Key to Umbria

Cristofano Gherardi was born in Borgo Sansepolcro.  According to the account of his career by Giorgio Vasari, he trained there under Raffaellino del Colle from the age of 16.  He broke off his training to enlist as a soldier in order to defend Florence from the combined papal and imperial attack of 1529-30.   After the fall of Florence in 1530, he changed sides and enlisted under Alessandro Vitelli. 

He remained in Florence for a period, leaving his military duties  to work under Giorgio Vasari, who “conceived an extraordinary affection for him”.   Thus, when Alessandro Vitelli subsequently sent Vasari (together with Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane and Pier Francesco da Viterbo) to repair the walls of Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera (below) in  Città di Castello, “which were threatening to fall down”, Cristofano Gherardi was among the assistants that Vasari took with him.  These assistants completed, to Vasari’s designs:

  1. friezes in “certain apartments”;

  2. “scenes and compartments” in a bathroom; and

  3. frescoes for the “walls of the loggia”.

Cristofano Gherardi was accused of treason after the assassination of Duke Alessandro de’ Medici in 1537.  According to Vasari, Alessandro Vitelli did not help him to avoid exile from Florence at this point, “to the end that Cristofano might be ... forced to serve him in the work of his garden in Città di Castello”.  Cristofano Gherardi seems to have played a leading role in the fresco decoration of the palace for about a year, before he was replaced there by Cola dell’ Amatrice.

Cristofano Gherardi worked on the decoration of  Castello Bufalini at San Giustino (between Città di Castello and Borgo Sansepolcro) on a number of occasions during the period 1538-54.  His work here was often interrupted by calls from Vasari.  Nevertheless, the frescoes in the rooms of this residence are the best surviving testimony of his independent work.

Cristofano Gherardi was able to return to Florence in 1554, when Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici pardoned him.  He began work under Vasari in Palazzo Vecchio, but this work was interrupted by his sudden death.

Città di Castello

Work at Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera

The chronology of Cristofano Gherardi’s work for Alessandro Vitelli on Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera is outlined above.

Frescoes of the Garden Facade (1534-7)

It is generally accepted that Giorgio Vasari provided the initial designs for the monochrome frescoes of this facade (illustrated above) and that they are largely the work of Cristofano Gherardi.  He probably began them during his visit to Città di Castello with Vasari in ca. 1534 and completed them in 1537. 

The frescoes  on the arch over the street to the left must have been executed after 1543, presumably by another artist.  These were largely repainted in 1912.

Frescoes of Room VIII

The frescoes in this room are attributed to Cristofano Gherardi.  The mains scenes of seascapes are set in grotesque frames.

Frescoes of Room XI (later extended to form the Grande Salone)

The frescoes (1537) in the lower and middle registers of the north and east walls of this room, which are dated by inscription, are attributed to Cristofano Gherardi.  These depict landscape scenes in fictive frames, with interesting representations of dogs and other animals below (as in this scene on the east wall).  The original frescoes above them and the frescoes on the other two walls were lost when the room was extended to become the main reception room as part of the second phase of the construction of the palace.

Other Frescoes in Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera


                                    Room II                                                     Room V                                        Room VI

Other frescoes in the palace that are attributed to Cristofano Gherardi  include:

  1. the friezes of Rooms II, V and VI; and

  2. the frescoes in the vaults of the second landing of the main staircase, which include:

  3. figures in the four main areas of the vaults of (respectively) a dragon, a sphinx with a lion’s head, a griffin and a cat, each in an oval field surrounded by grotesques; and

  4. heads in tondi of (respectively) the Emperor Augustus and the Emperor Claudius in two lunettes to the sides.

Frescoes of Palazzo Vitelli a Porta Sant' Egidio (ca. 1545-56)

The frescoes in the loggia of the Palazzina in the garden of Palazzo Vitelli a Porta Sant' Egidio are attributed to Cristofano Gherardi.   He was documented as in the service of Paolo Vitelli in a letter to Giorgio Vasari that was written in Rome in 1545.


Frescoes (1541)

According to Giorgio Vasari, Cristofano Gherardi executed these temporary frescoes on “the portal named for Frate Ranieri”  for the ceremonial entrance of Pope Paul III into the defeated city in September 1541.  The new Papal Governor, Bishop Bernardino Castellario of Casale (who was known as Monsignor della Barba) commissioned the work, which included:

  1. two figures of Jove, one of which was angry and the other pacified, on one side; and

  2. a figure of Atlas supporting the weight of the world on the other.

The allusion to Jove was undoubtedly a reference to the conquering Paul III: similar scenes were depicted in panels attributed to Tommaso [Bernabei, il] Papacello that came from Palazzo Priori.

Frescoes in Rocca Paolina (1543-4)

Giorgio Vasari reports that Lattanzio Pagani began the decoration of the newly built Rocca Paolina.  Cristofano Gherardi “not only assisted ... Lattanzio, but afterwards executed with his own hand the greater part of the best works that are painted in the apartments of that fortress, in which there also worked Raffaellino del Colle  and Adone Doni of Assisi, an able and well-practised painter .... Tommaso [Bernabei, il] Papacello also worked there ...”

This is the only surviving record of the commissioning of the frescoes of Rocca Paolina.  Paul III had built the fortress after his subjugation of the rebellious Perugians in 1540, so it is unsurprising that the team included no Perugian artists: indeed, apart from Dono Doni, all the artists came from outside Umbria.  They were to spearhead the introduction of Mannerist art to the city of Perugino.  Unfortunately, all of their work here was lost when the fortress was demolished in 1860.

Vasari is explicit the work had been commissioned by “Messer Tiberio Crispo, who was governor and castellan at that time”. A number of considerations suggest that the time in question was 1543-4:

  1. Serafino Siepi, who described the surviving and frescoes in his guide of 1822, says that those in the chapel (which he attributed to Dono Doni) were dated by inscription to 1543;

  2. Giorgo Vasari says that he called Cristofano Gherardi from Perugia to Rome in 1543, where he stayed for “many months”;

  3. Raffaellino del Colle is documented in Perugia in June 1544;

  4. Tiberio Crispo became a cardinal in December 1544, after which the title “Messer” would have been inappropriate; and

  5. Giorgio Vasari called Cristofano Gherardi and Raffaellino del Colle (whom he describes as his “friends and pupils”) to Naples in 1545, albeit that Cristofano was too ill to respond.

If this is correct, Vasari’s reference to Tiberio Crispo as “governor and castellan” was either incorrect or perhaps was a reference to Tiberio Crispo’s  position at Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome in 1542-5.  He energetically promoted the decoration of the Roman fortress during his tenure, and might also have had responsibilities at Rocca Paolina before his appointment as Cardinal Legate of Perugia (1545-8). 

Santa Maria del Popolo Altarpiece (1548-9)

Cardinal Tiberio Crispo commissioned this enormous altarpiece from Lattanzio Pagani for the high altar of the new church of Santa Maria del Popolo.  The church was consecrated in 1548 and a document of 1549 records the valuation of its altarpiece by Giovanni Battista Caporali, Domenico Alfani and Pompeo Cocchi.  Lattanzio was required to return to Perugia later in 1549 because the altarpiece, which is made up of ten separate panels, required repair.  It entered the Galleria Nazionale in 1866, when Santa Maria del Popolo was deconsecrated. 

Giorgio Vasari, who provided the above information, adds that Cristofano Gherardi “painted with his own hands all the upper part, which is indeed most beautiful and worthy of great praise”.  There is no documentary evidence of this assertion, but it is supported on stylistic grounds.  (The two artists had already worked together at Rocca Paolina - see above).

  1. In the upper part of the altarpiece, the Madonna is surrounded by angels and seated on a cloud.  She holds the standing baby Jesus and is flanked by SS Herculanus and Laurence. 

  2. Below, the citizens of Perugia are assembled in front of a church in a landscape.  While this church was probably meant to represent Santa Maria del Popolo, it is actually a direct quotation from a fresco (ca. 1525) of a scene from the life of St Catherine of Siena in Silvestro al Quirinale, Rome, which is by Polidoro da Caravaggio and Maturino da Firenze.

Return to Art inCittà di Castello    Perugia.

Return to “Foreign” Painters in Umbria.


Cristofano Gherardi, il Doceno (1508-56) 

Umbria: Home   Cities   History   “Foreign” Painters in Umbria   Hagiography   Contact

Cristofano Gherardi, il Doceno in:  Città di Castello    Perugia