Perugino (ca. 1450-1523) was a leading central Italian painter whose art anticipated that of the High Renaissance.

Pietro Vannucci, called Perugino was born in Città della Pieve near Perugia. According to Giorgio Vasari, Perugino, after being introduced to the artist's craft in his native town, went to Florence, where he studied with Andrea del Verrocchio. Perugino's presence in Florence in 1472 is documented. He traveled fairly extensively between Florence, Umbria, and Rome during the 1470s. In October 1481 he was one of the artists commissioned to execute frescoes for the newly completed Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Perugino worked in Rome and Perugia until 1486, when he moved to Florence, where he remained more or less continually until 1496. In 1491 he served on a commission to choose a model for the facade of the Cathedral in Florence. In 1496 or 1497 he moved to Perugia, though he continued to have interests in Florence. For example, in 1503 he was a member of a committee of Florentines empowered to choose the location for Michelangelo's David. Perugino continued to fulfill commissions in widely diverse locales such as Mantua and Rome, but he concentrated most of his artistic activities during the early 1500s in Umbria. He died of the plague in February or March 1523 in Fontignano.

Perugino's earliest works are lost. Two panels, a Miracle of St. Bernardino (1473) and an Adoration of the Magi (ca. 1475), are the earliest of the generally accepted examples of his art. The first painting is especially fine in its symmetry, uncrowded groups of figures, and pearly Umbrian landscape. The frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (1481-1482) are the most important of Perugino's early works. In Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter Perugino arranged a frieze of figures across the foreground. In the background is an ideal architectural setting with a vast, open square and a symmetrical domed building flanked with two antique triumphal arches. In composition and clarity this design foreshadowed the balanced designs so common among the High Renaissance masters of the early 16th century.

Perugino painted a number of pictures during his Florentine period (1486-1496) in which figures and architecture are interrelated. Among them, the Vision of St. Bernard (1491-1494) and the Madonna Enthroned (1493) are noteworthy. His masterpiece of this period is the Crucifixion fresco (ca. 1495) in the convent of S. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, Florence. The clarity, symmetry, and balance of the composition are accented by the limited number of figures, the distant landscape, and the real and painted architecture. The sentimental expression is somewhat mitigated by the austerity of the fresco.

The frescoes (1497-1500) in the Sala dell'Udienza of the Collegio del Cambio, Perugia, are among Perugino's major accomplishments. They combine an elaborate Neoplatonic allegory with real and painted architecture to produce a remarkably unified system of decoration. One of the frescoes has a fine bust-length self-portrait. Perugino's art during the 1500s was criticized by his contemporaries. For instance, Isabella d'Este condemned his painting Combat of Love and Chastity (1505), which she had commissioned.

Perugino was one of the key transitional artists between the art of the 15th century and the High Renaissance. His compositions, with their emphasis on balance and clarity, and his treatment of almost infinite space anticipated the achievements of the great masters of High Renaissance classicism.

Further Reading on Perugino

The standard work on Perugino is in Italian. The chapter on him in Raimond van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, vol. 14: The Renaissance Painters of Umbria (1933), is useful.