Key to Umbria: Spello

Cappella Bella 

This chapel (the 2nd on the left) is named in honour of its magnificent frescoes (1501) by Pintoricchio (see below).  The date of its construction is unknown, but it was probably built in a programme that included the adjacent chapels and the sacristy, the construction of which was documented in 1478.  It was originally the Cappella del Sacramento, but this function was transferred to the ex-sacristy (the present Cappella del SS Sacramento) in 1875, when the Cappella Bella was closed for restoration.

The fine pavement (1566) is made up of ceramic tiles from Deruta.

Frescoes (1501)


The frescoes on the walls of the chapel were largely ignored by scholars until the 19th century.  An exception was the local historian Fausto Gentile Donnola, who referred to what he called the “Cappella Bella” in his “Historia di Spello” (ca. 1621).  They depict:

  1. the Annunciation;

  2. the Nativity; and

  3. Christ among the doctors. 

The vaults contain figures of four sibyls.

This detail of the Annunciation contains an interesting townscape of Spello.  Portonaccio can be seen to the left in this detail, with the Roman Porta Consolare (whimsically transformed into the Arch of Titus) behind it.

Pintoricchio and his Associates

There has never been any doubt about the painter who was responsible for these frescoes:  a fictive panel on the right in the Virgin's study in the scene of the Annunciation contains a fine self-portrait of Pintoricchio above an inscription that identifies him.  The pilaster to the left bears the date 1501.  These were his last major works before he left Umbria for Siena to work on the Piccolomini Library for the future Pope Pius II.

Four other works that were executed in Spello in ca. 1500 are associated with Pintoricchio and/or the workshop that must have been at his disposal at this time:

  1. the fresco of an angel in the present Cappella del SS Sacramento of Santa Maria Maggiore, which is generally attributed to Pintoricchio himself;

  1. a detached and largely repainted fresco of the Madonna and Child in the Cappella dei Canonici of Santa Maria Maggiore, which is attributed to Giovanni di Pietro, lo Spagna (who was documented in Spello on two separate occasions in 1502); and

  1. two works that are attributed to Andrea d’ Assisi, l’ Ingegno

  2. a fresco of the Madonna and Child with SS Jerome and Bernardino of Siena, which came from the ex-Oratorio di San Bernardino and is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale; and

  1. the over-painting of a panel of the Madonna and Child in the Cappella dei Canonici of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Baglioni Patrons

Fausto Gentile Donnola identified a man in the entourage of the three kings in the Nativity (specifically, the armed man standing to the right of the white horse) as Gian Paolo Baglioni.  This is entirely likely: one of the armed men behind the entourage carries the Baglioni arms.   The two young men on horseback to the back of the entourage, one of whom carries a falcon, may well represent Gian Paolo’s sons, Orazio and Malatesta.
A scholar writing in the 19th century suggested that the person directly responsible for the commission was probably Gian Paolo’s brother, Troilo Baglioni, who was the Prior of Santa Maria Maggiore from September 1499 until March 1501 (when he became Bishop of Perugia), and this is universally accepted.  The prelate standing to the left in the fresco of Christ among the doctors is probably Troilo (before his elevation as Bishop of Perugia), and the man beside him, who holds a money bag that presumably carries the money paid for the frescoes, is probably Pietro di Ercolano Ugolini, who was the treasurer of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1495-1520. 

The frescoes were painted soon after the carnage of the  “Nozze Rosse” (red wedding or wedding of blood) of Astorre Baglioni, which convulsed the Baglioni family in 1500.  The faction to which Gian Paolo and Troilo Baglioni belonged emerged victorious from this inter-family war.   Corrado Fratini (referenced below) argues convincingly that they commissioned these extraordinary frescoes because they wanted to underline their newly-established dominance of Spello.  In contrast, the frescoes that their defeated and murdered enemy, Grifonetto Baglioni had commissioned about a decade earlier in the Cappella del Salvatore, Sant’ Andrea were allowed to descend into ruin.

Read more: 
C. Fratini, “Da Grifonetto a Troilo: due Momenti della Committenza Artistica dei Baglioni”,  in M. Cianini Pierotti (Ed.), “Epigrafi, documenti e ricerche, Studi in memoria di Giovanni Forni” (1996) Perugia

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