Umbrian Renaissance

The Umbrian Renaissance was one of the fundamental declensions of the Italian Renaissance. The ‘ Renaissance art appeared in Umbria in the first half of the fifteenth century, with the stay of some first-class Florentine artists who left their works. However, it was only from the middle of the century that, through the decisive influence of the Urbino Renaissance, an artistic school was born, first in Perugia and then in other localities, capable of developing a characteristic and independent language. Thanks to artists like Pietro Perugino, Bernardino Pinturicchio and Raffaello Sanzio(Urbino by birth but training Umbrian), the Umbrian style radiated in the most important centers of the peninsula, conquering them. In Florence as in Rome, the Umbrian artists gathered amazing successes, coming to provide one of the fundamental contributions to the definition of the ” Modern Manner ” of the sixteenth century.

External contributions
The region, fragmented into several political entities, had different times of adherence to the Renaissance taste from center to center. In any case, there was often a first phase of passive absorption, generating only an active participation in the news at a later time. Among the first and most significant examples there was the Perugia of the Baglioni, for which already in the thirties they worked Domenico Veneziano and, perhaps, Piero della Francesca (lost cycle of frescoes, 1437 – 1438). A short distance later Domenico di Bartolo (Polyptych of Santa Giuliana, 1438), Beato Angelico (Pala di Perugia), 1438, and frescoes in the vault of the Chapel of San Brizio in Orvieto, 1447) and Benozzo Gozzoli (already in the region with the Angelico, then author of challenging works in Montefalco, until 1452); after the middle of the century there were the stays of Piero della Francesca (Polyptych of Sant’Antonio, about 1460-1470) and Filippo Lippi (Stories of the Virgin in the Cathedral of Spoleto, 1466-1468).

In architecture in Perugia there are important contributions by Agostino di Duccio, the Porta San Pietro and the oratory of San Bernardino, the latter a delicate example of fusion between architecture and sculpture.

The first teachers
Just before the middle of the century there are already some mature and active painters in the region, able to filter some innovative elements in their own style: Giovanni Boccati, Bartolomeo Caporali and Benedetto Bonfigli. The latter created a cycle of frescoes with Stories of St. Ercolano and St. Ludovico in the Chapel of the Priors in Perugia.

In Foligno, having lost its ties with Perugia, the new language appears, always partially, in the middle of the century, in the works of Bartolomeo di Tommaso (also author of the decoration of the Paradisi chapel in San Francesco in Terni), by Nicolò Alunno (Cappella Trinci in Santa Maria in Campis) and the anonymous architect of the Cappella Delle Casse, also in Santa Maria in Campis.

All these masters show a limited adhesion to Renaissance novelties: if on the one hand the figures acquire greater monumentality and verisimilitude, with a more accurate use of illumination and, in the case of narrative episodes, a flowing style, on the other some remain Gothic styles, like the rich adorned with the gold background and an archaic spatiality, with an initially limited use of perspective.

The “Bottega del 1473”
It was probably the determined presence of Piero della Francesca that influenced the first unmistakably Renaissance work, the eight tablets of the Stories of San Bernardino. Created for a niche containing relics or a statue of the saint in the homonymous oratory in Perugia, they were created by a team of artists in 1473, which commonly goes under the name of “Bottega del 1473”. Among them was the young Pietro Perugino, a local artist recently returned from a training period in Florence, in the workshop of Verrocchio.

The common denominator of the group was the prevalence of the airy architectures, tuned to very clear and clear colors derived from the urban school, which organize the space populated by slender, almost secondary figures. The exuberance of the decorations of the architectural parties and the slim and ethereal appearance of some figurines are instead inherited from the local school. It is after all a reduction of the rigorous Pierfrancescan style to more coloquial and captivating ways, which will guarantee to Umbrian painters an extraordinary success.

Perugino was the first to develop that “sweet and sweet” style that had a remarkable fortune in the last decades of the fifteenth century. His religious paintings, with their indefinite characterization of characters and places, in tune with a lyrical and contemplative tone, were particularly appropriate to the practices of interior visualization of the Gospel episodes suggested by the contemporary prayer manuals. Very active in Florence and in Perugia, where he kept a shop at the same time, he was among the protagonists in Rome of the first phase of the decoration of the Sistine Chapel.

His style is characterized by a soft soft light, a chiaroscuro that highlights the roundness of the shapes, soft but delicately shaded colors, absence of drama in the actions, idyllic landscapes and theatrical architecture of the background. These characteristics are fully visible in some works published by his Florentine workshop, such as the Pietà (1483-1493 circa) or the Lamentation over the Dead Christ (1495), where the subject seems to require greater emotional lighting.

His masterpiece is considered the cycle of frescoes in the Hall of Audiences of the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia (1496 – 1500), where he developed the theme of concordance between pagan wisdom and Christian doctrine then very much in vogue. In the six lunettes, placed beneath an extraordinary grotesque ceiling with rounds of the personifications of the Planets, Perugino represented the scenes of the Nativity and the Transfiguration, as well as groups of Prophets and Sibyls and Personifications of Virtueabove heroes and wise men of antiquity. The characters are aligned on the first floor, in balanced and artificial poses, against the background of simplified views.

Pinturicchio, collaborator of Perugino, worked with the master of Città della Pieve at the Sistine Chapel in 1481 and then stayed in Rome after the departure of the other fresco masters. Here, helped by the temporary lack of established masters, he earned prestigious commissions from important figures of the Roman curia, receiving enormous success that led him to become, at the end of the century, a painter for Innocent VIII and Alexander VI.

Pinturicchio and his numerous following of Umbrian artists worked in the Bufalini chapel at Aracoeli (1484-1486), in the Palazzo dei Penitenzieri (Ceiling of the Semides, 1490) and in various chapels in Santa Maria del Popolo (from 1484), where he deployed the its lively ornamental taste and an easy narrative vein, with a progressive search for scenographic effects.

His style, made broad by the sumptuous compositions learned by Perugino and characterized by a super-abundant decoration of old-fashioned gilding motifs, was particularly successful in the eyes of Pope Alexander, born Rodrigo Borgia, probably because he reminded him of exuberance of Catalan art in its homeland. He commissioned the ambitious decorative cycle of the Appartamento Borgia (1492 – 1494).

The culmination of his art was reached in the Stories of Pope Pius II in the Piccolomini Library in Siena (1502-1508), where however the artist used Raphael’s cartoons.

Luca Signorelli
Luca Signorelli, originally from Tuscany, is nevertheless often associated with the Umbrian school for the formation that took place following Perugino, who took his place in the Sistine Chapel after his departure in 1481. His masterpiece after all is in Umbria: the fresco decoration of the Chapel of San Brizio in the Cathedral of Orvieto, started in 1499. The chosen theme is that of the Apocalypse, with excited and expressive scenes, in which there is a direct connection with the disturbances caused by the fall of the political and social situation in the nineties of the fifteenth century and the catastrophic presages on the approach of the middle of the second millennium. In fact, some allusions, such as the Preaching of the Antichrist, recall the recent events related to the fall of Savonarola in Florence (as reiterated by contemporary customs).

In the Resurrection of the flesh the mass of naked bodies that rise again is an energetic exaltation that is a prelude to the epic celebration of the beauty of the human body of Michelangelo.

The young Raffaello
The first activity of Raffaello Sanzio is also linked to the Umbrian centers, originally from Urbino and mentioned for the first time as a “master” in 1500 (about seventeen years old), for an altarpiece destined for Città di Castello. In the same city he painted other tables for various churches, including a Crucifixion (1503) and a Marriage of the Virgin (1504). A few years later he created a Coronation of the Virgin for the Oddi Chapel in San Francesco al Prato in Perugia. In all these works the debts with Perugino are evident, with a resumption of its models and compositional schemes, updated however with a more careful design to the natural datum of expressions and attitudes.

For example, in the aforementioned Crucifixion Gavari the figures are more firmly inserted into the landscape, with a “wedge” arrangement at the foot of the cross, and Christ’s legs have a view adapted for a slight view from the left of the painting, taking into account the natural position of the viewer in the original location. These attentions to optics are certainly linked to the figurative culture of Urbino, which formed the basis of the language of the young artist.

In 1503, on the occasion of probably the trip to Rome to witness the coronation of Julius II, Raphael realized a diptych today dismembered, with the Dream of the Knight and the Three Graces, which repropose the ancient subject of the comparison between virtus and voluptas, reinterpreted in modern key as mutual harmonization, rather than as irremediable diametrical opposition.

In 1504, while the artist is in Siena to help Pinturicchio in the Piccolomini Library, he arrives the echo of the sensation in Florence for the Battle of Anghiari: Raffaello then leaves, preparing for an epoch-making change.

Other masters and diffusion
The extraordinary success of the Umbrian style of the early sixteenth century was the origin of a wide diffusion of what is also called “Stile Perugia 1500”. In addition to the great masters there are some figures whose works are largely lost or largely still to be explored, such as Piermatteo d’Amelia, Tiberio di Diotallevi and Pietro Galeotto, to which are added artists with an uncertain profile like Andrea d’Assisi and Sante of Apollonius.

In Citta di Castello the Lordship of the Vitelli brought to the city artists such as Luca Signorelli, Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo della Gatta, Giovanni da Piamonte (collaborator of Piero della Francesca), etc.

The Umbrian style was then popular in wood carvings, in marquetry, in fabrics in majolica, especially the Majolica Deruta, and pottery made with the technique of luster typical of Gubbio.

Source from Wikipedia