Perugino ca. 1450–1523 Italian Artist

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ca. 1450–1523
Italian artist

Perugino (Pietro Vannucci) was one of the most sought-after artists of the late 1400s. The first painter to work almost exclusively in oils, he was probably the teacher of the great Raphael.

Born in a small town near Perugia in central Italy, Perugino moved to Florence about 1470. He may have worked under the painters Andrea del Verrocchio and Piero della Francesca. Perugino's early works, which show the influence of these artists, display an abundance of detail, bright colors, and a sense of harmony and openness.

In about 1480 Perugino began his best-known work, Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, in the Sistine Chapel in Rome for Pope Sixtus IV. For the next 25 years, Perugino was the most popular artist in central and northern Italy. He worked for prominent patrons* such as Lorenzo de' Medici, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later Pope Julius II), and Isabella d'Este. In the Portrait of Francesco delle Opere (1494), the artist achieved a perfect balance between the figure of the subject and the background. A few years later, his frescoes* in the Audience Chamber of the Guild of the Exchange in Perugia (1496–1500) combined images from pagan* and Christian traditions and impressed even the most severe critics.

Perugino's success came to an abrupt halt in the early 1500s. First, a major project completed in 1505 displeased Isabella d'Este, who had commissioned it. Then Pope Julius II dismissed Perugino and hired Raphael to paint the ceiling of the Vatican apartments. Perugino continued to paint, but demand for his work declined. Yet, the delicate figures and pastel colors of his later paintings helped pave the way for the artistic movement known as Mannerism*.

(See alsoArt; Art in Italy. )

see color plate 7, vol. 3

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

* pagan

referring to ancient religions that worshiped many gods, or more generally, to any non-Christian religion

* Mannerism

artistic style of the 1500s characterized by vivid colors and exaggeration, such as elongated figures in complex poses