Key to Umbria: Perugia

Giovanni Battista Caporali (ca. 1476-1554)

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Giovanni Battista Caporali was the son of another Perugian artist, Bartolomeo Caporali.  His brother, Camillo was a canon of the Duomo.  He was registered in the Arte dei Pittori in 1497. 

Although Giovanni Battista Caporali was primarily an artist, he was also interested in the humanities.  He is best remembered for his translation into Italian of the first five of the ten books of “Architettura” by the Roman Vitruvius in 1536, first editions of which still circulate. 

It seems likely that Giovanni Battista Caporali trained in his father’s workshop.  However, he seems to have worked under both Perugino and  Pintoricchio in the early 16th century:

  1. In the commentary of his translation of Vitruvius, he referred to Perugino as “among my other tutors” (my translation).  Giorgio Vasari referred to him as a disciple of Perugino, and the Capra Altarpiece (ca. 1505), which came from Perugino’s workshop, seems to have been largely by his hand (see below).

  2. He was documented as an associate of Pintoricchio in the execution of the altarpiece (1502-5) of the Coronation of the Virgin for Santa Maria della Fratta, Umbertide (see below).  Pintoricchio appointed him as his agent in Perugia in 1507.

In a famous passage in his translation of Vitruvius, Giovanni Battista Caporali referred to  a dinner hosted by the architect Bramante in Rome, which he attended and at which the older guests included Perugino, Luca Signorelli, and Pinturicchio.  Pope Julius II had appointed Bramante to oversee all of his artistic undertakings in Rome.  Bramante’s dinner was probably held in the Spring of 1508, when:

  1. Perugino and Signorelli were among the artists who began the decoration of the four rooms on the Vatican (the Vatican Stanze) that Julius II had selected for his new apartments (a project that was transferred to Raphael in 1509); and

  2. Pintoricchio was presumably in Rome in relation to another of the projects of Julius II, the decoration of the vaults of the choir of Santa Maria del Popolo (completed in 1510). 

Scholars have suggested that Giovanni Battista Caporali was still working closely with Pintoricchio, and that his hand can be identified in the frescoes of the vaults of the choir of Santa Maria del Popolo.

The earliest major work that is attributed to the independent Giovanni Battista Caporali is the San Girolamo Altarpiece (ca. 1510) in the high altar of San Girolamo, Perugia (see below), a work in which he seems to have responded to the new age of Raphael.  His interest in music is represented here in the sheet music placed on the step of the throne.  He was commissioned to take over the decoration of the Cappella Vibi in San Pietro, Perugia in 1521: this fresco cycle is badly damaged, but what remains indicates that it was one of the most erudite compositions of its time in the city.

Giovanni Battista Caporali’s interest in architecture seems to have started with his meeting with Bramante in Rome in 1508 and culminated in his translation of Vitruvius, discussed above.  In between, he designed the Palazzone, Cortona for Cardinal Silvio Passerini in ca. 1520.  He also played a central role in the execution of its frescoes in the period 1521‑29, the years in which Passerini acted as papal legate to Perugia and the Duchy of Spoleto. 

According to Giorgio Vasari, Tommaso Bernabei, il Papacello was among those who worked under Giovanni Battista Caporali on the frescoes of the Palazzone.  In 1540, the two men contracted to “correct” a work in Santa Maria Assunta, Cesi by il Papacello, for which payment was still outstanding.  This was probably a fresco (ca. 1538) on the left wall, a fragment of which, depicting the Madonna and Child, was detached in 1922 and moved to its current location, in a room off the sacristy.

A large number of documents survive that relate to works that Giovanni Battista Caporali executed in Perugia in the last twenty five years of his life.  However, only one of these works survives: the fresco (1532) of God the Father and Evangelists on the ceiling of Santa Maria della Luce (see below).

[Among the illuminations of Giovanni Battista Caporali is a signed portrait of Pope Julius III in the Annale Decemvirale of 1553, which is preserved in the Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia.]


San Girolamo Altarpiece (ca. 1510)

This altarpiece, which is attributed to Giovanni Battista Caporali, was recorded on the high altar of San Girolamo in the 17th century.   Agostino Tofanelli, the director of the Musei Capitolini selected it for dispatch to Rome in 1811, probably on the basis of an attribution to Perugino.  It was subsequently decided that it should remain in the church.  It was moved to the back wall of the apse in 1822 and entered the Galleria Nazionale in 1863.

The altarpiece depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned, with two flying angels and the heads of three cherubs above.  The scene is set in a landscape, with SS Francis and John the Baptist to the left and SS Jerome and Antony of Padua to the right.  The structure of the throne and the figure of St John the Baptist derive from Raphael’s Ansidei Altarpiece (1505), which was then in San Fiorenzo, Perugia.

The document on the steps below the throne contains the clearly written lyrics of a popular Marian hymn, together with the accompanying music, set in four parts.

Santa Maria della Misericordia (1520)

This damaged fresco on the facade of Santa Maria della Misericordia is attributed to Giovanni Battista Caporali.

Frescoes of the Cappella Vibi (1521)


Giovanni Battista Caporali was commissioned to execute the (now very damaged) frescoes in the Cappella Vibi, San Pietro.  (He originally executed the frescoes of the adjacent Cappella Ranieri in 1529, but these were subsequently over-painted).

God the Father and Evangelists (1532)

This fresco by Giovanni Battista Caporali, which depicts God the Father and the Evangelists, is on the ceiling of Santa Maria della Luce.  It was beautifully restored in 1978, at which point the date inscribed on one of the scrolls held by angels was revealed.

Frescoes from Palazzo Pontani (1535)

Some 18 that were detached from from the Sala Maggiore of Palazzo Pontani before its demolition in 1836have recently been attributed to Giovanni Battista Caporali.   The three exhibited in the Galleria Nazionale depict:

  1. a view of Borgo San Pietro, with Palazzo Pontani to the right (illustrated here);

  2. a group of students whom Guglielmo Pontani (1478-1555) taught in the law school that he had established in the palace; and

  3. an allegory of time.

The other detached frescoes are in the deposit of the gallery. 

Outside Perugia

The Caporali family had property near Panicale, some 30 km outside Perugia, near Lake Trasimeno.  This probably explains why Giovanni Battista Caporali seems to have worked in the area.  These include the following:

Christ Enthroned with Saints (ca. 1510)

This fresco in San Salvatore, Cereseto, a village near Panicale is attributed to Giovanni Battista Caporali.  It depicts Christ Enthroned with SS Peter and John the Baptist.

Adoration of the Shepherds (1519)

The artists Domenico Alfani and (the aged) Fiorenzo Lorenzo were selected to decide on the value of this altarpiece by Giovanni Battista Caporali in 1519.  It survives on the 3rd altar on the left in San Michele Arcangelo, Panicale:

  1. The main panel, which is illustrated in this website on the church, depicts the Holy family and the shepherds around the baby Jesus, who lies in a field.  St Michael in armour kneels behind the baby, at the centre of the composition.

  2. The panel in the lunette depicts Christ blessing, with angels.

  3. The predella has been lost.

From Perugia

Capra Altarpiece (ca. 1505)

Giorgio Vasari reported that Perugino painted this altarpiece for Benedetto "Calera" in the Cappella di San Nicolò da Tolentino of Sant' Agostino.  In fact, Vasari had misread the name in the (now lost) inscription, which later writers record as “Benedictus di Benedictis cognomine Capra".   There was also a second inscription on the now-lost predella that referred to the donor as “Philippus Capra Benedicti”, the son of the celebrated jurist, and gave the date 1471.  

The most obvious interpretation was that Filippo di Benedetto had commissioned the altarpiece in memory of his father, the jurist Benedetto Capra, who had been granted a chapel in Sant’ Agostino in 1469 and who had died in 1470.  However, this caused scholars some consternation, since the altarpiece is dated on stylistic grounds to ca. 1505.  However, the confusion seems to have been caused by the fact that:

  1. Filippo’s son was also called Benedetto; and

  2. his son (i.e. the jurist’s great grandson) was also called Filippo.

It must have been this second Filippo di Benedetto who commissioned the altarpiece.  Pietro Scarpellini attributed the work largely to Giovanni Battista Caporali (as referenced in the page on this artist), albeit that “Pietro [Perugino] intervened at the last moment to put his imprint on a work that came from his workshop” (my translation). 

The altarpiece remained in its original location until 1653 and was then moved to other locations in the church.  It was removed to the convent in 1794 before the start of the re-modelling of the church.  Napoleon's commissioner, Jacques-Pierre Tinet selected it for confiscation  in 1797:

  1. The main panel, which depicts the Madonna and Child with SS Jerome and Augustine, was sent from Paris to Bordeaux in 1803.  It is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

  2. Two predella panels depicting miracles of St Nicholas of Tolentino, which might have belonged to this altarpiece or alternatively to that of the Coronation of St Nicholas of Tolentino by Raphael, found their way into the collection of Ralph Harman Booth (died 1931).  His widow gave them to the Institute of Arts, Detroit, and they are illustrated in the institute's website.

Città di Castello

Coronation of the Virgin (1502-5)

The Observant Franciscans of Santa Maria della Pietà, la Fratta (now Umbertide, some 20 km south of Città di Castello), commissioned this altarpiece from Pintoricchio in December 1502.  It was to be painted for a frame that already existed on the high altar of their church.  The cost was agreed at 100 scudi, to be paid in three instalments over the four months allowed for the work.  Pintoricchio was also to receive expenses for himself and his “soci e famuli”. Two later documents record the payments for the work:
  1. Pintoricchio received 60 scudi in June, 1503; and 

  2. Camillo Caporali received 40 scudi in October 1505 on behalf of Pintoricchio and Giovanni Battista Caporali.

This latter payment suggests that Giovanni Battista Caporali was involved in the execution of the altarpiece, at least in the later stages.

The altarpiece was sent to France (with an attribution to a follower of Perugino) in 1812.  Its predella  was subsequently lost, but the main panel was returned to Rome, where Pope Pius VII bought it from the friars.  This panel, which is now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana, depicts:

  1. the Coronation of the Virgin in front of a mandorla, flanked by a pair of musical angels; and

  2. below, the Apostles and, in front of them, five kneeling Franciscan saints: SS Bernardino of Siena; Bonaventure; Francis; Louis of Toulouse; and Antony of Padua.


Madonna della Cintola (1522)

This fresco in a niche in the left wall of Sant’ Agostino depicts the Madonna (holding her girdle) and Child with SS James and John the Evangelist.  The inscription records that Gregoria de Malapelle commissioned the chapel (and presumably the fresco) in 1522. 

Pietro Scarpellini (referenced below) attributed the fresco to Giovanni Battista Caporali.  The throne refers directly to that in the San Girolamo Altarpiece (ca. 1510) from San Girolamo, Perugia, which is similarly attributed to him (see above).

Read more: 
P. Scarpellini, “Giovanni Battista Caporali e la Cultura Artistica Perugia nella Prima Meta del Cinquecento”, in:
“Arte e Musica in Umbria tra Cinquecento e Seicento:  Atti del XII Convegno di Studi Umbri”, Gubbio (1981) pp 21-79

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