this subject and depicted him in a monumental, rocky landscape, while the lizard and the scorpion reflect the desolation of the scene. The open book contains a passage from a letter attributed to St. Augustine in which Jerome is compared to St. John the Baptist, another saint who lived in the wilderness.

Pinturicchio was among the artists who decorated the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, as he went as an assistant of Perugino and had the opportunity to get in contact with, as well as learn from, prominent artists of the time such as Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Vanucci and Luca Signorelli. Art scholars acknowledge Pinturicchio’s hand in the scenes of Moses’ Journey in Egypt and The Baptism of Christ, while more recent critics have drastically reduced his involvement in the Sistine frescoes.

Throughout the years, Pinturicchio grew into an elegant painter, even superior to Perugino. His main works are the series of frescoes in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican, and especially those that decorate the Piccolomini library in the Cathedral of Siena.

After assisting Perugino with some frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, for the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome, Pinturicchio executed some frescoes in the Bufalini Chapel, probably around 1484-1486. In this chapel, the fresco cycle develops along three walls and the ceiling and is dedicated to the life and miracles of Saint Bernardino of Siena, a saint who at that time was the subject of extensive promotional work carried out by the Franciscan order. On the altar wall is a grand painting of St. Bernardino of Siena between two other saints, crowned by angels; in the upper part is a figure of Christ in a mandorla, surrounded by angel musicians. On the left wall is a large fresco of the miracles performed by the corpse of St. Bernardino, which includes portraits of members of the patrons: the Bufalini family. In this work are clear the multiple influences on Pinturicchio’s painting: the treatment of perspective typical of the Perugian school, the variety of people populating the spaces inspired by the works of the Florentines Benozzo Gozzoli and Ghirlandaio, and the characterization of poor pilgrims and beggars, derived from the Flemish painting.

View of the frescoes of the Bufalini Chapel, by Pinturicchio, 1484-1486 (Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome). The Bufalini Chapel is the first chapel on the right after the entrance, and includes a fresco cycle depicting the life of the Franciscan friar St. Bernardino of Siena. The chapel was commissioned by Niccolò dei Bufalini (a prelate and consistorial lawyer in Rome) for his mortuary chapel in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. This was Pinturicchio’s first big commission. The chapel has a rectangular plan, with a cross-vault and a pavement decorated with Cosmatesque mosaics. The frescoes by Pinturicchio occupy three walls and the vault. They are, on the left wall: miracles of St. Bernardino of Siena as a young hermit; funeral of St. Bernardino with portraits of members of the Bufalini family; on the altar wall: the transfiguration of St. Bernardino between Sts. Louis of Toulouse and Anthony of Padua, with the resurrected Christ in a mandorla accompanied by angels; in the vault: the four evangelists.
Glory of St. Bernardino, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1484-1486 (fresco cycle of the Bufalini Chapel, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome). This fresco occupies the central wall. Pinturicchio represented the Glory of St. Bernardino on two levels. The lower section shows Bernardino on a rock, with open arms, surmounted by two angels crowning him. He is flanked by the saints Augustine and Antony of Padua, while in the background is a landscape inspired by Umbria. Bernardino holds an open book on which is written PATER MANIFESTAVI NOMEN TVVM OMNIBVS (“Father, I have shown your name to everyone”), the words the friars were chanting as Bernardino passed away on Ascension eve, 1444. The upper section depicts a blessing Christ within a mandorla, with angels musicians. Under this fresco there’s a band in grisaille, with blind niches and reliefs showing a military procession with prisoners and satyrs. This was one of the first examples of the taste for antiquities which became widespread in Rome at the time, and which was used also by Filippino Lippi in his frescoes in the Carafa Chapel in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
The Funerals of Bernardino, fresco by Pinturicchio, 1484-1486 (fresco cycle of the Bufalini Chapel, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome). This fresco occupies the left wall. The fresco includes two scenes organized vertically, divided by a painted frieze. The upper lunette shows the hermitage of the young Bernardino; below are the Funerals of Bernardino (shown in the picture). This last scene was set in an urban setting painted using geometrical perspective. The vanishing point falls in the octagonal edifice with central plan, and was inspired by Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Pinturicchio, however, used two buildings of different heights at the sides, instead of symmetrical triumphal arches at each side as Perugino did. The building on the left is a loggia, supported by piers decorated with fanciful gilded candelabra. On the right the cubic building is connected through a double loggia to the landscape and the bright sky in the background. In the foreground develops the main scene with St. Bernardino’s funeral. Bernardino lies on a catafalque, which, thanks to its oblique perspective, increases the depth of the scene and the interaction between the characters. Friars, pilgrims and other common people are approaching the corpse to pay homage; on the sides are two richly dressed characters, identified as Riccomanno Bufalini (on the left, with a fur-lined hood and the gloves) and a member of his family. The remaining characters were included by Perugino to portray a series of miracles attributed to Bernardino during his life: the healing of a blind man (who points at his eyes), the resurrection of someone possessed, the healing of a dead newborn, the healing of Lorenzo di Niccolò da Prato, wounded by a bull, and the pacification of the Umbrian families. The candelabra grotesque decoration on the building on the left was inspired by those discovered at Rome in the ruins of the Domus Aurea.
The Four Evangelists, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1484-1486 (fresco cycle of the Bufalini Chapel, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome). This fresco in the chapel’s vault was the first to be completed. They depict the four Evangelists (as was traditional for the time), placed within four bright oval almonds, according to a layout inspired by Perugino. The Evangelists’ postures are here more lively than those by Perugino.

Pinturicchio entered the service of the newly elected pope Innocent VIII (1484) who commissioned him to paint a series of views of Italian cities for a loggia located in the Apostolic Palace, where the Pope would stay in his frequent convalescence. This area was later incorporated by Bramante, during the papacy of Julius II, into the Belvedere complex. This fresco cycle by Pinturicchio was rediscovered only until the 1930s, though the paintings were in poor condition. The decorative design for these frescoes was arranged in lunettes between pillars decorated with grisaille and putti. The frescoes depicted a kind of illusionistic opening painted on the closed side of the loggia and represented “bird’s eye” views of Italian cities according to the Flemish tradition of aerial perspective: the cities of Rome, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Venice and Naples were represented, each in its own environment. This cycle is particularly important, as it represents the first example of the genre of landscape painting after Classical antiquity, particularly in the use of the second Pompeian style. Pinturicchio was probably one of the first to personally visit the “caves” with the rediscoveries of the Domus Aurea of Nero’s palace and its decorative frescoes.

View of a city, fresco, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1488-1490 (Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican City).
Portrait of a Boy, oil and tempera on poplar panel, by Pinturicchio, 1485-1500, 50 x 36 cm (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden). This is one of few easel paintings by Pinturicchio. The artist portrayed the sitter in a momentous period of his life when he is making the inevitable transition from childhood to adolescence. The outlines of his face had not yet lost his childish features, yet his posture and attitude allude to that of a young man. In contrast to the portraits of the early Renaissance, which were strictly painted in profile, the sitter here turns full-face towards the viewer. For a long time this painting was thought to be a portrait of Raphael. Today the identity of the sitter is unknown, probably a boy from a patrician family. Behind him extends a wide landscape, the red clothes of the boy make a heavy contrasts with it.

Pinturicchio was employed by various members of the Della Rovere family to decorate the Semi-Gods Ceiling (1490) of the Palazzo dei Penitenzieri. In this work, Pinturicchio composed for the coffered ceiling, a grid of octagons in gilded wood with 63 segments painted with mythological and allegorical themes. The wealth of iconographic ideas, research on the art of antiquity, and attention to detail, are here fused with the skills typical of an illuminator, as he used images from medieval tradition.

The Semi-Gods Ceiling, by Pinturicchio. ca. 1490 (reception room of the Palazzo dei Penitenzieri, Rome). This coffered ceiling comprises 63 octagonal compartments in gilded wood, decorated with allegoric and mythological figures on a faux-mosaic background, and painted on paper. The work was commissioned by Cardinal Domenico della Rovere. The figures of the ceiling were inspired by medieval bestiaries and libri monstruorum, which contained hybrid figures such as sphinxes, armed tritons, satyrs, dragons, sirens (see picture below) and centaurs. The theme has hidden philosophical and humanist meanings, perhaps suggested by the literati who were part of the cardinal’s court. In the center of the ceiling is the genealogical tree of the Della Rovere family with two peacocks, which can be seen also in each corner.
Detail of one of the coffer compartments of the Semi-Gods Ceiling, by Pinturicchio. ca. 1490 (reception room of the Palazzo dei Penitenzieri, Rome). Numerous depictions on this ceiling portray sea creatures, including sirens with two tails, shown while breastfeeding, painting or executing acrobatic dances, like the picture above. They were inspired by the sea creatures featured in Roman sarcophagi, a theme that was also used by Andrea Mantegna, whom perhaps Pinturicchio met in the building of the Belvedere Palace in the Vatican.

With the reconstruction of the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome commissioned by Sixtus IV, Pinturicchio was called upon to paint several chapels. It seems Pinturicchio worked between ca. 1484 to 1492 in these commissions. One of these chapels is the Chapel of the Presepio (manger) of Cardinal Domenico della Rovere, in which Pinturicchio worked between 1488 and 1490. It  includes an altarpiece of the Adoration of the Shepherds. In the lunettes of this chapel under the vault, Pinturicchio painted small scenes from the life of St Jerome. The wall decoration, with polychrome grotesque on yellow-gold background, was probably inspired by the paintings of the Domus Aurea, and represents one of the earliest and highest quality examples of this type of decoration in Rome.

View of the Della Rovere (also known as Nativity) chapel, the first side chapel in the south aisle of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome). The chapel was dedicated to the Virgin and Saint Jerome and decorated with frescoes by Pinturicchio and his workshop from 1488 to 1490. The chapel is hexagonal with a sexpartite ribbed vault. The side walls are articulated by painted Corinthian pilasters decorated with grotesques, resting on a monochrome grisaille base. The marble slabs of the parapet are decorated with Cardinal Della Rovere’s coat-of-arms held by two putti.
Adoration of the Christ Child, panel painting, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1490 (Della Rovere Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome). This altarpiece, surrounded by a frame decorated with floral motifs and small capitals, forms the center of the decorative program for the chapel. This exquisite autographed work by Pinturicchio is located above the main altar, framed by a carved and gilded marble arch. In front of the hut of the Nativity, partially ruined with its walls built of different materials (symbolizing the Jewish and pagan religions which predated the rise of Christianity), and with a truss roof seen from underneath, the Holy Family is seen together with St. Jerome and the shepherds adoring the Child. Jesus is resting on a bundle of wheat, reference to the bread of the Eucharist. To the right the ox and the donkey are penned behind a fence of woven twigs while Joseph is represented in a typical dormant posture alluding to his role as a mere guardian of Mary and Jesus without active participation in the procreation. The rich background fades in the distance according to the rules of perspective which makes things appear distantly blurred in bluish colors through the effect of haze; it is populated by a city on the banks of a lake and a series of fantastic rocky spurs, creating an atmospheric setting for the procession of the Magi and the angelic announcement to the shepherds, located at the top left of the painting. In the middle, an extremely slender tree acts as a pivot for the background and separates the two parts. The detailed and beautifully portrayed heads of Mary and the Child show vivacity of looks and gestures. The dedication plaque for the chapel is set at the bottom center of the painting between two Della Rovere coat-of-arms with the cardinal’s hat, and reads “Domenico della Rovere, the cardinal of San Clemente dedicated this chapel to the Virgin Mary, mother of God, and St. Jerome”.
St. Jerome extracting a thorn from a lion’s paw, fresco, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1490 (Della Rovere Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome). The vault and lunettes of the Della Rovere chapel were decorated with a blue painted carpet filled with gold stars. There are five frescoes in the lunettes that illustrate scenes from the life of St. Jerome. These frescoes were detached and transferred to canvas in the 18th century. These paintings of the lunettes were originally richly gilded as evidenced by the presence of red wax on the edges of the garments that served as a support for the gold leaves.
The polychrome grotesques on yellow-gold background of the Della Rovere Chapel (Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome) by Pinturicchio are of the highest quality and were clearly inspired by those painted in the Domus Aurea (in the so-called Room of Achilles on Skyros).

Another one of these chapels is the third chapel on the south, the chapel of Girolamo Basso della Rovere, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, in which Pinturicchio worked ca. 1484. This Basso Della Rovere Chapel has a false portico, a set with porphyry columns with gilded Corinthian capitals, resting on a base decorated with benches and illusionistic reliefs in grisaille. Two painted books, in perfect perspective, rest on one of the painted benches, fooling the viewer. It also contains a fine altarpiece of the Madonna enthroned between Four Saints, and on the east side a nicely composed fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin. The vault and its lunettes are richly decorated with small scenes of the Life of the Virgin, surrounded by graceful arabesques. In this work the use of various assistants is more evident. In this same period, also in Rome, Pinturicchio painted the transept of the Ponziani Chapel of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, with the Almighty surrounded by the Evangelists and black and white scrolls with stucco arms.

View of the Basso Della Rovere chapel (also known as Saint Augustine Chapel), located in the south aisle of the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome). Pinturicchio and his workshop worked in the fresco decoration of this chapel between 1484 and 1492. The chapel is hexagonal with a sexpartite ribbed vault and the entrance is protected by a balustrade. On the side walls fake porphyry columns with Corinthian capitals support an entablature of white and gilded marble.
Above and below, the painted benches and illusionistic monochrome reliefs of the Basso della Rovere chapel (Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome). Pinturicchio ingenuously placed two books painted in perfect perspective on one of the benches (above), deceiving the viewer.

The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Augustine, Francis, Anthony of Padua and a Holy Monk, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1484-1492 (Basso della Rovere chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).  Placed above the altar, the painting includes a lunette depicting God the Father Blessing, and the whole is enclosed by a white marble frame with rich golden decorations.
Assumption of the Virgin Mary, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1484-1492 (Basso della Rovere chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).
The panels of the vault of the Basso della Rovere chapel (Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome) by Pinturicchio, are covered by a lush floral decoration on a golden background with images of prophets inside medallions. The five lunettes at the base of the dome are decorated with Stories from the Life of the Virgin.
Partial view of the fresco of the ceiling of the Ponziani chapel in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (Rome), by Pinturicchio, ca. 1485-1490. Pinturicchio painted the Almighty (in the picture above at the bottom) surrounded by the Evangelists (below there’s a picture of Luke) and black and grotesque decorative motifs (see detail picture below).

The frescoes of the Cybo Chapel (in the same church of Santa Maria del Popolo) were destroyed in 1682, when the chapel was rebuilt. Only the fresco of the Virgin and the Child was detached from the wall and sent to Massa in 1687 where the fragment was re-used as the altarpiece of the Ducal Chapel of the Cathedral of Massa. In the Costa Chapel, Pinturicchio or one of his assistants painted the Four Latin Doctors in the lunettes of the vault.

The most important original frescos in the Costa chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome) are those on the five lunettes in the base of the vault painted by Pinturicchio and his workshop between 1488 and 1490 and depicting the Fathers of the Church.

Around 1490 Pinturicchio painted in Rome the image of Our Lady of Peace for the Church of San Severino Marche. The composition is complex but serene, the figures in the foreground appear monumental, the faces reflect an ideal beauty, with a studied inclination of the heads and the portrayal of gestures. This painting was meticulously executed with delicate and rich decorations made with the tip of the brush, such as the child’s mantle that features perfectly reproduced embroidery on the chest and flare pearl reflections set on the sleeve. It is also dazzling the profusion of gold, often spread in spots across the painting, that create a highly suggestive sparkling dust. Following this prototype of Madonna, Pinturicchio produced others, such as the Virgin with the reading Child (North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh), and the Virgin with the writing Child (Philadelphia Museum of Art). In 1492 Pinturicchio dated, for the first time in a work that has come down to us, the Madonna del Latte today in Houston, a work of great refinement, almost of miniaturist quality.

Madonna of Peace, oil on panel, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1490, 143 × 70 cm (Pinacoteca Civica Tacchi-Venturi, San Severino, Marche, Italy). The work was originally painted for the Duomo in San Severino Marche. The figure of this Madonna was later used by Pinturicchio as a model for later works such as Madonna with the Reading Child and Madonna with the Writing Child (see both below). The Madonna seats with Baby Jesus in her lap. He holds in his left hand a globus cruciger, a cross-bearing orb that symbolizes his divine power over the Earth, while with his right hand, he blesses the kneeling client below, who is represented in profile with detailed attention to its facial features. Instead of depicting a seminude baby Jesus (as was customary), Pinturicchio portrays him clothed wearing a rich dalmatic and a pallium that come perhaps from the influence of Byzantine mosaics in Rome. Flanking the central figures of the Virgin and the Child, are two angels: one looks directly at the viewer, the other reclines its head acknowledging Jesus’ blessing. The open landscape of the background is of Umbrian inspiration, with hills punctuated by human presence that, among the slender, leafy trees, fades into the distance, softened by haze. The lunette above shows Jesus giving an “eternal benediction” within a mandorla of little angels, following a pattern stablished by Perugino.
Madonna of Peace (detail), oil on panel, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1490, 143 × 70 cm (Pinacoteca Civica Tacchi-Venturi, San Severino, Marche, Italy). The main figures appear monumental and resplendent in bright colors and the profuse use of gold. The halos, for example, are composed of punched gold that create a vibrant, dusty, and diffuse light, that lights up the painting as an elaborate gold filigree. Golden highlights are visible in the hair or clothes of people or the countryside, and above all in the leafy foliage.
Madonna with the Reading Child, tempera on panel, by Pinturicchio, 1494-98, 33,7 x 25,4 cm (North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).
Madonna with the Writing Child, oil on panel, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1494-1498, 61 × 41.6 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). As said before, the painting is derived from the style of the Madonna of Peace (see picture before), probably a simplification perhaps for a private family. The Virgin sits on a kind of cask, and is offering a book to the Child, who writes on it. The garments of the Child are perhaps inspired by the late Byzantine mosaics seen by Pinturicchio in Rome. In the background is a small depiction of the Flight into Egypt and two symmetrical trees, one a palm, a symbol of martyrdom.
Madonna del Latte, oil on panel, by Pinturicchio, 1492, 29,2 x 21,6 cm, (Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, Texas, USA).

The Valencian Rodrigo de Borja, who as Pope took the name of Alexander VI, wanted Pinturicchio to paint the rooms he destined for his apartments, rooms that still to this day bear the name of “Borgia Apartments” in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican. The rooms are now part of the Vatican library. Pinturicchio worked in these rooms between 1492 to 1494. The result was a treasure trove of precious and refined decorations, with an overload of grotesque in which the profuse reflections of gold constantly shine on the walls and ceilings, reflecting the union of the International Gothic heritage with a taste for the ornate Moorish traditions of the Hispanics linked to the Valencian origin of Pinturicchio’s patron. The iconographic program of this fresco cycle fused Christian doctrine with constant references to the archaeological taste then in vogue in Rome, and it was almost certainly dictated by the literati of the papal court. After Pope Alexander VI died, Pinturicchio left Rome for Umbria, and left much of the work in the Vatican to be completed by Michelangelo and Raphael. This series of rooms are, altogether, six rooms arranged in a row. There’s first a large anteroom, called the “papal room”, which contains little works by Pinturicchio; after this follow three rectangular rooms, all decorated by him, and lastly, a tower, built exclusively for Alexander VI, where his bedroom and private chapel were located. The three intermediate rooms are covered with a groin vault, enriched with polychrome relief stucco adorned with coat of arms, allegories and figures of prophets. The walls are all covered by beautiful frescoes; over a door there is one in which the risen Christ appears as he comes out of the tomb, while Pope Alexander worships him on his knees. The plump, sensual and mischievous figure of this pontiff is a marvelous portrait, but even more admirable are the soldiers who sleep as graceful halberdiers in artistic posture. On the opposite wall, over another door, there is a Madonna and Child, which, according to Vasari, was the portrait of Julia Farnese, the last lover of the old Valencian Pope.

The frescoes in the Borgia Apartments of the Palazzi Pontifici in the Vatican by Pinturicchio were commissioned by Pope Alexander VI (Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia). The paintings, which were executed between 1492 and 1494, were based on a complex iconographical program that used themes from medieval encyclopedias, adding an eschatological layer of meaning and celebrating the supposedly divine origins of the Borgias. Although Pinturicchio’s workshop worked in the elaboration of the frescoes, the overall style, the taste, and the program must have been the artist’s responsibility. When the Borgia family fell out of favor after the 1503 death of Pope Alexander VI, the apartments were little used for centuries. Most of the rooms are now used for the Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1973. The fresco pictured above is part of the room known as The Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith (Sala dei Misteri della Fede) and represents the Resurrection with Alexander VI. This work, inspired by the iconographic models of Perugino, celebrates the Resurrection of Christ who, depicted within a mandorla of golden and radiating light, rises triumphantly over death above the tomb, by now uselessly guarded by three young men in rich armor. Alexander VI (left, and detail below) is admirably portrayed as a witness to this divine apparition; he is depicted attired in his ornate golden cope, while the papal tiara he just took off remains on the ground as a sign of respect; he kneels in a gesture of prayer, contemplating this unfathomable mystery. Recent cleaning of this fresco revealed a scene believed to be the earliest known European depiction of Native Americans, painted just two years (1494) after Christopher Columbus returned from the New World. They are the group of small naked men dancing in the distance behind the head of the soldier directly beneath Jesus’ feet.
The Resurrection with Alexander VI (detail), fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1492-1494 (Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith, Borgia Apartments, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City).
The Adoration of the Magi, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1492-1494 (Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith, Borgia Apartments, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City).

In the next room, Pinturicchio painted several scenes representing the lives of saints, between these is famous the depiction of the judgment of Saint Catherine, in which, in the figures of the emperor and his courtiers, Pinturicchio probably represented Cesare Borgia, one of the Pope’s sons, with his friends and people close to the Borgias, and among them Bayezid’s brother, Djem, wearing his turban, who was in Rome as a guarantee of the friendship and good intentions between the Pope and the Turkish conqueror.

Disputation of St. Catherine of Alexandria, fresco with gold leaf, by Pinturicchio, 1492-1494 (Hall of the Saints, Borgia Apartments, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City). One of the most famous frescoes of the Borgia rooms, this is a particularly precious and lavish painting, since even the trees’ leaves are speckled with gold and provide both sparks of light on the surface and abstract patterns comparable to those on the costumes of the figures. The scene depicts St. Catherine’s disputation with the pagan philosophers before Emperor Maximilian set against a classical background. Lucrezia (the Pope’s daughter) is painted as St. Catherine of Alexandria facing 50 opponents. The background is dominated by a monumental triumphal arch based on the arch of Constantine, and surmounted by an idol in the form of a bull, alluding to the heraldic symbol of the Borgias, along with the inscription “PACIS CULTORI”, praising the Pope’s role as a bringer of peace and justice.
Disputation of St. Catherine of Alexandria (detail), fresco with gold leaf, by Pinturicchio, 1492-1494 (Hall of the Saints, Borgia Apartments, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City). The fresco represents the story of the noble Christian girl from Alexandria, Catherine, who refused to comply with the obligation to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods, imposed upon subjects during the great celebrations for the arrival of Maximinus Daia, appointed as governor of Egypt and Syria in 305. She was summoned before 50 scholars of the court to be brought to obedience. However, the disputation instead concluded in favor of the young Catherine, who through her eloquence and erudition managed to refute the vanity of polytheism, succeeding in converting all the philosophers to her doctrine. This led to the imposition of a death sentence by the governor, who was however at the same time fascinated with her to the point of wanting her as his wife. Since every further attempt to convert her proved fruitless, and following her repeated rejection of him, he put her to death by the wheel. She remained miraculously unharmed, but was subsequently beheaded. In this fresco Pinturicchio presents us a glimpse of life at the Borgia court, displaying a multitude of richly attired characters, that are the portraits of illustrious contemporary figures: Catherine (Lucrezia Borgia, the Pope’s daughter, with blue dress and red cape); Maximinus Daia (Cesare Borgia, the Pope’s son, seated on the throne); Djem (brother of the sultan Bajazet II, the Pope’s hostage and a friend of Cesare Borgia, the young man with a white turban); Pinturicchio and Giuliano da Sangallo with the compasses (behind the throne).

In the fourth room there are allegories of the liberal arts, and in the tower, where the Pope’s bedroom was, Pinturicchio included several mythological and astronomical figures. The most remarkable aspect about this decoration is the profusion of color, gold, navy blue and bright reds, which contrast admirably, as in the old classical mural decorations. Without being the same as the color range employed by the ancients, which we call now Pompeian style, the color tones employed by Pinturicchio are vivid. Pinturicchio has followed in these rooms the same system of antiquity of dividing the walls into very small spaces, so that, by contrast, the colors don’t clash excessively. The use of gold softens and harmonizes the whole compositions; even in scenes with figures, the vivid colors of clothing, armor, and even of the landscape are softened by dots and lines of gold.

The Arithmetic, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1492-1494 (Hall of the Liberal Arts, Borgia Apartments, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City). The fresco depicts the allegorical depiction of arithmetic, one of the liberal arts. This Hall of the Liberal Arts was presumably used as Pope Alexander VI’s study. The decoration of the room was dedicated to the “arts” or disciplines that constituted the foundation of medieval scholastic teaching. These represent a celebration of knowledge in its different specializations, and are allegorically depicted as attractive women seated on thrones: the names engraved on the base identify the Arts of the Trivium* (Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric), and those of the Quadrivium* (Geometry, Arithmetic, Music and Astronomy), surrounded by those who distinguished themselves in those disciplines, often portraits of eminent contemporary figures.
The Room of the Sibyls was built as part of the defensive apparatus of the Apostolic Palace, it was included in the Borgia Tower (1492-1494), which enclosed two rooms intended for service functions, identical in their architectural and decorative plan. The female figures that lend their name to the room (Sybils) are silhouetted against a blue background, alternated with the Prophets, in accordance with an iconography of medieval origin, widespread in the 15th century. The Sibyls and Prophets are identified by flowing banderoles they hold in their hands, on which there are also the verses of the respective predictions and prophesies, pre-announcing the coming of Christ. De fresco shown in the picture depicts the pair Hosea-Delphic Sibyl.
Partial view of the Room of the Sybils frescoed by Pinturicchio and his workshop, 1492-1494 (Borgia Apartments, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City).

Immediately after the completion of this work, or even earlier, Pinturicchio returned to Umbria to await further commissions. In 1495, the pope again called Pinturicchio to Rome for new decorative undertakings: the decoration of the spaces of the tower in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, which involved some other rooms that Alexander VI ordered to be built in the old fortress. These frescoes were completed in 1497. In these rooms in Castel Sant’Angelo, Pinturicchio represented several important events of Alexander VI’s pontificate, but of such paintings today we only have brief descriptions from documents of the time, due to the destruction of the building and consequent loss of these frescoes. The intimacy of Pinturicchio with the Borgia family was also perpetuated in the Madonna of the Museum of Valencia.

Virgen de las Fiebres (Madonna with writing Child and Bishop), oil on wood panel, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1497, 158 x 77,3 cm (Museo de Bellas Artes de València, Spain). The panel was originaly painted for the Chapel of the Virgen of the Fevers (Virgen de las Fiebres) for the Collegiate Church of Xátiva (Valencia).  The beautiful Virgin Mary was depicted seated with baby Jesus besides her and standing, he wears a dalmatic* and a pallium. The small birds at the feet of the Madonna are symbols of the Passion of Christ. Cardinal Francisco Borgia is kneeling to the right.

Around 1494, when the works on the Borgia Apartments were finished or almost finished, Pinturicchio returned to Perugia. There, on 1496, he signed a contract to paint within two years a monumental multi-compartment altarpiece for the main altar of the church of Santa Maria dei Fossi. This work was dismembered during the Napoleonic wars and was rebuilt only until 1863, with the separation of the platform and without its pillars.

Santa Maria dei Fossi Altarpiece, oil on canvas and panel, by Pinturicchio, 1496-1498, 513 × 314 cm (Galleria nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy). Unusually for an altarpiece, it is painted on canvas stretched over wooden panels, rather that on wood panels. It was commissioned for the high altar of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Perugia, also known as Santa Maria dei Fossi. The wooden frame imitates the architecture of the church’s façade. The altarpiece includes seven main panels and two predella panels (not shown in the picture). The central panel shows the Madonna and Child with the infant John the Baptist. The two main flanking panels show Augustine of Hippo (to the left, holding an apple symbolizing original sin and the Passion) and Jerome (to the right, holding a small model in his hand showing Santa Maria degli Angeli as it was planned to look after a rebuilding project which was never completed). Two smaller side panels above Augustine and Jerome form a two-part Annunciation, with Gabriel on the left and Mary on the right. The top central panel shows the dead Christ supported by two angels. At the very top is a tympanum showing the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
Santa Maria dei Fossi Altarpiece (detail of the central panel), oil on canvas and panel, by Pinturicchio, 1496-1498, 513 × 314 cm (Galleria nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, Italy). The central panel shows the Madonna and Child with the infant John the Baptist (not seen in the picture). The Christ Child holds a pomegranate and fruits are scattered around his mother’s feet, all symbolizing the Passion. The reliefs on the Madonna’s throne are inspired by those on ancient Roman sarcophagi, then being rediscovered. In the background there’s an Umbrian landscape.

During a visit to Orvieto in 1496, Pinturicchio painted two figures of the Latin Doctors in the choir of the Duomo, but, like the rest of his work at Orvieto, these figures are almost destroyed. In Umbria, he painted his masterpiece of the Baglioni Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello, completed in 1501. It included Stories of Mary and the infancy of Jesus. From these frescoes we can highlight the Annunciation, taken illusionistically, which also includes the painter’s self-portrait, and the Dispute with the doctors, where Pinturicchio reused the theme of urban space dominated by a majestic building with a central plan, as he had done in the Bufalini chapel, and that was in turn inspired by Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys in the Sistine Chapel. The Pinacoteca Vaticana (the Vatican picture gallery) has the largest panel painting by Pinturicchio, the Coronation of the Virgin, with the apostles and other saints below. In this painting, the artist included several portraits of contemporary figures among the kneeling saints.

Frescoes in the Baglioni Chapel in Spello by Pinturicchio and workshop, completed in 1501 (Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello, Perugia). The paintings were commissioned by the papal protonotary Troilo Baglioni, who served as prior of the church before he was appointed bishop of Perugia in 1501. The fresco decoration consists of three large scenes on the three walls, as well as four enthroned sibyls on the vaulting. The three scenes are the Annunciation (on the left wall), Jesus among the Doctors (on the right wall), and the Adoration of the Shepherds (on the back wall).
The Annunciation, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1501 (Baglioni Chapel, Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello, Perugia).  This Annunciation is dominated by the grandiose view of an arched corridor that opens onto a vast landscape beyond, a set never before seen in any depiction of the Annunciation up to this point. Pinturicchio ingeniously framed the scene of the confrontation between the angel and the Virgin by introducing narrow sections of wall on either side, each with a different structure. On the right the painter’s self-portrait hangs on the wall beneath a tall barred window; on the left there is a closed door with an off-center oculus above. The white dove of the Holy Ghost descends along a diagonal ray of gold beamed down from the heaven of the cloud bank toward the Virgin. Beyond the arched corridor and the garden wall with its elegant balusters allusive to the hortus conclusus, the ample landscape opens. This landscape of hills and tall cliffs is dominated by the view of a city reminiscent of Spello. Just beyond the garden gate is a roadside tavern with an arbor, beneath which a traveler, recognizable as such from his broad-brimmed hat, is being served while a groom leads his mount into the stable.
The Annunciation (detail), fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1501 (Baglioni Chapel, Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello, Perugia). With a touch of ingenuity, Pinturicchio included on the right wall of the Annunciation his own portrait, emblazoned with his name, as a painting within the painting. In the shelf just above it, are books and other objects arranged as a still-life. One of the books lies open. The white cloth draped decoratively along the front of the shelf casts a strong shadow on the wall, as do the candle and the wine carafe. These shadows presuppose some source of light from above and to the left. This Pinturicchio’s self-portrait was patterned after the one by Perugino in the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia.
Christ among the Doctors (or Dispute with the Doctors), fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1501 (Baglioni Chapel, Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello, Perugia). This fresco represents young Jesus disputing with the scribes in the Temple. The disputation takes place on a broad square in front of an imposing centric structure representing the Temple in Jerusalem, which is where the gospel of St. Luke tells us the confrontation took place. The setting is reminiscent of Perugino’s depiction of Christ delivering the keys to Peter in the Sistine Chapel. Christ stands on the central axis of the composition, his books scattered on the pavement in front of him. By contrast, the richly dressed scholars either clutch their books close to their chests or read aloud from them. The crowd around Jesus include some portraits, such as that of Troilo Baglioni (the patron) on the left, wearing the dress of a protonotary apostolic.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1501 (Baglioni Chapel, Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello, Perugia). The Adoration of the Shepherds is represented in an idyllic scenery within a vast landscape and incorporates various secondary motifs. In the middle distance we see the annunciation to the shepherds, as a cluster of angels on a bank of cloud in front of the templelike stable singing the birth of Christ. Of the many figures gathered in the foreground, the three shepherds stand out as being too large, and with their crude, almost grimacing faces they are unlike anything else in Pinturicchio’s repertoire of figures. They were inspired by the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes. The arrival of the Magi procession is depicted on the background to the left. The group of the Madonna with Child re-uses the typology of the Adoration of the Shepherds painted by Pinturicchio in the Presepio Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome (see picture before). The background is rich in detail, including a well-defined city. A peacock sits on the temple stable as a symbol of immortality, and a landscape can be clearly seen behind a window in the building.
Coronation of the Virgin, by Pinturicchio (in collaboration with Giovanni Battista Caporali), ca. 1503-1505, 330 x 200 cm (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome). The Observant Franciscans of Santa Maria della Pietà, la Fratta commissioned this altarpiece. The predella  is lost. The Virgin is crowned in front of a mandorla, flanked by a pair of musical angels; below, contemplating the scene, stand the Apostles and, in front of them, five kneeling Franciscan saints (from left to right): Bernardino of Siena, Bonaventure, Francis, Louis of Toulouse, and Antony of Padua.

In 1502, the Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini Todeschini (later Pope Pius III), bishop of Siena, entrusted Pinturicchio to decorate a space in the Cathedral of Siena, called the Piccolomini Library, destined to receive the library of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Pius II) and perpetuate the memory of his life. The frescoes were painted between 1503 and 1507. Among the many assistants employed by Pinturicchio to execute this work, there was the young Raphael, who participated in the design phase of the frescoes. For this fresco cycle, the walls were divided into ten arches with a common frame of painted architecture, and within them scenes from the life of Pius II were portrayed based on the biography of Giovanni Antonio Campano and the comments written by Enea Silvio himself. In this set of narrative paintings in which the life of the young humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini was explained, Pinturicchio portrayed the whole atmosphere of the Renaissance, with a visual splendor and a luxury of details never achieved again in his work. Additionally, in 1504 Pinturicchio designed one of the mosaic floor panels for the Cathedral of Siena: the Story of Fortuna, or the Hill of Virtue. This was executed by Paolo Mannucci in 1506.

Frescoes in the Piccolomini Library of the Duomo (Cathedral) of Siena, by Pinturicchio, between 1502-1508. The decorative program of this masterpiece concerns incidents in the life of Pius II, the Sienese pope and humanist, an unusually complete program for someone neither a saint nor a ruler. The donor of the library and its furnishings was Francesco Todeschini (1439-1503) who wished to create a monument to his family and a memorial to his mother’s brother Enea Silvio Piccolomini who had served as Pope Pius II from 1458 to 1464. In 1460 Pius II elevated Todeschini to the rank of cardinal and permitted him to assume the Piccolomini name and the family’s coat of arms. The source for the ten episodes from the life of Pius II was Pius II’s autobiography, the famous Commentarii, written between 1462 and 1464. In addition to being the official life story of a pope, it is a fascinating political and historical chronicle. The narratives are illustrated with descriptive clarity, the figures precisely drawn, the un-atmospheric landscape bright and sharply defined. The famous marble group of the Three Graces (a Roman copy of a Greek original) was part of Cardinal Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini collection of antiquities which he later moved to the library in Siena.
Scenes from the life of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, frescoes, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1508 (Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). The ten fresco “compartments” along the walls are separated by painted pilasters with grotesque decoration, while each individual scene is framed by illusionistic jambs and arches decorated with simulated red and white marble paneling. We seem to be looking through the arches of a gigantic loggia into scenes from Enea Silvio’s life. From left to right: Enea Silvio Piccolomini leaves for the Council of Basel (the storm scene in the background is a first in western art), Enea ambassador at the Scottish Court, Enea crowned court poet by emperor Frederick III, Enea makes an act of submission to Pope Eugene IV.
Scenes from the life of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, frescoes, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1508 (Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). From left to right: Enea bishop of Siena, presents emperor Frederick III with his bride-to-be Eleanora of Portugal at the Porta Camollia in Siena, Enea receives the cardinal’s hat in 1456.
Scenes from the life of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, frescoes, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1508 (Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). From left to right: Enea enters the Lateran as pontiff in 1458, Pius II convokes a Diet of Princes at Mantua to proclaim a new crusade in 1459, Pius II canonizes Saint Catherine of Siena in 1461, Pius II arrives in Ancona to launch the crusade.
Ceiling decoration, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1503 (Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). The library vaulting, filled with a wealth of color and figures, is one of the earliest surviving examples of a deliberate and very precise imitation of classical design. The rich decoration consists of grotesque décor, donor coats of arms, dedicatory inscription, and allegorical and mythological scenes.
Scene No. 1: Enea Silvio Piccolomini Leaves for the Council of Basel, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1503 (fresco cycle of the Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). In the first compartment we see the 27 year old Enea Silvio setting out in the entourage of Cardinal Domenico Capranica for the Council of Basel in 1431. Wearing a splendid traveling cloak (see detail below), a fur collar, and a pilgrim’s hat, the young man sits on a white horse, Enea turns sharply to face the spectator. The landscape takes up more than half the pictoric space. A special bonus is included, a tour de force in painting: a storm at sea and a rainbow in the sky. These daring naturalistic inclusions are examples of the originality that Pinturicchio brought to this fresco cycle.

Scene No. 3: Frederick III Crowning Enea Silvio Piccolomini with a Laurel Wreath, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1503 (fresco cycle of the Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). This scene reminds us of the young Enea Silvio’s literary triumphs. In Frankfurt Frederick III had convened his first diet after having been crowned king of Germany. On July 27, 1442 Frederick himself crowned Piccolomini with a laurel wreath, presumably for the request of Enea Silvio. The emperor places the wreath on the poet’s head in front of an especially ornate and theatrical architectural prospect. The many figures on the pink-paved square are clustered in casual groupings.
Scene No. 9: The Canonization of Catherine of Siena by Pope Pius II, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1503 (fresco cycle of the Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy). The ninth scene focuses on the canonization of Catherine of Siena in St. Peter’s on June 29, 1461. It was the high point of Pius II’s spiritual career. The occasion was a triumph for the Sienese, for they could now boast of a local female saint in addition to the popular Bernardino, who had been declared a saint only in 1450. Pinturicchio painted this cycle of frescoes representing Raphael and himself in several of them. In this particular scene, Raphael and Pinturicchio are depicted (see detail below), Raphael in deep red hose and Pinturicchio with a red cap and holding a candle.

Scene No. 5 (detail): Enea Silvio Piccolomini Presents Frederick III to Eleonora of Portugal, fresco, by Pinturicchio, 1502-1503 (fresco cycle of the Piccolomini Library, Cathedral of Siena, Italy).
Enea Silvio was named bishop of Siena in September 1450, and in that new capacity, having arranged the marriage of Frederick III and Eleonora of Portugal, he introduced the two parties to each other in Siena in February 1452, a detail that is highlighted in this detail from the fresco.
Colle della Sapienza (also known as “The Allegory of the Hill of Virtue”), drawing designed by Pinturicchio in 1504, mosaic executed in 1506 by Paolo Mannucci (part of the mosaics of the floor of the Cathedral of Siena). The mosaic panel is the fourth in the nave from the entrance. Up in the middle is the seated figure of the Sapienza (wisdom) represented by a woman who hands a palm (the symbol of victory) to Socrates and a book to the cynical Crates of Thebes, who preached the virtue of poverty and is emptying a basket full of jewels into the sea. In the bottom right corner, a young nude woman (Fortune) balances one foot on a sphere and the other on a boat with a broken mast. In her right hand, she holds a cornucopia of material abundance, while her left hand holds a sail suggesting that she rides with the wind in a tempestuous sea. Following a turbulent journey, Fortune has succeeded in putting several Sages* ashore a rocky island, visible from shore to shore. In the center of the scene these 10 Sages are climbing the narrow and dangerous road to virtue, stepping over snakes and fallen rocks. The moral message behind the scene is quite evident: the road to Wisdom is a difficult one but after overcoming harsh trials, one attains serenity.

During his stay in Siena, Pinturicchio was hired by the royal lord of the city, Pandolfo Petrucci, who wanted to undertake an extraordinary decorative enterprise in his palace in Via de Pellegrini. It was the decoration of the main room, for which he recruited the best artists in the city, and that was completed in 1509. This large room was decorated with eight scenes on the walls and a ceiling with compartments, where mythological themes were inspired by the Golden Vault of the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea. Today the ceiling was reconstructed in the Metropolitan Museum of Siena and the frescoes, also painted by Luca Signorelli and Girolamo Genga, are scattered in several museums. The Return of Odysseus, by Pinturicchio, is part of this series and is now kept in the National Gallery of London. This painting includes mythological scenes interpreted reflecting the political events of the time and the personal history of the sponsors that symbolize the dangerous times Siena endured at the hands of Cesare Borgia, about to conquer it, while Odysseus (Pandolfo Petrucci), returned from exile, anticipated by his son Borghese (Telemachus) to save the day. The perspective is well proportioned, with the foreshortened frame and the large figures that denote the monumentality reached by Pinturicchio in his last artistic stage. Despite the damage to the painted surface, many details are extremely accurate, such as the bow and quiver of Odysseus hanging from the frame of the loom, the jewels and precious clothes, or the living naturalism, such as the maiden and the cat playing with the ball in the foreground.

The Return of Odysseus, fresco transferred to canvas, by Pinturicchio, 1509, 124 x 146 cm (National Gallery, London). The painting represents a scene from the Odyssey placed in an early Renaissance setting. This is one of the few surviving fragments of fresco paintings originally located in the Sienese Palazzo del Magnifico. After many years of wandering, Odysseus learns that for the past three years, his wife Penelope has been harassed by suitors. To avoid marrying again, Penelope devised an ingenious trick: she promised to marry as soon as she finished weaving a burial cloth for Laertes, Odysseus’ father. Every night she begun a cloth, which allowed her time. Pinturicchio depicts here the moment of the arrival of Odysseus, depicted here young as opposed to old as it is told in the Homeric poem. He finds Penelope sitting on her loom, working in the never-ending cloth and with the suitors waiting at the room’s door. Through the big open window we can see the ship of Odysseus with its sails flowing in the air. Pinturicchio again includes some naturalistic details, like the little bird on top of the loom close to the window, and the cat playing with a ball of yarn at the feet of Penelope and her assistant.

Pinturicchio’s last major assignment was in Rome and again for Santa Maria del Popolo. In fact, he was called in to paint the fresco of the choir vault by Julius II himself. The work was completed in 1510. In the center is an octagonal panel of the Coronation of the Virgin, and surrounding it, are medallions of the Four Evangelists. The spaces between them are filled by reclining figures of the Four Sibyls. On each pendentive is a figure of one of the Four Doctors enthroned under a niched canopy. The bands which separate these paintings have elaborate arabesques on a gold background. This vault decoration in Santa Maria del Popolo by Pinturicchio is recognized as the finer example of decorative frescoes in a simple quadripartite vault.

Fresco decoration of the choir vault of Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome), by Pinturicchio, ca. 1509. The octagonal panel at the center represents the Coronation of the Virgin. Surrounding it are grotesque decorations, roundels with the Evangelists and trapezoidal compartments with Sibyls. In the vault’s spandrels are the Doctors of the Church enthroned inside canopied niches (see all these details in the pictures below). This decoration was initially commissioned by Cardinal Sforza, but after his death Pope Julius II continued to sponsor the project.
The Coronation of Mary, fresco, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1509 (Ceiling of the choir vault of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).
Luke the Evangelist, fresco, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1509 (Ceiling of the choir vault of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).
The Persian Sybil, fresco, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1509 (Ceiling of the choir vault of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).
San Augustin of Hippo, fresco, by Pinturicchio, ca. 1509 (Ceiling of the choir vault of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).

The last documented monumental work by Pinturicchio is the Virgin in Glory with Saints Benedict and Gregory the Great, dating from 1510-1512, for the Olivetans of the church of Santa Maria di Barbiano in San Gimignano, currently in the local museum. The panel represents the Virgin enclosed in an almond composed of the heads of angels; in the foreground, kneeling and looking towards the Virgin, we see Saint Benedict and Saint Gregory. Among the last works executed by the painter is the panel of the Road to Calvary, dated 1513, today in the Borromeo collections in Isola Bella (Sicily). This work shows a miniaturistic style and features a parchment painted with the inscription “This is the work of Pinturicchio de Perugia M.CCCCC.XIII”.

The Altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin, by Pinturicchio, between 1510-1512 (Civic Museum, San Gimignano, Italy). The work was originally painted for the monastery of the Olivetian Congregation of Santa Maria Assunta in Barbian. The Altarpiece represents the Virgin Mary in glory seated on clouds and within a golden mandorla. The Madonna is surrounded by angels and rests her feet on two cherubs. San Gimignano is represented in the background, while beside the Virgin (in the foreground) are Saints Gregory the Great and Benedict both in prayer and looking to the Madonna. This painting is one of the last works attributed to Pinturicchio.
The Road to Calvary, panel painting, by Pinturicchio, 1513, 51 x 42,5 cm (Collezione Borromeo, Isola Bella, Sicily).

Vasari, not very lenient in his biography of Pinturicchio, reports a last rumor about the greedy and strange character of the painter, according to which, when he stayed with the friars of San Francisco, in Siena, he insistently asked to transfer to his cell an old chest that broke while being transported and that revealed a treasure of 500 gold ducats, which therefore went to the brothers. This incident, according to Vasari, filled the painter with such acute repentance that it led to his death. The anecdote is not well founded, but it is a testimony to the bitterness of the last years of Pinturicchio’s life: rich, but alone, abandoned by his wife (who left him for other man), and forgotten by his five children. On May 7, 1513, weakened by illness, Pinturicchio issued his last will and spent his last days in the parish of Saints Vicente and Anastasio. He was buried in that church, without honors or commemorations; an inscription in his honor dates from 1830.

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To finish this account of the painters of the early Renaissance we must say that some painters of the Quattrocento were also great miniaturists or book illuminators. Despite the advent of the printing press in 1436 by the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg, the elite, great scholars and erudite men of the time preferred manuscripts enriched with images. Many 15th century bibliophiles were so fond of their illuminated books that claimed they didn’t want to “spoil” their collections by mixing printed books with their original manuscripts. Certain codices from the late 15th century were still produced in large dimensions, with parchment pages measuring more than half a square meter, and filled with figures, coats of arms and arabesques. They are beautiful works, the last productions of a form of art doomed to disappear, but illuminated manuscripts continued to be regarded as treasures until the end of the 15th century. Evidence of the high passion that bibliophile magnates felt for manuscripts is abundant. As examples: the Republic of Lucca tried to win the friendship of the Duke of Milan by sending him two books, and Cosimo de’Medici, in order to ingratiate himself with Alfonso the Magnanimous, gave him an illuminated manuscript of Livy. Upon receiving it, Alfonso leafed through it, not caring at all about the advice given to him by his courtiers, who believed that a poisonous perfume was exuding from it.

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Dalmatic: A long, wide-sleeved tunic, which serves as a liturgical vestment in the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, United Methodist, and some other churches. When used, it is the proper vestment of a deacon at Mass, Holy Communion or other services held in the context of a Eucharistic service.

 

QuadriviumIn liberal arts education, the quadrivium consists of the four subjects or arts (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) taught after the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning ‘four ways’. Together, the trivium and the quadrivium comprised the seven liberal arts (based on thinking skills), as distinguished from the practical arts (such as medicine and architecture). The quadrivium was considered the foundation for the study of philosophy and theology.

Sage: In classical philosophy, a sage is someone who has attained wisdom. The term has also been used interchangeably with a ‘good person’ and a ‘virtuous person’.

Trivium: The trivium is the lower division of the seven liberal arts and comprises grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric were essential to a classical education, as explained in Plato’s dialogues. The word is Latin, meaning “the place where three roads meet”; hence, the subjects of the trivium are the foundation for the quadrivium, the upper division of the medieval education in the liberal arts.

9 thoughts on “PAINTING DURING THE EARLY RENAISSANCE (1400-1495). PAINTERS OUTSIDE TUSCANY. Pinturicchio

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