1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pinturicchio

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PINTURICCHIO (1454–1513), Italian painter, whose full name was Bernardino di Betti, the son of a citizen of Perugia, Benedetto or Betto di Blagio, was one of a very important group who inherited the artistic traditions and developed the style of the older Perugian painters, such as Bonfigli and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. According to Vasari he was a pupil of Perugino; and so in one sense no doubt he was, but rather as a paid assistant than as an apprentice. The strong similarity both in design and methods of execution which runs through the works of this later Perugian school is very striking; paintings by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Lo Spagna and Raphael (in his first manner) may often be mistaken one for the other. In most cases, especially in the execution of large frescoes, pupils and assistants had a large share in the work, either in enlarging the master's sketch to the full-sized cartoon, in transferring the cartoon to the wall, or in painting backgrounds, drapery and other accessories. After assisting Perugino in the execution of his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Pinturicchio was employed by various members of the Della Rovere family and others to decorate a whole series of chapels in the church of S. Maria del Popolo in Rome, where he appears to have worked from 1484, or earlier, to 1492 with little interruption. The earliest of these is an altarpiece of the “ Adoration of the Shepherds,” in the first chapel (from the west) on the south, built by Cardinal Domenico della Rovere; a portrait of the cardinal is introduced as the foremost of the kneeling shepherds. In the lunettes under the vault Pinturicchio painted small scenes from the life of St ]erome, The frescoes which he painted in the next chapel, that built by Cardinal Innocenzo Cibo, were destroyed in 1700, when the chapel was rebuilt by Cardinal Alderano Cibo. The third chapel on the south is that of Giov. della Rovere, duke of Sora, nephew of Sixtus IV., and brother of Giuliano, who was afterwards Pope Julius II. This contains a fine altarpiece of the “ Madonna enthroned between Four Saints, ” and on the east side a very nobly composed fresco of the “Assumption of the Virgin.” The vault and its lunettes are richly decorated with small pictures of the life of the Virgin, surrounded by graceful arabesques; and the dado is covered with monochrome paintings of scenes from the lives of saints, medallions with prophets, and very graceful and powerfully drawn female figures in full length in which the influence of Signorelli may be traced. In the fourth chapel Pinturicchio painted the Four Latin Doctors in the lunettes of the vault. Most of these frescoes are considerably injured by damp, but happily have suffered little from restoration; the heads are painted with much minuteness of finish, and the whole of the pictures depend very largely for their effect on the final touchings a setco. The last paintings completed by Pinturicchio in this church were the frescoes on the vault over the retro-choir, a very rich and well-designed piece of decorative work, with main lines arranged to suit their surroundings in a very skilful way In the centre is an octagonal panel of the coronation of the Virgin, and round it medallions of the Four Evangelists-the spaces between them being filled up by reclining figures of the Four Sibyls. On each pendentive is a figure of one of the Four Doctors enthroned under a niched canopy. The bands Which separate these pictures have elaborate arabesques on a gold ground, and the whole is painted with broad and effective touches, very telling when seen (as is necessarily the case) from a considerable distance below. No finer specimen of the decoration of a simple quadripartite vault can anywhere be seen, In 1492 Pinturicchio was summoned to Orvieto, where he painted two Prophets and two of the Doctors in the duomo. In the following year he returned to Rome, and was employed by Pope Alexander VI. (Borgia) to decorate a suite of six rooms in the Vatican, which Alexander had just built. These rooms, called after their founder the Appartamenti Borgia, now form part of the Vatican library, and five of them still retain the fine series of frescoes with which they were so skilfully decorated by Pinturicchio. The upper part of the walls and vaults, not only covered with painting, but further enriched with delicate stucco work in relief, are a masterpiece of decorative design applied according to the truest principles of mural ornament-a much better model for imitation in that respect than the more celebrated Stanze of Raphael immediately over the Borgia rooms. The main subjects are: (1) the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Magi, and the Resurrection; (2) Scenes from the lives of St Catherine, St Antony and other saints, (3) allegorical figures of music, arithmetic and the like; (4) four figures in half length, with rich arabesques; (5) figures of the planets, the occupations of the various months, and other subjects. The sixth room was repainted by Perino del Vaga.[1]

Though not without interruption, Pinturicchio, assisted by his pupils, worked in these rooms from 1492 till 1498, when they were completed. His other chief frescoes in Rome, still existing in avery genuine state, are those in the Cappella Bufalini at the south-west of S Maria in Ara Coeli, probably executed from 1497 to 1500. These are well-designed compositions, noble in conception, and finished with much care and refinement. On the altar wall is a grand painting of St Bernardino of Siena between two other saints, crowned by angels, in the upper part is a figure of Christ in a vesica-glory, surrounded by angel musicians; on the left wall is a la1 ge fresco of the miracles done by the corpse of St Bernardino, very rich in colour, and full of very carefully painted heads, some being portraits of members of the Bufalini family, for whom these frescoes were executed. One group of three females, the central figure with a child at her breast, is of especial beauty, recalling the grace of Raphael's second manner. The composition of the main group round the saint's corpse appears to have been suggested by Giotto's painting of St Francis on his bier in S. Croce at Florence. On the vault are four noble figures of the Evangelists, usually attributed to Luca Signorelli, but certainly, like the rest of the frescoes in this chapel, by the hand of Pinturicchio. On the vault of the sacristy of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, Pinturicchio painted the Almighty surrounded by the Evangelists. During a visit to Orvieto in 1496 Pinturicchio painted two more figures of the Latin Doctors in the choir of the duomo-now, like the rest of his work at Orvieto, almost destroyed. For these he received fifty gold ducats.

Among his panel pictures the following are the most important. An altarpiece for S Maria de' Fossi at Perugia, painted in 1496-1498, now moved to the picture gallery, is a Madonna enthroned among Saints, graceful and sweet in expression, and very minutely painted; the wings of the retable have standing figures of St Augustine and St Jerome; and the predella has paintings in miniature of the Annunciaticn and the Evangelists. Another fine altarpiece, similar in delicacy of detail, and probably painted about the same time, is that in the cathedral of San Severino-the Madonna enthroned looks down towards the kneeling donor. The angels at the sides in beauty of face and expression recall the manner of Lorenzo di Credi or Da Vinci. The Vatican picture gallery has the largest of Pinturicchio's panels-the Coronation of the Virgin, with the apostles and other saints below, Several well-executed portraits occur among the kneeling saints. The Virgin, who kneels at Christ's feet to receive her crown, is a figure of great tenderness and beauty, and the lower group is composed with great skill and grace in arrangement Other important panel paintings by Pinturicchio exist in the cathedral of Spello, in the Siena gallery, at Florence, at Perugia, and in other collections

In 1501 Pinturicchio painted several fine frescoes in S. Maria Maggiore at Spello-all very decorative and full of elaborate architectural accessories One of them, the Annunciation, is signed “Bernardinvs Pintvrichivs Pervsinvs." The most striking of all Pinturicchio’s frescoes, both for brilliance of colour and their wonderful state of preservation, are those in the cathedral library at Siena, a large room built in 1495 by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, afterwards Pius III. In 1502 the cardinal contracted with Pinturicchio to decorate the whole room with arabesques on the vault, and on the walls ten scenes from the life of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pius II., the uncle of Cardinal Francesco.

The contract specially provided that the cartoons, their transference on to the walls, and all the heads, were to be by Pinturicchio’s own hand, thus contradicting Vasari’s assertion that the cartoons were the work of Raphael. The document (provides for the price of these frescoes, namely one thousand gold ducats, to be paid in various instalments. The work was begun early in 1503, but was interrupted for a while by the death of Pius III. His will, however, provided for the completion of the work by his executors, and the whole series were finished in 1507. The subjects are (1) the journey of the young Sylvlus Plccolomini to the Council of Basel, in the suite of Cardinal Capranica; (2) his reception by James I of Scotland as envoy from the Council of Basel; (3) his being crowned with the poet’s laurel by Frederick III; (4) his reception by Pope Eugenius IV as ambassador from Frederick III; (5) outside the wall of Siena he presents to Frederick III. his bride Leonora, infanta of Portugal, (6) he receives the cardinal’s hat from Pope Calixtus III, (7) he is borne in procession after his election as Pope Pius II; (8) he presides at a council at Mantua; (9) he canonizes St Catherine of Siena; (10) he arrives in Ancona to promote the crusade against the Turks. In addition to these there is, outside the library, over the door, the coronation of Pius III. In the lower part of the scene of St Catherine’s canonization he has introduced his own portrait, and standing by him is a youth who bears some resemblance to Raphael.

In 1508 Pinturicchio painted another panel of the Madonna enthroned among saints for the church of the Minori Conventuali at Spello. It is now over the altar in the sacristy. On his return to Siena he painted a whole series of frescoes on the walls of the Palazzo Petrucci, now all destroyed except one scene of the return of Ulysses to Penelope (or possibly Collatinus and Lucretia), which is now in the National Gallery of London, transferred to canvas One of his last works, painted in 1513, the year of his death, is a very beautiful and highly finished panel with Christ bearing His Cross, now in the Palazzo Borromeo in Milan. Pinturicchio married Grania di Niccolò, and had by her to sons and four daughters, there is probably no truth in the story of his being starved by his wife during his last illness.

Pinturicchio’s worth as a painter has been for the most part undervalued, partlv owing to the very strong prejudice and dislike which tinges Vasari’s biography of him. Even Crowe and Cavalcaselle hardly did him justice. A fairer estimate of his position in the history of art is given by Vermiglioli, Memorie di Pinturicchio (Perugia, 1837), and in the valuable notes and appendix of Milanesi’s edition of Vasari, in 493–531 (Florence, 1878). See also Schmarsow, Raphael und Pinturicchio in Siena (Stuttgart, 1880), and Pinturicchio in Rom (Stuttgart, 1882), both well illustrated by photo-lithography.  (J. H. M.) 

  1. See Guattani, Quadri nell' appart. Borgia (Rome, 1820).