Key to Umbria: Perugia

Oratorio di San Domenico (16th century)

Umbria:  Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact

Perugia:  Home    History   Art    Saints    Walks    Monuments    Museums

The Oratorio di San Domenico, which belonged to the Confraternita di San Domenico, is in the main cloister of the Convento di San Domenico, at right angles and to the left of the façade of San Domenico Vecchio.  (The clustered columns in the photograph and the wall behind them belonged to the church).  The confraternity built the nearby Ospedale dei Pellegrini in 1333.

The Confraternita di San Domenico (first documented in 1318) had close links throughout its history with the Confraternita di Sant’ Agostino (founded in 1317) and the Confraternita di San Francesco (first documented in 1320).  The city statute of 1320 relating to the procession on the feast of St Herculanus listed all three among the confraternities taking part.   Like other confraternities in the city, all three were engaged in charitable activities, which included the care of the sick, the support of the poor, and the assistance of pilgrims, and they also took part in the civic and religious processions held in the city.

Although the three confraternities were closely associated, each had its own administrative structure and its own oratory.  They adopted a common constitution from at least 1472, and this was reformed on a number of occasions from 1520 until 1824.  The constitution of 1472 is entitled: “Liber Fraternitatis Domini Nostri Yhesu Christi generalis videlicet Sancti Agostini Sancti Francisci & Sancti Dominici” (Book of the Fraternity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, generally known as SS Agostino, Francesco e Domenico).  The preamble to the reformed version of 1824 explains that the three confraternities had been among the numerous associations known as Disciplinati di Gesù Cristo that had been inspired by Raniero Fasani in ca. 1260.  

The three confraternities consistently opposed episcopal interference in their affairs, and secured the explicit confirmation of their independence from Pope Urban VIII in 1632.  They were suppressed during the French occupation (in 1799-1800 and in 1809-14) but continued to play a prominent role in the city thereafter.  For example, they distributed funds to the patriots who suffered in the papal invasion of Perugia on 20th June 1859.  The three confraternities were united as the Sodalizio Braccio Fortebraccio. in 1904.

The Oratorio di San Domenico comprised a great vaulted room that was richly frescoed and a sacristy that was added in 1599.  The main room was divided into two in 1780.  It was used as a stable when the convent was adapted for use as a barracks in 1863, at which point its choir stalls (1571-81) were moved to the Convento di Monteripido.  It now forms part of the Museo Archeologico.

Art from the Oratory

Madonna della Pergolata (1446-7)

This important altarpiece is the earliest surviving work signed by Giovanni Boccati and one of the first altarpieces in Umbria with an undivided central field.   The Confraternita di San Domenico bought the altarpiece at a very high price in 1446: their archives record  that “Messer Angiolo”, who had originally commissioned it, no longer wanted it.  They paid for minor additions to the work (see below) in 1497, the date given in the inscription on the base of the throne.

Francesco Mancini (see below) has suggested that “Messer Angiolo” was, in fact, Angelo Geraldini di Amelia, who studied law at the Studium and then became its first non-Perugian Professor of Law (1444-6).  During this period, he also acted as rector of  the Collegio di San Gregorio (Sapienza Vecchia) and of  the Collegio di San Girolamo (Sapienza Nuova).  SS Gregory and Jerome feature in the altarpiece, and it might have been intended for one of the college chapels.  (Another altarpiece of similar format, which was commissioned for the Sapienza Nuova in 1456 from Benozzo Gozzoli, is now also in the gallery).  

The confraternity bought the altarpiece after its rejection by Messer Angiolo and adapted for use in the Oratorio di San Domenico.  It subsequently suffered serious damage and Giannicola di Paolo was commissioned to restore it in 1519.  It was dismembered in 1780 and passed to the Galleria Nazionale in 1863, when the oratory and adjoining Convento di San Domenico were converted for use as a barracks.

The main panel depicts the Madonna and Child with the Doctors of the Church (SS Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory) and a choir of angels under a flowery pergola.  In the foreground, SS Dominic and Francis commend four of the brothers: it seems likely that earlier figures were replaced by representations of the penitent members of the confraternity when they took over the commission from Messer Angiolo.  (St Francis would still have been appropriate because the confraternity was closely associated with the Confraternita di San Francesco). 

The predella panels depict:

  1. St Thomas Aquinas;

  2. three fine scenes from the Passion (the capture of Christ; the road to Calvary; and the Crucifixion); and

  3. St Peter Martyr. 

It is likely that the two Dominican saints in the predella were also added after the change of commissioner.

Crucifixion (1501?)

This fresco was detached from the wall behind the altar of the oratory in the 18th century.  It entered the Galleria Nazionale in 1878 and was transferred on to canvas in 1947.  It depicts the monumental body of Christ on the Cross, and is  set in a landscape.

The fresco has traditionally been associated with the work that was the subject of a payment by the Confraternita di San Domenico to Giannicola di Paolo in 1501.  However, this attribution remains a matter for debate.  For example, the work has also been attributed to Pompeo Cocchi.  The date has also been called into question, not least because the landscape seems to be based on that in the Adoration of the Magi (1504) by Perugino in the Oratorio di Santa Maria dei Bianchi, Città della Pieve.

Read more:

G. Casagrande, “Penitenti e Disciplinati a Perugia e loro Rapporti con gli Ordini Mendicanti”, Mélanges de l' Ecole Francaise de Rome", 89 (1977) 431-44

Two relevant articles appear in:

Il Movimento dei Disciplinati nel Settimo Centenario dal suo Inizio: Atti del Convegno Internazionale”, (1962) Perugia:

  1. E. Ardu, “Documenti Attinenti alle Confraternite Perugine dei Disciplinati”, pp 519-55 

  2. R. Gûeze, “Le Confraternite di S. Agostino, S. Francesco e S. Domenico di Perugia”, pp 597-623 

See also: Other Oratories in Perugia.

Return to Monuments of Perugia.

Return to Walk IV.