Key to Umbria: Perugia

San Domenico Vecchio (1235)

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San Domenico: Main page     San Domenico Vecchio     Santo Stefano del Castellare

Exterior     Interior     Cappella di San Lorenzo    Monument of Benedict XI     

Art from the Complex     Convent


The Dominicans arrived in Perugia in 1234, almost immediately after the canonisation of St Dominic.  The Commune donated a tract of land behind the parish church of Santo Stefano del Castellare in a solemn ceremony at which the podestà, Ramberto de Gisleriis presided and which the bishop and the archpriest of the Duomo attended.  This became the site of the Convento di San Domenico.

The friars soon embarked on the construction of a new church, which was the first to be dedicated to St Dominic (later known as San Domenico Vecchio).  Pope Gregory IX consecrated it in 1235, in a service in which he also canonised St Elizabeth of Hungary.  In 1253, the church witnessed a similar spectacle when Pope Innocent IV canonised St Peter Martyr there.  Pope Clement IV consecrated the church in 1264, immediately after his election at a conclave held in the city.

The Dominican Pope Benedict XI, who arrived in Perugia in 1304 and died soon after, was buried under the pavement of the choir.  A monument to him (below) was built soon after, as part of a campaign for his canonisation.

The church seems to have remained in use even after the completion of the present San Domenico in 1482.  It may have been reserved for the friars' own use: a dormitory was built in its loft with stairs down to the choir, an arrangement that must have been particularly convenient in winter.   This detail from a fresco by Benedetto Bonfigli in the Cappella dei Priori (now the Galleria Nazionale) gives an indication of how it appeared in the late 15th century.

In 1860, when the convent became a barracks, San Domenico Vecchio was used as a dining room.  The dormitory above it now forms the Salone dei Bronzi of the Museo Archeologico.

Remains of San Domenico Vecchio

The red and white marble façade of San Domenico Vecchio had a double portal, clustered pillars and a rose window above.  The lower part of this facade (illustrated here) and its gabled roof (illustrated above) can be seen in the cloister that leads to the Museo Archeologico.

The church had a nave and two aisles, a roof supported by wooden beams and a rectangular apse, with a campanile to the left.  

Art from San Domenico Vecchio

Triptych (ca. 1315)

This triptych, which is attributed to Meo di Guido da Siena, survives in its original frame.  It was probably commissioned for San Domenico Vecchio using donations received following the grant of the indulgence by Benedict XI.  It is now in the Museo Capitolare (Room 15).

Monument to Benedict XI (early 14th century)

As noted above, Benedict XI  died  in Perugia in 1304 and was buried in San Domenico Vecchio.  His monument was moved to San Domenico in 1700, and is described in its own page in this website.

Fresco (14th century)

According to Giorgio Vasari “in the Church of  San Domenico Vecchio, on one wall, [Buonamico Buffalmacco] painted in fresco the scene in which St Catherine, daughter of King Costa, making disputation, is convincing and converting certain philosophers to the faith of Christ; and seeing that this scene is more beautiful than any other that Buonamico ever made, it can be said with truth that in this work he surpassed himself”.  While Vasari’s attribution is not particularly reliable, it seems likely that he had seen this fresco in the place he describes.

Madonna and Child with saints (late 1460s)

According to Giorgio Vasari , “For the Church of San Domenico Vecchio in Perugia, [Filippo Lippi] painted a panel that was afterwards placed on the high altar, containing a Madonna and SS Peter, Paul, Louis and Anthony the Abbot”.  If Vasari's attribution is correct, Lippi probably painted this in the period 1467-9, immediately before his death, while he was also working on the frescoes in the apse of the Duomo, Spoleto.