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Pintoricchio (ca. 1454–1513)

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Self portrait (1501)

Cappella Bella, Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello

Bernardino di Betto, who was born in Perugia and probably trained there, was known as Pintoricchio because of his small stature.  His early career is undocumented, but he must have been fully-trained by 1481, when he enrolled in the Perugian painters’ guild.   Via Muzzia was renamed Via Pintoricchio in 1871, and a plaque at number 47 (see Walk VI) records the properties that he bought here in the 1480s.

Pintoricchio seems to have begun working for Cardinal Domenico della Rovere in Rome in the late 1470s.  In the following decade, he secured a number of other important commissions for the della Rovere family of  Pope Sixtus IV and for Pope Innocent VIII:

  1. Pintoricchio was influenced at this time by the art of the newly-discovered Domus Aurea, (although the graffiti there referring to “Pintoricchio sodomita” was presumably the work of an enemy rather than of the artist himself).

  2. It was also at this time (probably in 1484-6) that Nicolò di Riccomanno (Manno) Bufalini di Città di Castello, an advocate in the papal courts, commissioned him to fresco the Cappella di San Bernardino in Santa Maria d' Aracoeli.  (Manno commissioned the fresco cycle in thanks to St Bernardino for resolving the conflict between his family and the Baglioni of Perugia.  A panel that Pintoricchio probably also painted for him at about this time is now in the Museo del Duomo, Città di Castello - see below). 

This phase of his career ended with his frescoes (1492) for the Roman palace (now Palazzo Colonna) that belonged to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II).

Pintoricchio continued to work in Rome after the election of Pope Alexander VI in 1492: most importantly, he executed the frescoes (1492-4) of the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican Palace and was documented shortly thereafter as “pictor palatii apostolici” (effectively as court artist).  Jacopo Ripanda da Bologna and  Antonio da Viterbo, il Pastura were among his assistants at this time. 

Tiberio d’ Assisi may well have accompanied Pintoricchio to Rome to work in Santa Maria del Popolo (1485–9) and in the Borgia apartments in the Vatican Palace (ca. 1492–5).

The patronage of Alexander VI and his son, Cesare Borgia, probably secured for Pintoricchio the commission to execute an important altarpiece for Santa Maria dei Fossi, Perugia (see below).  This seems to have been the only major work that he executed in his native city.  He did, however, win prestigious commissions elsewhere in Umbria (as described below):

  1. from Bishop Costantino Eroli, for his chapel in the Duomo of Spello, in ca. 1497; and

  2. from Troilo Baglioni, for his chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello in 1500-1.

Pintoricchio settled in Siena in ca. 1502.  His most important work in the city was the fresco cycle (1503-08) of scenes from the life of Pope Pius II in the Piccolomini Library of the Duomo, which were commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini (later Pope Pius III). 

The altarpiece (1506-10) of the Madonna and Child with saints in Sant’ Andrea, Spello (see below) reproduces part of the text of a letter that Bishop Gentile Baglioni of Orvieto wrote to Pintoricchio in 1508, begging him to return to Siena, where Pandolfo Petrucci awaited him.  Pandolfo, sometimes called the Magnificent, was in effect the Lord of Siena and Pintoricchio was involved in the frescoes (1508-9) in the so-called in the Palazzo del Magnifico there while the Spello commission was underway.

Pintoricchio’s last major commission in Rome came in 1509, when Pope Julius II commissioned him to decorate the newly-rebuilt choir of Santa Maria del Popolo.  He died in Siena in 1513.

Pintoricchio’s Associations with Perugino and Raphael

Giorgio Vasari describes Pintoricchio as a disciple of Perugino, but the two artists were close in age and scholars suggest that they were associates rather than master and pupil.  He says that they worked together in Rome at the time of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84).  This collaboration probably began in the late 1470s:

  1. Sixtus IV commissioned frescoes from Perugino for the Cappella della Concezione of old St Peter’s in 1479.

  2. The work commissioned by Cardinal Domenico della Rovere for his chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, which is generally attributed to Pintoricchio, seems to have been executed at some time between 1478 and 1482.  It includes an altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi that is closely related to the altarpiece (ca. 1470) from Santa Maria dei Servi,Perugia, which is attributed to Perugino.

Pintoricchio might well have collaborated in Perugino’s frescoes ca. 1481-2 in the Sistine Chapel (described in the page on Perugino).

Giorgi Vasari reported that Pintoricchio invited Raphael to Siena, “knowing him to be an excellent draughtsman”, and that Raphael made some of the “drawings and cartoons” for the frescoes in the Piccolomini Library.   Preparatory drawings for these frescoes that are attributed to Raphael include:

  1. [one that is now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence]; and

  2. another that was in Palazzo Baldeschi Cennini, Perugia from 1586 until early in the 20th century, which is now in the Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York

Raphael seems also to have assisted Pintoricchio at this time with the design of the altarpiece (1502-5) of the Coronation of the Virgin for Santa Maria della Pietà, la Fratta (see below).


Miracles of St Bernardino of Siena (1473)

Most scholars believe that the young Pintoricchio belonged to the so-called Workshop of 1473, which produced the important panels depicting miracles of St Bernardino of Siena that are now in the Galleria Nazionale.  (Follow the links in the page on the Workshop of 1473  for more details).

Madonna and Child with angels (1486)

This fresco in the Palazzo dei Priori, which is the earliest documented work by Pintoricchio, was painted in the lunette of the portal  that led to the Priors' dormitory.  It was subsequently moved to the Sala del Consiglio (on the first floor, overlooking Corso Vannucci). 

The fresco depicts a half-length, standing Madonna and Child in a mandorla of putti, with standing angels to the sides,  Pintoricchio must have returned briefly from Rome in order to make his contribution to what was probably largely a workshop production.

Santa Maria dei Fossi Altarpiece (1495-6)

This altarpiece was commissioned for the high altar of Santa Maria degli Angeli (or dei Fossi), the newly-built church of a community of Augustinian Canons.  The history of its commissioning begins in 1479, when the wealthy Melchiorre di Goro, who had close links with the canons, wrote a will in which he provided for such an altarpiece.  He died before 1492, when his heirs commissioned Mattia di Tommaso da Reggio to build the frame (described as a tabernacle) for the altarpiece.  This was in place on the altar and awaiting painting by 1495.

It seems likely that Pintoricchio had been associated with the project for some time, and that he had designed the frame and probably planned the composition.  However, a series of codicils to Melchiorre’s will reduced had reduced the sum of money that was available for the commission, and it was only in February 1495 that sufficient funds were in place to support a formal contract.  This was agreed between the artist and Prior Girolamo di Francesco da Venezia, who specified the iconography of the altarpiece in some detail.  Alfano Alfani administered the funds that were deposited by the canons and paid to Pintoricchio, who was compensated for the rent of a workshop and undertook to complete the work in two years.

This was the most important commission that Pintoricchio ever received in his native Perugia, and it received extraordinary acclaim when it was unveiled.   It was influential with other contemporary artists, including the young Raphael.  It was still in situ in 1732 but had been dismembered by 1784, when its components were in the choir.  The panels escaped the Napoleonic expropriations and were reconstituted in the original frame in 1863.  The altarpiece is now in the Galleria Nazionale.

The canons designed the iconography of the altarpiece in order to tell the story of the incarnation of Christ as a prelude to the redemption of mankind:

  1. Small panels flanking the upper part of the central panel depict the figures of the Annunciation.

  2. The central panel depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned with the young St John the Baptist, who hands a reed Cross to the baby Jesus as a sign of His fate.  Christ holds a pomegranate, the symbol of redemption.  The inscription underneath reads: “O holy child [i.e. St John], give this cross to the Child.  You will not carry it to God on behalf of the world; there will be another”. 

  3. The panel in the top register depicts the Pietà, with angels holding the arms of the dead Christ, revealing His wounded hands.  The inscription below, which may not be original, translates: “Look, O mortal, by what blood you have been redeemed.  Make sure that it has not been shed in vain”.

Two of the doctors of the church are shown in meditation in the main side panels:

  1. The presence of St Jerome was specified in the will of Melchiorre di Goro.  He is dressed as a cardinal, is accompanied by his lion, and carries a model of a centrally-planned church with a portico.  This church, which is repeated in the landscape to the left of the Madonna’s throne, does not seem to represent Santa Maria degli Angeli but might represent the Pantheon, Rome.  

  2. St Augustine, the founder of the order to which the canons of Santa Maria degli Angeli belonged, carries an apple as a symbol of redemption. 

All of this faithfully reflected the terms of the original contract. 

However, the predella panels that were actually painted did not accord with this original contract, which specified:

  1. Pope Alexander VI “in majesty” and four cardinals (one of whom was presumably to have been the young Cardinal Cesare Borgia) at the centre;

  2. two Borgia appointees to posts in Perugia to the sides:

  3. its Apostolic Governor (the future Cardinal Juan Borgia the Younger); and

  4. its bishop, (Bishop Juan Lopez); and

  5. four specified saints in the tondi under the four pilasters:

  6. St Ubald (the patron saint of Gubbio, who had imposed the canonical rule in the cathedral there in the 12th century);

  7. St Bernard (probably St Bernard of Rodez since he was to be dressed as a regular canon);

  8. St Joseph; and

  9. a saint whose name is difficult to read but was apparently St Dignamerita.

In fact, the panels actually painted were:

  1. the baptism of Christ at the centre (which was replaced at some point by a “mediocre copy” that was in turn lost when the polyptych was dismembered in the 18th century);

  2. narrative scenes to the sides that referred to the saints above them:

  3. St Augustine on the left speaks to a child who is trying to pour the sea, cup by cup, into a hole in the sand.  The story goes that, when St Augustine asked her how she could hope to succeed in this immense task, she asked him how he could hope to understand the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.

  4. St Jerome on the right is depicted as a hermit in the desert, contemplating the Crucifixion.

  5. the Evangelists in the tondi under the four pilasters.

It is obvious that the subjects of the main predella panels were originally imposed upon the canons by someone close to Alexander VI.  At least two possible (and not mutually exclusive) candidates arise:

  1. Pintoricchio, who had been commissioned to paint the frescoes of the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican Palace in 1492-4 and was effectively the court artist in Rome (as noted above); and

  2. Alfano Alfani, whom Alexander VI was to appoint as vice-treasurer of the Apostolic Province of Umbria in 1499.

Alexander VI and his young son, then Cardinal Cesare Borgia, must have been duly gratified when they heard about the commission during their 16-day stay in Perugia in June 1495.  However, they apparently departed among the curses of the citizens, presumably because of their own behaviour and that of their considerable entourage.  The  change of plan for the predella could have occurred at this point, or perhaps after the death of Alexander VI in 1503.

Gonfalone di Sant' Agostino (1499)

The Confraternita di Sant’ Agostino commissioned this silk banner from Pintoricchio for the Oratorio di Sant' Agostino.  It later passed into the ownership of Silvestro Friggeri Boldrini, and he donated it to the Accademia di Belle Arte in 1868 and is now in the Galleria Nazionale.

The banner depicts St Augustine enthroned with three kneeling figures of members of the flagellant confraternity.

Città di Castello

Madonna and Child with the young St John the Baptist (ca. 1485)

This panel in the Museo del Duomo was formerly in the Bufalini collection. This implies that Nicolò di Riccomanno (Manno) Bufalini di Città di Castello commissioned it, probably in Rome.   (As mentioned above, he had certainly commissioned Pintoricchio to fresco the Cappella di San Bernardino in Santa Maria d' Aracoeli in Rome in 1484-6).  Nicolò di Manno was at this time an advocate in the papal courts in Rome, and he had commissioned the fresco cycle in thanks to San Bernardino (died 1444) for resolving the conflict between his family and the Baglioni of Perugia.

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”.  

The friars required that the composition should be based on that of the Coronation of the Virgin (1486) that Domenico Ghirlandaio had painted for the high altar of the church of another Observant Franciscan convent, San Girolamo, Narni

A lady called Alessandra di Costantino made a gift to the friars in the following February on behalf of her brother, Francesco, part of which was to be used to finance the altarpiece.  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 of his own brother, Giovanni Battista Caporali.

As noted above, Raphael might well have assisted in the design of the main panel during a stay with Pintoricchio in Siena:

  1. a preparatory drawing for two of the kneeling figures in the foreground, which is now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, is attributed to Raphael;

  2. the positioning of the figures in the lower part of the composition in a semi-circle around St Francis, against a landscape, is related to the composition of Raphael’s Oddi Altarpiece, illustrated here; and

  3. the 2nd Apostle on the left in Pintoricchio’s altarpiece is taken from the figure of St Thomas in Raphael’s.

The payment to Giovanni Battista Caporali suggests his involvement, at least in the later stages.

Pintoricchio’s 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.


Fresco restoration (1492-7) 

Pintoricchio was commissioned to repaint some of the frescoes (1370-84) in the tribune of the Duomo in 1492.   Pressure on him to start work led to a testy letter in that year to the Opera del Duomo from Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II), insisting that they exercise patience until Pintoricchio had completed work in the cardinal’s Roman palace.  The required repainting involved the figures of SS John and Mark and SS Jerome and Ambrose to the sides of the rose window of the right wall, which were the pendants to SS Matthew and Luke and SS Gregory and Augustine on the opposite wall.  Pintoricchio had only completed the two Evangelists by late 1492, when Pope Alexander VI called him to Rome  to begin work on the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican Palace.  Alexander VI wrote to the Opera del Duomo in 1493, asking them to wait for Pintoricchio’s return until the work in the Vatican was finished.  Pintoricchio finally returned to Orvieto in March 1496 to work on the last two frescoes.  He must have subsequently made only sporadic appearances because, when he left Orvieto for the last time a year later, financial guarantees of completion that he had provided were called in.  Only two of the four frescoes (illustrated above) that Pintoricchio and his workshop repainted survive:
  1. St Mark writing his Gospel; and

  2. St Ambrose in his study.


Frescoes of Cappella Bella (ca. 1500)


These magnificent frescoes in the so-called Cappella Bella, Santa Maria Maggiore are signed by Pintoricchio and dated by inscription.  They were probably commissioned by the then prior, Troilo Baglioni, and depict:

  1. the Annunciation;

  2. the Nativity; and

  3. Christ among the doctors. 

The vaults contain figures of four sibyls.

The frescoes seem to be largely autograph, but it is possible that at least two other artists were involved:

  1. Giovanni di Pietro, lo Spagna (who was documented in Spello on two separate occasions in 1502);

  2. and Andrea d’ Assisi, l’ Ingegno.

Works in Spello that are attributed to these artists and date to this period are now in the  Cappella dei Canonici of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Pinacoteca Comunale.

Fresco of an angel (ca. 1500)

This angel is painted above a washbasin in the ex-sacristy of Santa Maria Maggiore.  The inscription reads “LAVAMINI ET MUNDI ESTOTE” (wash yourself and be pure).  It is attributed to Pintoricchio, and was probably painted while he was at work in the Cappella Bella (above).

Madonna and Child with saints (1506-10)

This panel belonged to an altarpiece that the procurators of Sant’ Andrea commissioned from Pintoricchio in 1506 for the high altar.  The artist might have started it soon after, but by 1507 he had moved to Siena.  He therefore subcontracted Eusebio di San Giorgio to continue the project to his design, which he had entrusted to a local artist, Tommaso Corbo

Pintoricchio continued to take responsibility for the commission:

  1. he returned to Spello in 1508 to paint the most important parts of the main panel, albeit that he was soon called back to Siena (see below); and

  2. in 1510, he commissioned Giovanni Francesco Ciambella, il Fantasia to execute the frame to his design and painted a tondo of the Risen Christ that was inserted into it.

The local historian Fausto Gentile Donnola documented the altarpiece on the high altar in ca. 1621.  His description is the only surviving record of its predella, which contained small but exquisite scenes from the Passion of Christ.  The original frame and most of the panels from the predella were lost, probably when the main panel was moved to its current location in the right transept.  The tondo of the Risen Christ mentioned above survived and was incorporated into the pulpit in the 19th century.

The panel in the right transept depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned, with SS Andrew, Francis, Louis of Toulouse and Laurence, set against a landscape.  Angels flank the throne and the young St John the Baptist sits on the steps below it. 

The document on the small table in the foreground reproduces part of the text of a letter that Bishop Gentile Baglioni of Orvieto wrote to Pintoricchio in 1508, begging him to return to Siena, where Pandolfo Petrucci awaited him (see above).


Frescoes of Cappella di San Leonardo (ca. 1497) 

Bishop Costantino Eroli, who built this chapel at the beginning of the right aisle of the Duomo, presumably commissioned its decoration.  The design of the chapel, including the framing of the frescoes on its altar wall, is usually attributed to Ambrogio Barocci

The attribution of the frescoes in the chapel to Pintoricchio was first made in 1848, but it is now generally accepted.  The architectural frieze around the chapel might have been inspired by that designed by Pintoricchio in ca. 1492 for the Borgia apartments in the Vatican.

  1. The fresco in the lunette above the altar depicts God the Father seated on clouds within a mandorla.  Two angels (one badly damaged) kneel to the sides. 

  1. The fresco that occupies the curved wall of the apse and acts as an altarpiece depicts the Madonna and Child are enthroned between two trees (a palm tree and a locust tree) with SS John the Baptist and Leonard to the sides.  The scene is set outside the walls of a city by a lake.  Outside one of the city gates, to the right of the Madonna and Child, a Dominican preaches to a large crowd.  The fresco was restored in 1932 in an effort to repair the damage caused by the humid conditions in the chapel.  Unfortunately, the cloak of the Madonna and that of St John the Baptist, which had been applied “al secco”, were beyond repair.
  2. A damaged fresco of the acts as a fictive frontal to the altar.

  1. There were originally nine monochrome frescoes on the ceiling:
  2. a central tondo with the Eroli arms;

  3. a sibyl at each corner; and

  4. scenes from the life of the Emperor Constantine between them (illustrated here).

Only one sibyl and one scene from the life of the Emperor Constantine survive.


Madonna and Child (late 15th century)

The provenance of this panel is unknown before 1872, when it was documented in the civic collection.  It is now in the Pinacoteca.

The panel has usually been attributed to Pintoricchio, and this attribution has been strengthened following its recent restoration.  It may well have been a model for a similar but more finished image in the National Gallery, London, which is also attributed to Pintoricchio. 

Read more:

V. Garibaldi and F. F. Mancini (Eds), “Pintoricchio” (2008), the catalogue of an exhibition in Perugia

G. Noszlopy and S. May, “Reflections of Patronage, Form, Iconography and Politics in Pintoricchio’s Fossi Altarpiece”, Arte Cristiana 95 (2007) pp 343-60 and 401-10

P. Scarpellini and M. R. Silvestrelli, “Pintoricchio”, (2004) Milan

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