1902 Encyclopedia > Pinturicchio

(full name: Bernardino di Betti)
Italian painter of the Renaissance

PINTURICCHIO (1454-1513), whose full name was BERNARDINO DI BETTI, the son of a citizen of Perugia, Benedetto or Betto di Biagio, was one of a very important group of painters who inherited the artistic traditions and developed the style of the older Perngian painters such as Bonfigli and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. According to Vasari lie 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, of which Perngino was the oldest member, 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 frescos, 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. In this way the spirit and individuality of one man could impress itself indelibly on a numerous school of younger artists.

After assisting Perugino in the execution of his frescos 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 lie 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 Jerome. The frescos which he painted in the next chapel, that built by Card. Innocenzo Cibo, were destroyed in 1700, when the chapel was rebuilt by Card. Alderano Cibo. The third chapel on the south is that of Giov. della Rovere, duke of Sora, nephew of Sixtus 1k"., and brother of Giuliano, who was afterwards Pope Julius 11.

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 frescos 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 secco. The last paintings completed by Pinturicchio in this church were the frescos 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 1192 Pinturicchio was summoned to Orvieto, where lie painted two Prophets and two of the Doctors in the duotno. 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 A ppartanievti Powia, now form part of the Vatican library, and five of them still retain the fine series of frescos 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 frescos in Rome, still existing in a very genuine state, are those in the Cappella 13ufalini at the south-west of St Maria in Ara Cotli, probably executed from 1407 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 large 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 Rufalini family, for whom these frescos 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 frescos 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, a work which still exists in a fair state of preservation and unrestored. 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 St Maria de' Fossi at Perugia, painted in 1496-98, 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 Annunciation 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 Sevcrino - thc 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 C'redi or Da Vinci. The Vatican picture gallery has the largest of Pinturicehio'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 Pint uricchio exist in the cathedral of Spello, in the Siena gallery, at Florence, at Perugia, and in other collections.

In 1501 Pinturicchio painted several fine frescos 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." They are much injured by damp and clumsy restoration. The most striking of all Pinturicchio's frescos, 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 iEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pius II., the uncle of Cardinal Francesco.

The contract, given in full by Milanesi (Vasari, iii, p. 519), is a very interesting one ; it specially provides that the cartoons, their transference on to the walls, and all the heads, were to be by Pinturiceltio's own hand, thus contradicting Vasari's assertion that the cartoons were the work of Raphael. In fact when closely examined the evidence which would give Raphael anoimportant share in the execution of these fine paintings amounts to very little. The document provides for the price of these frescos, 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 I II. 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 Sylvius Piccolomini to the council of Basel, in the suite of Cardinal Capranica ; (2) his reception by James 1. of Scotland as envoy from the council of Basel ; (3) his being crowned with the poet's laurel by Frederick I [I.; (4) his reception by Pope Eugenius IV. as ambassador from Frederick III.; (5) outside the wall of Siena he presents to Frederick Il I. his bride Leonora, infanta of Portugal ; (6) he receives the caidinal's hat from Pope calixtus Ill.; (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.

Though this splendid series of paintings are laid in with true fresco-colours, there is but little fresco Iacono visihle : almost the whole is painted over a scow with colours much mote brilliant in tone than could be used on the wet stucco. This retouching, which was employed by all fresco painters, was used by Pinturicchio more than by most artists. In the lower part of the scene of St Cather. ine's canonization he has introduced his own portrait, and standing by him is a youth who bears some resemblance to Raphael. The paintings are all finished with much care, but Pinturicchio has not kept to the flat and simply decorative treatment of his earlier manner ; there is much more of aerial perspective and distance destroying the apparent solidity of the wall surface.

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 frescos 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. Pinturiechio married Crania di Niccolo, and had by her two sons and four daughters ; there is probably no truth in the story of his being starved by his wife during his last illness.

The frescos in the Cappella Bufalini were engraved in ten plates by Fran. Giangiacomo, and published by the Calcogratia Cameral! of Rome. The Siena library series were engraved by Faucei in the the last century, and more recently by Lasinio. Neither set is remarkable for fidelity or spirit. The Siena frescos and those at Spello have been published in chromolithograph by the Arundel Society of London.

Pinturicchio's worth as a painter has been for the most part undervalued, partly owing to the very strong prejudice and dislike which tinges Vasari's biography of him. Even recent writers, such as Crowe and Caralcaselle, have hardly done him justice. A fairer estimate of his position in the history of art is given by Yermiglioli, Afesssorie di Pintoriechio, Perugia, 1887 ; and in the valuable notes and appendix of Milanesi's edition of Vasari, iii. p. 493-531, Florence, 1878. See also Schmarsow, _Raphael mid, Pinturicchio ile Sicaa, Stuttgart, 1880, and Pinturiechin in Rosa, Stuttgart, 1882, both well illustrated by photolithography. (J. II. M.)

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