Key to Umbria: Perugia

Maestà delle Volte (1567-90)

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The church is named for a fresco known as the Maestà delle Volte (see below), which the Commune commissioned in 1297 for the vaulted street under Palazzo del Podestà.   The illustration to the right, above, is a detail of a fresco (late 15th century) by Benedetto Bonfigli in the Cappella dei Priori (now part of the Galleria Nazionale) that shows this palace before it burned down in 1534.  The arch to the left covered the narrow alley under the palace in which the fresco was painted.

An oratory that was built in ca. 1335 to house the image was replaced by a larger chapel in 1440-75.  A series of documents from 1470 record the desire of the Commune to provide this chapel with a fine facade.  As described below, Agostino di Duccio was probably retained to design or at least to decorate it in ca. 1475.  In 1492, an adjacent house that served as a hospice was incorporated into the fabric of the chapel in order to increase its capacity.   A portico in red and white stone that probably formed part of it survives in situ, at right angles to the facade of the present building.

This shrine was badly damaged in 1534, when Ridolfo Baglioni took Perugia, set fire to the adjacent palace and murdered the papal legate, Cinzio Filonardi.  Payments were made for its restoration in 1538 and in 1557-8.  In 1566, when the church became part of the Episcopal Seminary, Bishop Fulvio della Corgna initiated further renovation.  The Compagnia della Morte met here for a period after its formation in 1570 until 1603, when it moved to its own church, the Chiesa della Morte.

A document of 1584 records that the procurators of the  seminary employed two stonemasons to execute the new facade to a design by Bino Sozi.   (One of these procurators was Bino’s brother Giovanni Paolo Sozi).  The inscription on the facade records that  Bishop Antonio Maria Gallo ornamented it, using funds from the will of Marco Antonio Oradini

The deconsecrated church is now a dress shop, but it still retains its distinctive architecture and some of the original frescoes.  

A ceramic relief (1945) of the venerated image has been inserted into a niche in the wall to the right of the church.

Maestà delle Volte (1297)

The sinopie of part of the venerated fresco survives on the back wall.  It seems that the original depicted the Madonna and Child enthroned with SS Lawrence, Herculanus and Christopher, although the figures of saints no longer survive.  The later repainting of the original image has been removed, leaving only the outline of the Madonna and Child enthroned flanked by praying angels.

As noted above, this image was originally in the narrow alley under Palazzo della Podestà.  The Commune resolved that it should be illuminated at night so that it would deter undesirable behaviour in this dark location.  It was particularly venerated, and new magistrates were required to pay homage to it during their inauguration.

Frescoes (1568)


The frescoes in the cupola are signed by Nicolò Circignani, il Pomarancio and dated by inscription.  The main fields depict scenes from the Book of Genesis, and include this one of the creation of Eve.  The commission was part of the renovation of the church commissioned by Cardinal Fulvio della Corgna.

Art from the Church

Figures from the Facade (ca. 1475)

Surviving contracts record that Agostino di Duccio purchased stone for 14 statues for the Maestà delle Volte in 1475.  These statues, which seem to have been on the facade, were dispersed after a fire destroyed the church in 1534.  They began to be collected together at the end of the 19th century and entered the Galleria Nazionale over the period 1920-63.  The damaged statues have been mounted in Room 19 in an arrangement that seems to reflect their original placing.  The work seems to have comprised:


  2. angels crowning the Virgin in the upper order (a group that includes these fragments of the Virgin and an angel); and

  3. figures of the Apostles below (including these two, which are the only ones to retain their heads).

Read more:

M. G. Bistoni, G. Casagrande and P. Monacchia, “Bino Sozi: Architetto della Maestà delle Volte a Perugia”, Esercizi 1 (1978) 187-96

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