In my last blog I looked at the Pinturicchio frescoes in the Bufalini Chapel and although the artist had painted numerous frescoes in many places of worship, in this blog, I just want to focus on his artistry in the Bagnoli Chapel, part of the Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, in the town of Spello, Perugia and the frescoes executed by him at the start of the sixteenth century during one of last major commissions.
Troilo Baglioni was the prior, later bishop and protonotary of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello, an ancient town and commune of Italy, in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria. He was in charge of the management of the chancellery of that church and the diocese and it was he, who, in 1500, commissioned Pinturicchio to decorate the walls of the Cappella Bella which later became known as the Baglioni Chapel . Pinturicchio and his workers set about the task in the Autumn of 1500 and completed the commission in the Spring of 1501. The paintings, typically for Pinturicchio, were completed in such a short period as he had around him, a well-organized workshop, with other masters painting above his drawings. The finished product ensured his artistic reputation and prominence in Umbria.
The chapel has a quadrangular floor plan with a cross-vault. The entire chapel, all three walls and the ceilings, are covered in frescoes. The frescoes are themed stories about the childhoods of Mary and of Jesus. a pictorial account of the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, and Jesus at the Temple..
On the vaulted ceiling, we see depicted four Sibyls, female prophets, Tiburtina, Eritrea, Europea and Samia, seated on thrones and flanked by cartouches with prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ.
As you enter the chapel, on the left wall, there is Pinturecchio’s fresco of the Annunciation, which is set in a large Renaissance loggia. As we look at it our eyes are drawn through, what is termed, the hortus conclusus (enclosed garden) towards the handsomely and meticulously detailed landscape background. The two main characters in the fresco are Mary and an angel. Mary had been reading a book which was on a tall ornate wooden lectern but has now been distracted by the angel, who kneels before her with a white lily in one hand, symbolising virginal purity. Above them we see God the Father depicted encircled by angels and giving off a ray of light which incorporates the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove (just above the lectern).
Look to the lower right of this fresco. What is strange about this fresco is that if you look closely under the small bookshelf, you will see a portrait. In fact, it is a self-portrait of Pinturicchio, featuring the bejewelled inscription, “BERNARDINVS PICTORICIVS PERVSIN[VS]” referring to Pinturicchio’s birth name of Bernardino di Betto.
The rear wall of the Baglioni Chapel features the fresco depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds. It is a depiction of an idyllic scene within an extensive landscape and includes a number of secondary motifs. In the background, we can see the arrival of the camels of the Magi procession. The setting in the foreground is a grassy area in front of the stable, and a line of shepherds who have come to visit and bring gifts to the mother and the new-born child.
The three shepherds stand out as being over-sized. They have expressive and detailed features, after the fashion of early Netherlandish painting which influenced Pinturicchio. Their facial characteristics are in a way crude, almost scowling and differ greatly from anything else in Pinturicchio’s repertoire of figures. The one exception is the young man on the left with a goat. This is depicted with a more idealized beauty, inspired by ancient reliefs with sacrifice motifs.
Art historians have put down Pinturicchio’s depiction of his “crude scowling” shepherds as being influenced by the figures of the shepherds in the Portinari Altarpiece which was painted by Hugo van der Goes around 1472.
In the left background of the fresco on the rear wall we see a meticulously drawn town at the foot of a mountain. To the right we see a temple-like stable with a window through which we can see a mountainous landscape. On the roof of the stable sits a peacock, a symbol of immortality.
In the sky above the nativity scene we observe a cluster of angels on a bank of clouds. They are celebrating the birth of Jesus in song.
On the right-hand wall as you enter the Baglioni Chapel there is a large fresco pictorially recounting the story of the Dispute with the Doctors. . It is based on an occurrence in the early life of Jesus depicted in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke. Twelve-year-old Jesus had accompanied Mary and Joseph, and a large group of their relatives and friends to Jerusalem on a Passover pilgrimage.. On the day of their return, Jesus hung back in the Temple, but Mary and Joseph thought that he was among their group and she and Joseph headed back home. It was not until a day after they returned that they realised Jesus was missing, so they returned to Jerusalem, finding Jesus three days later among a group of philosophers.
In the background we see the Temple of Jerusalem with its large dome. The scene follows an arrangement which Pinturicchio had already used in his fresco on the wall of the Bufalini Chapel, which itself originated from a Perugino fresco in the Sistine Chapel, Delivery of the Keys. At the centre of the depiction stands the Child Jesus who is debating with and surrounded by two groups of philosophers from the Temple of Jerusalem. His books are scattered on the pavement in front of him. By contrast, the richly dressed scholars either clutch their books close to their chests or read aloud from them. The temple can be seen in the background and is characterized by a large dome. The crowd is formed by standard set of characters which includes young spouses, wise men, toothless women and others, all of whom are witnessing the dispute.
On the left of the crowd, dressed in the dark robes of a protonotary apostolic (a prelate who is a member of a college charged with the registry of important pontifical proceedings). It is a portrait of Troilo Baglioni, who commissioned the frescoes for his chapel
Pinturicchio’s many paintings and frescoes can be seen throughout Italy. Between 1481 and 1482, he worked in Rome, and collaborated with Perugino on the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. From this his career flourished and he worked uninterruptedly in the service of five popes: from Sixth IV to Julius II, passing through Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, and Pius III. He also received commissions from well-to-do and important clients such as the della Rovere family and Pandolfo Petrucci, the lord of the Italian Republic of Siena.. In Siena, among the many works, he created the extraordinary cycle of the Piccolomini Library in the Duomo of Sienna, and completed frescoes in the chapel of San Giovanni Battista.
Bernardino di Betto (Benedetto), the Italian painter known as II Pinturicchio dies in Sienna in 1513 aged 61.
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