To enter the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria is to leave room for surprise.
Here, we listen to the voice of time, valuing the continuity between the artistic heritage handed over to us throughout the centuries, and the present times we inhabit.
The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria houses one of the richest art collections in Italy and is, at the same time, a treasure chest of memories for the city of Perugia.
The works become milestones on a journey from the 13th to the 19th century, an unforgettable trip through the artistic and cultural history of Umbria and Italy.
The artworks are exhibited on the upper floors of Perugia’s Palazzo dei Priori, seat of the City Council since the Middle Ages and the only Italian public building to house a large national museum.
3500 square metres of exhibition space over 40 rooms, a tower and a chapel, for an 800-year-long journey through the history of Italian art.
The works of the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria have a fascinating history behind them, stretching from their first opening to the public in 1863, their subsequent transformation into a state museum in 1918 to their appointment as an autonomous museum institution in 2015.
The first nucleus of this extraordinary collection is connected to the presence in the city of an Academy of Fine Arts: one of the oldest in Italy, founded in 1573 under the name Accademia del Disegno. During the Napoleonic era, works from suppressed religious congregations were brought here.
Among the works housed in the former Olivetan monastery of Montemorcino Nuovo, where the Academy had been based since 1813, were the polyptych by Piero della Francesca, the Guidalotti altarpiece by Beato Angelico and the Santa Maria de’ Fossi altarpiece by Pintoricchio.
All works were destined (and reserved!) for the study of the young artists who were trained here in the ‘fine arts’.
The birth of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 and the consequent requisition of the ecclesiastical patrimony increased the inventory of the picture gallery, which was enriched with many new works also from the Umbrian provinces. With the Royal Decree of 21 April 1862, this patrimony became part of the state property assigned by the new Italian State to the juridical and managerial competence of the Municipality of Perugia.
These were mostly works that, until then, had played a devotional role in churches and convents. From that moment on, it was necessary to give them a new role, in line with the new civic identity of the Umbrian community.
The municipality thus accelerated the setting up of a newly established public museum in what had been the sacristy and church of the Montemorcino convent.
The gallery, which at that time housed 449 works, opened its doors to the public in June 1863 and was named after one of the city’s greatest artistic glories: Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino.
The Civica Pinacoteca Vannucci was born.
In the years that followed, the collection expanded thanks to the art objects that continued to arrive from the city’s churches and monasteries but also from private donations; the influx of new works was such that the spaces were no longer sufficient and a more harmonious display of the collection became necessary.
In 1879, under the leadership of Francesco Moretti, appointed by the city council as the museum’s first director, the Vannucci Art Gallery was moved to larger premises and set up with new and more careful criteria on the third floor of Palazzo dei Priori.
A new era opened for the museum, which was also renewed in its organisation and management. The considerable increase in visits, for example, leads to the introduction of a 1 lira entrance fee, except for the citizens of Perugia who can enter free of charge on the first and third Sundays of the month.
The permanent exhibition continues to be enriched and this increases the popularity of the Vannucci Art Gallery even outside the provincial borders. Its contribution to the enhancement of the national artistic heritage gave it another important recognition in 1918: the transfer of management to the State, which converted the Vannucci Art Gallery into the Royal Vannucci Gallery.
Since then, the Gallery has never interrupted its work of research and care for the collection. Today, thanks to the more than 70 people who work there and the relationships established both nationally and internationally, the museum acts as a ‘cultural antenna’: it intercepts and disseminates the voices of art and culture, as required by the role of autonomous museum institute assigned to it since 2015 by the Ministry of Culture.
The collection of the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria houses more than 3,000 works including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles and goldsmith’s art: more than 500 of these can be admired, while the others are kept in storage. The display is spread over two floors, like a thread embroidering a visual journey through of eight centuries of Italian history and culture.
The journey at the GNU begins in the 13th and 14th centuries, between the magnificence of Benedetto Bonfigli’s frescoes in the Priori Chapel and Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Madonna and Child. It continues with the late Gothic style from Perugia by Gentile da Fabriano and moves on to the masterpieces of Renaissance exponents such as Beato Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano and Piero della Francesca.
And it is precisely in Room 13 that we find the iconic masterpiece of the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria: the polyptych of St. Anthony by Piero della Francesca.
The halls and loggias of the Gallery tell the stories of spaces that have forged Perugia’s reputation as one of the landmark cities of the Italian artistic heritage.
Examples of this are the enchanting monographic rooms dedicated to Pinturicchio and the master Perugino, of whom the Gallery houses the richest and most complete collection in the world.
The Raphael Room, on the other hand, celebrates the legacy of the great Umbrian master with copies and works by artists inspired by his art.
It is an itinerary to be admired while gazing upwards, as in the Sala Farnesiana decorated with frescoes of the Stories of personalities from the Farnese family.
The spacious and comfortable seating and multimedia tools you will find in the rooms will allow you to discover all the details that could otherwise easily be missed when walking in haste through this space.
The last part of the museum displays the best of art in Umbria between the 17th and 20th centuries: artists such as Orazio Gentileschi, Valentin de Boulogne, Pietro da Cortona, Sassoferrato, Francesco Trevisani, Gerardo Dottori, Piero Dorazio and Alberto Burri, among others, speak here.
The Gallery also houses a restoration workshop, a library specialising in art history with over 25,000 volumes, open to scholars and students, a conference room and the frescoed Sala Podiani, the main venye for where temporary exhibitions, concerts and performances. Accessible spaces designed to welcome people who are curious, diverse and with art in their hearts.