THE beneficial influence of poverty in impelling men to perfect their talents is well illustrated in the life of Pietro Perugino. Escaping from the dire misfortunes of Perugia, and coming to Florence, he endeavoured to make himself a name by his talents. For many months he lived with nothing to sleep in but a chest, while he studied his profession with the utmost ardour, turning night into day. Once this had become a habit, he knew no other pleasure than the continual practice of his art and to be always painting. 1 Moreover, the fear of poverty being continually before his eyes, he did things for gain which he probably would never have looked at but for the necessity of maintaining himself, so that wealth might have prevented that progress which he was compelled to make in order that, even if he did not attain to the highest excellence, he might at least have enough to support himself. Thus he took no heed of cold, hunger, discomfort, toilor shame, to the end that he might one day enjoy ease and rest, his favourite saying being that good weather must needs follow bad, and that houses are built in fair weather so that one may have shelter when the need arises.

But in order that the progress of this artist may be better understood, I will begin at the beginning. According to the public report he was born at Perugia, of a poor man of Castellodal Pieve called Cristofano, and was christened Pietro. Brought up amid misery and want, he was sent by his father to run errands for a painter of Perugia, 2 who, though not very skilful himself, had a great veneration for art and those who excelled therein. He never tired of telling Pietro what gain and honour painting brought to those who did well in it, describing to him the rewards of the ancients and moderns, and advising him to study the art. He succeeded in kindling the boy's imagination so that he aspired, by the help of Fortune, to join the ranks of the painters. He would often ask his master in what state artists were best treated, who invariably replied in the same way, that it was in Florence more than elsewhere that men became perfect in all the arts, but especially in painting, owing to three causes: The spirit of criticism, the air making minds naturally free and not content with mediocrity, but leading them to value works for their beauty and other good qualities rather than for their authors. The second is that whoever wishes to live there must be industrious, quick and ready, constantly employing his intellect and judgment, and then he must know how to make money, Florence not having a rich and fruitful territory, so that prices cannot be so low as where there is abundance. The third, which probably exercises no less influence than the others, is a thirst of glory and honour which the air generates strongly in the men of every profession, so that no man of ability will allow others to equal him, and still less suffer himself to be distanced by other men, fashioned like himself, even though acknowledged to be masters. This desire for their own advancement frequently renders them censorious and ungrateful if they are not naturally amiable and wise. It is true that when a man has learned what is necessary, if he wishes to do more than vegetate like the brutes, and would become rich, he must leave the city and sell his works abroad, spreading the reputation of the city, as learned men do that of their university, for Florence deals with her artists like Time, who, after creating them, casts them off and gradually consumes them. Moved by this advice and the persuasions of many others, Pietro came to Florence with the determination to excel, and succeeded so well that works in his style were very highly valued.

He studied under Andrea Verrocchio, and his first figures were for the nuns outside the Prato gate in S. Martino, now destroyed by the war. In Camaldoli he did a St. Jerome 3 on a wall, then much valued by the Florentines and greatly praised because he had made the saint old, lean and shrivelled, his eyes fixed on a crucifix. He is wasted to a skeleton, as may be seen by a copy in the possession of Bartolommeo Gondi. In a few years Pietro had won such a reputation that not only were Florence and Italy filled with his works, but France, Spain and many other countries. His paintings being so highly valued, the merchants began to traffic in them, and sent them to different countries, with considerable profit to themselves. For the nuns of S. Chiara, Pietro did a dead Christ, on a panel, the colouring being so lovely and novel that artists expected marvelous results from him. These works contain some fine heads of old men, as well as some Maries weeping as they regard the body with unspeakable reverence and love. He also introduced a landscape which was then considered most beautiful, the true method of doing them not having been found at that time. It is said that Francesco del Pugliese was willing to give the nuns three times as much as they had paid Pietro to get him to do another painting for them, and that they would not consent because Pietro said that he did not believe he could equal the first. In the convent of the Jesuits outside the Pinti gate there were many things by Pietro, but the church and convent being now destroyed I will take this opportunity to say a few things about them before proceeding further. This church, designed by Antonio di Giorgio of Settignano, 4 was forty braccia long and twenty broad. Four steps led to a platform six braccia high, upon which was the high altar with many ornaments of carved stone, and over the altar, in a rich frame, a picture of Domenico Ghirlandajo, as has been said. In the middle was a screen across the church, with a door in the middle and an altar on either side, on each being a picture by Pietro Perugino, as I shall relate, and over the door was a fine crucifix by Benedetto da Maiano, between Our Lady and St. John, in relief. Before the platform of the high altar, and attached to the screen, was a singing-gallery of walnut wood, of the Doric order, very well made, and over the principal door of the church was another singing-gallery resting upon a wooden framework. The underside formed a ceiling or soffit handsomely partitioned, while rows of balusters formed a railing for the gallery on the side facing the high altar. The gallery was very convenient for the friars of the convent at night for their hours, for their private devotions, and also for feast days. Over the principal door of the church, which possessed a beautiful stone framework, and had a porch on columns reaching as far as the door of the convent, was a lunette with St. Just the bishop between two angels, by the hand of Gherardo the illuminator, a beautiful work. This was because the church was dedicated to that saint, of whom they have an arm as a relic. At the entrance of the convent was a small cloister of about the same size as the church, that is to say forty braccia by twenty, the surrounding arches with their vaulting resting upon stone columns, forming a very spacious and convenient loggia. In the middle of the courtyard of this cloister, which was paved throughout with squared stones, was a beautiful well with a loggia above, also resting upon stone columns and forming a rich and handsome decoration. This cloister contained the chapter-house of the friars; the side door to the church, and the steps leading to the dormitory and the other apartments and conveniences of the friars. From the cloister to the principal door of the convent was a passage as long as the chapter-house and buttery, corresponding with another larger cloister more beautiful than the first. All this way, namely the 40 braccia of the loggia of the first cloister, the passage and that of the second made an inexpressibly fine and lengthy vista, especially as there was an avenue in the garden in the same direction, 200 braccia long, and thus a remarkably fine view was obtained from the principal door of the convent. In the second cloister there was a refectory 60 braccia long and 18 broad with the necessary apartments, and what the friars call the offices, required by such a convent. Above was a T-shaped dormitory, the right-hand side of which, 60 braccia long, was double, that is to say it had cells on either side with an oratory at the end in a space of 15 braccia. Above the altar here was a picture by Pietro Perugino, and another work in fresco by the same hand over the door. On the same floor above the chapter-house was a large room in which the friars made stained glass windows, with the furnaces and other things necessary for that work.

While Pietro lived he did the cartoons for many of their works, which were consequently excellent. The garden of the convent was the finest, the best kept and best arranged about Florence, with vines surrounding the whole. Moreover the rooms for the customary distilling of scented waters and medicinal things possessed every imaginable convenience. Define, the convent was among the most beautiful arid the best appointed of Florence, and this is why I was anxious to leave a record of it, especially as the majority of the paintings there were by Pietro Perugino. None of those, however, which he did there has been preserved, except the panels, because the remainder were destroyed during the siege, together with the entire structure. The panels were taken to the S. Pier Gattolini gate, where the friars received a house in the church and convent of S. Giovannino. 5 The two pictures on the screen were by Pietro, one representing Christ in the Garden, with the Apostles sleeping. Here Pietro shows how sleep quiets fears and troubles, representing the Apostles as resting very comfortably. In the other he did a Pieta, 6 namely Christ on his Mother's knees, with four figures about, quite equal to his other works. He represented the dead Christ as if stiffened by the cold and the time spent on the cross, and borne with grief and lamentation by John and the Magdalene. In another panel he did a Crucifixion, with the Magdalene and St. John the Baptist, St. Jerome and the Blessed John Colombino, the founder of the order, executed with infinite diligence. These three panels have suffered considerably, having darkened, and cracked where the shadows are. The reason for this is that three coatings of paint are‚superimposed, and when the first coating laid upon the composition is not quite dry, the colours contract in drying and after a time the cracks appear. Pietro could not know this because oil-colouring was then in its infancy. As Pietro's works were much praised by the Florentines, a prior of the same convent of the Jesuits, who was fond of art, employed him to do a Nativity, with the Magi, in the minute style, on a wall of the first cloister. This was executed by him with great loveliness and perfect finish. It contained a great number of different heads and not a few portraits, among them being his master, Andrea Verrocchio. In the same court he did a frieze over the arches of the columns, with very well executed life-size heads. One of these was that of the prior, done with such vigour and life that many of the most skilful artists considered it to be Pietro's best work. In the other cloister, over the door leading into the refectory, he did Pope Boniface 7 confirming the habit of the Blessed John Colombino, introducing the portraits of eight of the friars, and a lovely receding perspective which won much well-deserved praise, because Pietro paid special attention to this branch. Below, in another scene, he began the Nativity of Christ, with angels and shepherds, very freshly coloured and over the door of the oratory he did a Madonna, a St. Jerome and the Blessed John, three half-figures in the tympanum, so finely executed that they were ranked among Pietro's best works on the wall. I have heard it said that the prior was very skilful in making ultramarine blue, and having a great deal he wished Pietro to use it freely, but he was so miserly and mistrustful that he insisted on being present when Pietro used it. Pietro, who was a just man, and never desired what he did not earn, took this want of confidence in very ill part, and resolved to shame the prior. Accordingly he took a basin of water whenever he did draperies or other parts which he intended to paint in blue and white, and kept applying to the prior who, in his miserly way, took the ultramarine from his bag to put in the vessel when it was tempered with water. Then Pietro set to work, and dipped his brush in the basin at every two strokes, so that more remained in the water than was on the work. The prior, on seeing his paint disappear and the work progressing but slowly, kept on exclaiming, "What a quantity of ultramarine this lime consumes!" "You see how it is for yourself," replied Pietro. When the prior had gone, Pietro took the ultramarine which had settled at the bottom of the basin, and when he thought the moment opportune presented it to the prior, saying, "Father, this is yours. Learn to trust honest men who never deceive those who put confidence in them, but who are perfectly able if they choose to deceive suspicious men like you."

Having become famous by these and many other works, Pietro was all but compelled to go to Siena, where he painted a magnificent picture in S. Francesco, and another in S. Agostino, of a Crucifixion and some saints. 8 Shortly after he did a St. Jerome in penitence in the church of S. Gallo at Florence, which is now in S. Jacopo tra' Fossi, where the friars live, near the comer of the Alberti. He was next employed to do a dead Christ, with St. John and the Madonna over the steps of the side door of S. Pier Maggiore, and succeeded so well that it has maintained its original freshness in spite of the wind and rain. Pietro was undoubtedly a skilful colourist both in fresco and in oils. Thus all skilled artists are under obligations to him, because it is to him that they owe their knowledge of lights, as seen in his works. In S. Croce, in the same city, he did a Pieta, with the dead Christ, and two marvellous figures, remarkable not so much for their excellence as for the way in which the colours painted in fresco have remained so fresh and new. 9 He was employed by Bernardino de' Rossi, citizen of Florence, to do a St. Sebastian to be sent to France, the price being fixed at zoo gold crowns, but Bernardino sold it to the King of France for 400 gold ducats. At Vallombrosa he painted a picture for the high altar, 10 and did another for the friars in the Certosa of Pavia. For theCardinal Caraffa he painted an Assumption, with the Apostles about the tomb, at the high altar of the Piscopio; and for Abbot Simone dei Graziani he did a large picture at Borgo S. Sepolcro, painted at Florence, and taken on the shoulders of porters to S. Gilio of the Borgo, at a great cost. For the church of S. Giovanni in Monte, at Bologna, he did a panel with some upright figures, and a Madonna in the air. 11

Pietro's fame being spread abroad throughout Italy, he was, to his great glory, invited to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV. to work in the chapel with other famous artists. 12 Here he did Christ giving the keys to St. Peter, in conjunction with Don Bartolommeo della Gatta, abbot of S. Clemente, Arezzo, and also the Nativity and Baptism of Christ, the birth of Moses, and when he is taken out of the ark by Pharoah's daughter. On the wall where the altar is he did an Assumption of the Madonna, with a portrait of Sixtus kneeling. But these works were destroyed in the time of Pope Paul III. to make the wall for the Last Judgment of the divine Michelagnolo. He did the vaulting in the Borgia tower, in the Pope's palace, with stories of Christ, and some foliage in grisaille, which had an extraordinary reputation for excellence in his day. In S. Marco at Rome he did a story of two martyrs, next to the Sacrament, one of the best works executed by him in that city. In the palace of S. Apostolo he did a loggia and other apartments for Sciarra Colonna, all of which works brought a great deal of money into his hands. Accordingly he decided to stay no longer in Rome, and left in high favour with all the court, returning to his native Perugia. Here he completed a number of easel pictures and frescoes, notably an oil-painting of the Virgin and other saints in the Chapel of the Signori in the palace. 13 At S. Francesco del Monte he painted two chapels in fresco, 14 one of the Magi offering their gifts, the other of some Franciscan friars who went to the Sultan of Babylon and were killed. In the convent of S. Francesco he painted two panels in oils, one being a Resurrection of Christ and the other St. John the Baptist and saints. 15 In the church of the Servites he also did two pictures, one a Transfiguration and the other, next the sacristy, the story of the Magi; but as they are not of Pietro's usual excellence it is considered certain that they are among his earliest works. In S. Lorenzo, the Duomo of that city, the Chapel of the Crucified contains a Madonna, St. John and the other Maries, St. Laurence, St. James anti other saints. At the altar of the Sacrament, which contains the marriage-ring of the Virgin, he painted her marriage. 16 After that he did all the audience-chambers of the Cambio, representing in the divisions of the vaulting the seven planets drawn upon chariots by various animals; according to the ancient custom. On the wall opposite the door of entrance he did the Nativity and Resurrection of Christ, and St. John the Baptist on a panel, in the midst of other saints. On the side walls he painted in his characteristic style Fabius Maximus, Socrates, Numa Pompilius, Fulvius Camillus, Pythagoras, Trajan, L. Sicinius, Leonid as the Spartan, Horatius Cocles, Fabius, Sempronius, Pericles the Athenian, and Cincinnatus. On the other wall are the prophets Isaiah, Moses, Daniel, David, Jeremiah, Solomon and the Ercthrian, Lybian, Tiburtine, Delphic and other sibyls. Under each figure he wrote an appropriate inscription. In the border he introduced a very life-like portrait of himself, with his name thus:

Petrus Perusinus egregius pictor. Perdita si fuerat, pingendo hic retulit artem: Si nunquam; inventa esset hactenus, ipse dedit Anno P. 1500.

This beautiful work won more praise than any which Pietro had executed in Perugia, and is highly valued to-day by the men of that city in memory of their great countryman. In the principal chapel of St. Agostino he did a large isolated panel, in a rich frame, the front representing St. John baptising Christ, 17 and the back, that is the side facing the choir, the Nativity, with the heads of some saints. The predella contains some scenes of small figures, very carefully finished. In the chapel of St. Nicholas, in the same church, he 18 a St. Bernard in a panel, and in the chapter-house a Crucifixion, the Virgin, St. Benedict, St. Bernard and St. John. On the right-hand side of the second chapel in S. Domenico at Fiesole is a Madonna, with three figures, one of which, a St. Sebastian, is most admirable.

Pietro worked so hard, and had always so much to do, that he frequently repeated himself, and his theory of art led him so far that all his figures have the same air. When Michelagnolo arose, Pietro was most anxious to see the figures which were so be lauded by artists. Seeing the greatness of his own name, acquired with so much toil, in danger of eclipse, he tried hard with biting words to mortify those who were at work. For this he richly deserved Michelagnolo's publicly-uttered description of him as a blockhead in art, as well as other rough words from the artists. Pietro, unable to brook such an insult, brought his rival before the Eight, but made a sorry exhibition. Meanwhile the Servite friars at Florence, who wished the picture of their high altar to be by some famous master, had entrusted the work to Filippino, since Lionardo da Vinci had departed for France. But when Filippino had done half of one of the two pictures which were to go there he died, so that the friars entrusted the work to Pietro, in whom they had great confidence. Filippino had finished a Deposition of Christ from the Cross, with Nicodemus handing the body down, while Pietro did the Virgin fainting and other figures. 19 The work being in two pictures, one turned to the choir of the friars and the other towards the body of the church, the Deposition was to face behind the choir and the Assumption in front. But Pietro did so moderately that they altered this arrangement, putting the Deposition in front and the Assumption behind. Both have been removed to make room for the tabernacle of the Sacrament, and have been placed upon other altars, only six sections of the work remaining, containing some saints painted by Pietro, in niches. It is said that when this work was uncovered it was severely criticised by all the new artists, chiefly because Pietro had employed figures of which he had already made use. Even his friends declared that he had not taken pains, but had abandoned the good method of working either from avarice or in order to save time. Pietro answered, I have done the figures which you have formerly praised and which have given you great pleasure. If you are now dissatisfied and do not praise them, how can I help it?" But they attacked him bitterly with sonnets and epigrams. Accordingly, though now old, he left Florence and returned to Perugia, doing some works in fresco in S. Severo, a monastery of the Camaldolite order. 20 Here his young pupil, Raphael of Urbino, had done some figures, as will be related in his Life. Pietro also worked at Montone, La Fratta and in many other places round Perugia, especially at S. Maria degli Angeli at Assisi, where he painted a Christon the Cross and many other figures in fresco on the wall behind the chapel of the Madonna, which communicates with the choir of the friars. In the church of S. Piero, an abbey of the black monks in Perugia, he painted a large picture of the Ascension at the high altar, with the Apostles below looking heavenwards. 21 The predella contains three scenes done with great diligence, namely the Magi, the baptism and resurrection of Christ, the whole work being replete with fine efforts so that it is Pietro's best oil-painting in Perugia. He began a work in fresco of considerable importance at Castello della Pieve, but did not finish it. As he, trusted no one, he was accustomed, in going and coming between the Castello and Perugia, to carry his money with him, but some men lay in wait for him in a pass and robbed him. He begged for his life and obtained it, and afterwards, by means of his numerous friends, he recovered a great part of his money, though his grief at the loss brought him to death's door.

Pietro was not a religious man, and would never believe it, the immortality of the soul, obstinately refusing to listen to all good reasons. He relied entirely upon the good gifts of fortune, and would have gone to any lengths for money. He acquired great wealth, and built and bought houses in Florence. At Perugia and Castello della Pieve he acquired much real property. He took to wife a beautiful girl, and had children by her, and he liked her to wear pretty head-dresses both out of doors and in the house, and is said to have often dressed her himself. Having attained a good old age, Pietro died at the age of seventy-eight at Castellodella Pieve, where he was honourably buried in 1524.Pietro made many masters of his style, but one greatly excelled the others, and having devoted himself entirely to the honourable study of painting, far surpassed his master. This was that wonder, Raphael Sanzio of Urbino, who worked for many years with Pietro, together with Giovanni de' Santi, his father. Pinturicchio, the Perugian painter, was another pupil, and he always retained Pietro's style, as has been said in his Life. Another pupil was Rocco Zoppo, painter of Florence, of whom Filippo Salviati has a very beautiful Madonna, though, indeed it was finished by Pietro. Rocco painted many Madonnas and a number of portraits of which I need not speak, except to say that in the Sistine Chapel at Rome he drew those of Girolamo Riaro and of F. Pietro, cardinal of S. Sisto. Another pupil of Pietro was in Montevarchi, who painted many scenes in S.Giovanni di Valdarno, and notably the story of the miracle of the Virgin's milk. He also left a number of pictures in his native Montevarchi. Gerino da Pistoia also learned of Pietro, and remained some time with him. He is mentioned in the Lifeof Pinturiccllio, and so is Baccio Ubertino of Florence, a diligent colourist and designer, of whom Pietro made great use. There is a pen-and-ink drawing by him in our book, of Christ at the Column, a very charming thing.

Francesco, brother to this Baccio, and also a pupil of Pietro, was called in Bacchiacca, and was a diligent master of small figures, as is shown by many of his works in Florence, especially in the house of Gio. Maria Benintendi and in the house of Pier Francesco Borgherini. II Bacchiacea was fond of making grotesques, and for Duke Cosimo he did a book of studies full of rare animals and plants taken from life, which are considered very beautiful. He also drew the cartoons for many tapestries, afterwards woven in silk by Maestro Giovanni Rosto, a Fleming, for the apartments of the palace of his excellency.

Another pupil of Pietro, Giovanni the Spaniard, called Jo Spagna, 22 coloured better than any of those whom Pietro left behind him. He would have remained in Perugia after Pietro's death had not the envy of the painters there, who hated foreigners, driven him to withdraw to Spoleto, where he won a lady of good blood as his wife by his goodness and ability, and was made a citizen of the place. Here he did many works, as in all the other cities of Umbria, whilst at Assisi he painted the altarpiece in the chapel of St. Catherine in the lower church of S. Francesco 23 for the Spanish cardinal Egidio, and another in S. Damiano. In the little chapel of S. Maria degli Angeli, where St. Francis died, he painted some half-length figures of life-size, namely some of the companions of the saint and other saints, very full of life, surrounding a statue of St. Francis.

But the best of the pupils of Pietro was Andrea Luigi of Assisi, called Lngegno, who in his early youth competed with Raphaelof Urbino himself under Pietro's instruction, the master employing him more and more on all his most important works, such as that in the audience-chamber of the Cambio at Perugia, where there are some beautiful figures by his hand; those which he did at Assisi, and, lastly, those in the Sistine Chapel at Rome. In all these works Andrea promised to far surpass his master.

He undoubtedly would have done so, but Fortune, which seems always to frown upon high beginnings, would not allow him to attain to perfection, for he was overtaken by a disease of the eyes and became totally blind, to the great grief of all who knew him. When Pope Sixtus heard of this lamentable misfortune, he ordained, like a true friend of talent, that his steward should grant him a yearly provision during his life. This was done until Andrea died at the age of eighty-six.

Other pupils of Pietro, Perugians like himself, were Eusebio S. Giorgio, who painted the picture of the Magi in S. Agnostino; Domenico di Paris, 24 who did many works in Perugia and the neighbourhood, followed by Orazio, his brother; Gian. Niccola also, who painted Christ in the Garden in S. Francesco and the picture of All Saints in the chapel of the Baglioni in S. Domenico, while be did scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist in fresco in the Chapel of the Cambio; Bendetto Caporali or Bitti also, many of whose pictures are in his native Perugia, and he also practised architecture, producing many works. He wrote a commentary on Vitruvius, as all may see, since it is printed, and he was followed in these studies by his son Giulio, painter of Perugia. But not one of these numerous pupils ever equalled Pietro for his finish, or the grace of his colouring, or his style, which so pleased his time that many came from France, Spain, Germany and other countries to learn it. 25 As I have said, quite a trade was done with his works before the advent of the style of Michelagnolo, who has shown tile true and good methods of art, and has brought them to the perfection which will be seen in the third part, where I shall treat of the excellence and perfection of the arts, showing that artists who work and study steadily, and not capriciously, or by fits and starts, leave works which bring them fame, wealth and friends.

  • 1 Pietro Vannucci.
  • 2 Probably Bonfigli.
  • 3 Dated 1495; now in the Pitti Gallery.
  • 4 S. Guisto alla Mura; the church was demolished in 1529 when Prince Philibert of Orange was threatening to besiege Florence. The convent was suppressed in 1668.
  • 5 They are now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 6 Accademia, Florence.
  • 7 It should be Urban V., in 1367.
  • 8 Painted in 1506; the S. Francesco picture was destroyed by fire in 1655.
  • 9 Painted in 1500; now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 10 The middle portion, with a Madonna and Child with St. Raphael and Tobias and St. Michael on either side is now in the National Gallery, London.
  • 11 Now in the Pinacoteca, Bologna.
  • 12 1481-2.
  • 13 Painted in 1496; now in the Vatican Gallery.
  • 14 Commissioned in 1502.
  • 15 The Resurrection is in the Vatican Gallery, the St. John in the Pinacoteca, Perugia.
  • 16 i.e. S. Maria Nuova, now in the Pinacoteca, Perugia.
  • 17 In 1505; now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 18 In 1521.
  • 19 Painted in 1495; now at Caen and attributed to Lo Spagna.
  • 20 Now in the Pinacoteca, Perugia.
  • 21 i.e. S. Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi; commissioned 1493, finished l496.
  • 22 Painted 1493; now in the Uffizi.
  • 23 Commssioned 1495.
  • 24 fl. 1500-20.
  • 25 In 1516.

  • Index of Artists