Umbria Great Renaissance Cycles: Montefalco, Spoleto, Orvieto, Perugia, Spello

Umbria antique art museum
Photo © Roberto Romano

In Umbria it is possible to admire several works of art from fifteenth-sixteenth century Italian painters. At Montefalco, in 1452, the guardian of the Franciscan convent, Brother James called the Florentine artist Benozzo Bozzoli to decorate the apse of the Church of Saint Francis. The subject of the cycle of frescoes is The Life of Saint Francis, illustrated in twelve episodes placed in three overlaying registers and carried out with a style that is rich with the influence of Giotto. In fact, the scene of the “The Driving out of the Devils” from Arezzo and the scene of the Dream of Innocent III appear to be inspired by the frescoes by Giotto in Assisi.

Already a collaborator of Beato Angelico at Orvieto, Benozzo had great success in Umbria. So much so that his presence is documented in many Umbrian towns: Assisi, Foligno, Narni, whose picture gallery houses a beautiful Annunciation, and naturally Montefalco, where he also realised several works for the Monastery of San Fortunato.

The Church of Saint Francis, abandoned by the monks in 1863, is today the seat of the Museo Civico of Montefalco (Civic Museum), articulated into three exhibition spaces: the ex church, whose original aspect has been conferred; the Picture gallery, with paintings and frescoes originating from other areas on the territory; the Crypt, where archaeological finds from various epochs are exhibited.

Umbria Montefalco

Another great Florentine artist Filippo Lippi left his last work in Spoleto. In 1467 the “Opera del Duomo” of Spoleto, following advice by Cosimo dei Medici, entrusted the decoration of the apse of the cathedral to the now aged Filippo. Storie della Vergine (in the drum: Annunciation, Transit of the Virgin and Nativity; in the conch: Coronation of Mary). When Filippo Lippi died in 1469, the amazing cycle of frescoes was not yet finished and his collaborators, among which Brother Diamante and Pier Matteo d’Amelia, finished the nativity scene.

The end of the XV century saw Luca Signorelli from Cortona involved with the decoration of the Chapel of San Brizio in the Duomo of Orvieto, started in the vault by Beato Angelico and Benozzo Bozzoli fifty years earlier. A work of art of all times, the frescoes in Orvieto revolve around the apocalyptic theme of the end of the world, centered on the vast representations of the Sermon of the Antichrist, the End of the World, the Resurrection of the body, the Last Judgment, and Hell. Just as beautiful and as famous is the scene of the Resurrection of the body in which human bodies are rendered with a force and energy that they make you think that Michelangelo had the frescoes by Signorelli in mind, when realizing the Sistine Chapel.

In those years Pietro Perugino, who had returned to Perugia was appointed by the Collegio del Cambio to work on the frescoes in the Sala delle Udienze. This is one of the rooms that made up part of the city’s seat of the powerful corporation of moneychangers and subject, between 1491 and 1500, to a vast decorative intervention.

Spoleto Sala Udienze-frescoes by Perugino  Orvieto-Representation of Hell  Pinturicchio-Spello

In these frescoes The Perugino managed to convert the harmony between classical culture, represented by the Trionfo delle quattro Virtu’ Cardinali (Triumph of the four Cardinal Virtues) and Christian culture expressed in the Allegorie delle tre Virtu’ Teologali (Allegories of the three Theological Virtues) into images, also leaving his self-portrait that he “hung”, as a painting, on the left-hand wall.

Finally, in Spello, in 1501, Bernardino di Betto known as the Pinturicchio was taken on by Troilo Baglioni to decorate the family chapel (also known as Cappella Bella) in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The frescoes on the walls that represent The Annunciation, The Nativity and Christ between the Doctors and, in the vaults, the four Sibyls, are among the happiest works of the Perugian painter.

Courtesy of Umbria 2000