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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Perugino (Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci) and Workshop

Virgin and Child with Saints
About 1497-1500
Oil and tempera on panel
Purchased through the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund; P.999.2


Regarded by many of his contemporaries as the leading painter associated with the revival of Italian art at the end of the fifteenth century, Pietro Perugino was widely praised for introducing a style of painting characterized by a unique mastery of perspective, light, and color. As Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) later noted, his pictures were “so pleasing that they filled not only Florence and Italy, but also France, Spain, and other countries." By the early 1490s, Perugino had the most active studio in Florence, which produced major altarpieces, stained-glass windows, frescoes, and other works.

As a result of his numerous projects, Perugino employed a large workshop of assistants and collaborators, chief among them Raphael (1483-1520). As Rudolf Hiller von Gaertringen of the Kunstammlung der Universität Leipzig has demonstrated, in order to expedite the production schedule and maintain complete control of the design process, Perugino recycled his full-size preparatory drawings, called cartoons. Consequently, figures and details often reappeared in several works with slight variations in orientation, arrangement, and color.
The composition of this devotional painting is a type known as a sacra conversazione, or holy gathering, showing the Virgin and Child with Saints Anthony Abbot and James on the left and Saint Francis and an unidentified local saint on the right. Earlier images of this type took the form of polyptychs (multipaneled paintings) comprised of a central panel that featured the Virgin and Child with separate, framed panels attached on either side bearing images of saints. During the fourteenth century, artists sometimes eliminated the separate panels, and by the fifteenth century it was common for all of the figures to be grouped within a single, unified space, as they are shown here. The square format, architectural setting, and symmetrical configuration recall several other works painted by Perugino in the late 1490s and early 1500s.

The large scale and subject of Virgin and Child with Saints indicate that it was undoubtedly commissioned as an altarpiece, although its original location remains unknown. The painting was owned of Edward Solly (1776-1848), an English merchant and prominent art collector living in Berlin, who sold it and 676 other works to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in 1821. Other than nineteenth- century references in the museum’s guidebooks, where it was attributed to Perugino, the only descriptions of the painting were published by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1903-14) and Todini (1989), the latter based on photographs. The former scholars considered it to be “Perugino’s design and type [but executed] by someone in the shop." A colloquium in 2006 with George Bisacca, Rudolf Hiller von Gaertringen, Laurence B. Kanter, Marcia Hall, and several colleagues from Dartmouth College concluded that it was the work of the master and one or more assistants.

Last Updated: 7/9/09