4 March— 11 June 2023

“Italy’s best Maestro”. Perugino and his day

Curated by Marco Pierini and Veruska Picchiarelli

From 4 March to 11 June 2023, on the occasion of the fifth centennial of his death, the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia will be holding a major exhibition to celebrate Pietro Vannucci (c. 1450-1523), the most important painter active in the last two decades of the fifteenth century.

2023 will go down as the year of Perugino.

“When he decides to work with his own hand, he is Italy’s greatest maestro.” These were the words used in a letter sent from Rome to Siena on 7 November 1500 by the banker Agostino Chigi to introduce Pietro Perugino to his father Mariano, capturing two fundamental aspects of the artist’s production with remarkable analytical skill and brevity: his extraordinary quality and the presence, which in due course became pre-eminent, of the input of his assistants.

That Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci from Castel della Pieve was considered to be the greatest painter alive in the last two decades of the fifteenth century is further proved by a host of other contemporary sources, although his primacy was gradually starting to fade. If we can believe Vasari, the turning point came in 1507, when the altarpiece intended for the high altar of the basilica of the Santissima Annunziata was presented to the public in Florence. Defending himself against the clamorous flop, a perplexed Perugino, by now nearly sixty, declared himself to be powerless to satisfy the change in taste that was now beyond his reach: “I employed the figures that on other occasions earned your praise and your endless appreciation. If you no longer like them now and do not praise them, what can I do?” he is said to have commented.

The numerous works he turned out at the end of his career, certainly with the aid of a very well-oiled workshop, most probably left their not-inconsiderable mark on evaluations of Vannucci’s stature, not only on the part of his contemporaries, but also and above on that of posterity.

The main aim of this exhibition is to recuperate a fair and correct perspective, to retore to Perugino the role assigned to him by his own audience in his own time.

Hence the decision to choose for this exhibition only paintings that Perugino finished before 1505, the year when he had already completed three commissions that were to mark the apex of his career: the Crucifixion from the Chigi chapel in the church of Sant’Agostino in Siena, The Battle between Love and Chastity originally in Mantua and above all The Marriage of the Virgin, originally for the Chapel of the Holy Ring in Perugia Cathedral and now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Caen.

Another point raised by the image of the artist that the critics have bequeathed to us underlies the second key to interpreting this exhibition. This is the tendency to discuss Perugino in relation to other great maestros of his day, describing him as Verrocchio’s pupil, Raphael’s master or Leonardo’s study companion. This realisation provided the stimulus for some more extensive thinking about the role really played by Pietro on his contemporary artistic scene. 

An investigation of both of these lines of research immediately threw light on the need to adopt an approach based on geography, following the movements of the artist and of his works step by step through Italy. This reveals the surprisingly profound marks left by Perugino of his masterful art in all the localities on the peninsula where he worked, from north to south, starting, obviously enough, from Umbria and Tuscany, indisputably the greatest theatres of his activities, as well as homes of his workshops in Perugia and Florence.

The final aim is to revive the eye of his contemporaries, to manage to see Pietro Perugino as they did: as the artist who spent nearly two decades as the unquestioned protagonist of the Renaissance.

The exhibition aims to give as complete an account as possible of the fundamental milestones in Perugino’s career: from his early work in Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop to the major enterprises in Florence that made his name and fortune (such as the three panels previously in the church of San Giusto alle Mura and now in the Uffizi, or the San Domenico Altarpiece in Fiesole) and from his extraordinary portraits to his monumental altarpieces, such as the Galitzin Triptych, now in the National Gallery in Washington, and the Polyptych for the Pavia Charterhouse, most of which is now in the National Gallery in London, but which has now been recomposed on the exceptional occasion of this event.

The catalogue will feature contributions from the leading specialists in the painter, tracing the milestones of Perugino’s career, from his early training to his return to Umbria at the beginning of the sixteenth century, with introductory essays designed to furnish a comprehensive description of the maestro’s times, detailing their history, the prevailing mindsets, places and spaces. Ample space will be reserved for the Directors and curators of the collections to which the works offered on loan belong, so as to highlight the choral character of an undertaking that has come about primarily as a result of an effective collaboration with such major institutions as the Uffizi, the National Gallery of Washington, the National Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.


Opening times: every day from 8.30 to 19.30 (last access 18.30)

The visit to the exhibition is included in the entrance ticket of the Gallery (full € 10; reduced € 2 – 18-25 years; free up to 18 years – for free discounts and category click here)

To organize the visit click here

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