Perino del VagaHis name was Pietro Buonaccorsi and he was allegedly called ‘del Vaga’ after a painter with whom he associated early in his career. He was born in Florence in 1501 and brought up in great poverty (according to Vasari) by his father (an ex-soldier who had gambled away his fortune) and stepmother. He was placed at first with a humdrum painter, called Andrea de’ Ceri because he painted candles, and then moved to the workshop of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. In his early teens, he was involved in the decoration of Florence for the entry into the city of the Medici pope Leo X on 30 November 1515.
In 1516-17, Perino accompanied the obscure painter Il Vaga to Rome. There he joined Raphael’s highly organised team of studio assistants (which also included Giulio Romano, Giovanni Francesco Penni, Giovanni da Udine and Polidoro da Caravaggio), helping to execute the master’s designs in the Belvedere Loggia (1518-19). After Raphael’s death in 1520, Perino quickly established himself as a specialist in fresco, sometimes collaborating with Giovanni da Udine (as in the Sala dei Pontefici in the Vatican) and Polidoro da Caravaggio (as in the church of the Vatican Swiss Guard). He decorated a room in the Palazzo Baldassimi (from which two frescoes have been detached and are now in the Uffizi), frescoed the Cappella Pucci in the church of SS. Trinità dei Monti, decorated two chapels in San Marcello al Corso (one of which was redecorated by Francesco Salviati some forty years later) and painted an altarpiece for Santa Maria sopra Minerva (two fragments of which survive in the British Royal Collection).
Perino returned briefly to Florence in 1522-23 to escape the plague. There he was commissioned to paint a fresco of the Martyrdom of the Theban Legion for a confraternity of artisans based at the monastery of San Salvatore di Camaldoli. Although the fresco was never executed, the cartoon (filled with numerous male nudes in complicated poses) was exhibited and made an impression on local artists, including Pontormo who painted his own version of the subject a few years later. Before Perino left Florence, he painted a large grisaille of the Crossing of the Red Sea (now in the Brera) for the priest that gave him shelter.
When Charles V’s mutinous troops sacked Rome in May 1527, Perino suffered severely. After ‘running from place to place seeking shelter … with his wife and little girl hanging on his neck’, he was taken prisoner and ransomed. Perino was one of the last of the leading painters to leave Rome. Following the departures of Giulio Romano and Rosso Fiorentino, he was engaged by the Roman printmaker Baviera to complete a series of erotic drawings of the Loves of the Gods, which were engraved on copper by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio.
Perino left for Genoa in early 1528, entering the service of Andrea Doria, the powerful admiral of the papal fleet. He carried out a wide range of tasks for his new patron, including designing the mock triumphal arches erected for the visits of Charles V to Genoa in 1529 and 1533, designing tapestries, making banners and decorating the poops of galleys. But the principal works to survive from his decade-long stay in Genoa are decorations in the Palazzo del Principe, including an enormous ceiling fresco of the Fall of the Giants, and an altarpiece painted in 1534 for the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione (now in Washington). He formed a long-lasting local school, which included Luca Cambiaso.
From Genoa, Perino briefly visited Pisa, beginning some paintings in the Duomo that were completed by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani. He had probably moved back to Rome by 1537-38. His frescoes in the Massimi Chapel of SS. Trinità dei Monti have been destroyed (apart from a detached fragment in the Victoria and Albert Museum). He was taken into papal service, where he remained for the rest of his life, working on decorations in the Sala Regia in the Vatican and Castello Sant’Angelo. Now the leading decorative painter in Rome, he ran a workshop approaching the complexity of Raphael’s. He was (Vasari tells us) over-burdened with work … ‘having to draw night and day to meet the demands of the Palace and, among other things, make designs for embroideries, engravings, banners and innumerable ornaments to satisfy the whims of the Farnese and the other Cardinals and nobles.’ Among his designs were those for a cope for Paul III with scenes from the Life of St Paul, a tapestry to go beneath Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, and the etched rock crystals set into the famous Cassetta Farnese (a spectacular silver-gilt casket made for Alessandro Farnese and now in the Capodimonte Museum at Naples). Perino, having ‘ruined his constitution by the fatigue of his art and by his excesses in eating and in love’, died in October 1547 and was buried, near Raphael, in the Pantheon.
Primarily a draughtsman and designer, Perino has left comparatively few fully autograph paintings. There are a handful of altarpieces, painted mainly in Genoa, and a similar number of small panels of the Holy Family. A good many frescoes survive, though some are either damaged or largely inaccessible. Perino’s numerous drawings are dispersed among many museums and collections (including the Uffizi, Metropolitan Museum in New York, British Museum and Courtauld Institute in London, and Albertini in Vienna).
Loves of the Gods. Engravings by Caraglio, 45 x 33.
The Loves of the Gods series of erotic prints was engraved in Rome by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio primarily from designs by Perino del Vaga. The twenty-odd prints, masterpieces of copper engraving, depict lovers from classical mythology and history. Many of the subjects are taken from Book VI of Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Vasari, the publisher Baviera (Baviero de' Carrocci) first approached Rosso Fiorentino to make drawings for the prints. Rosso supplied only two designs before quarrelling with Baviera and, after the Sack of Rome in May 1527, Perino del Vaga was engaged to take over the commission. The original prints are extremely rare. The most complete set is at the Rijksmuseum, which has fifteenth first-state impressions. Just two drawings by Perino for the prints are known: a careful and detailed red chalk study for Vertumnus and Pomona (British Museum) and a looser pen-and-ink study for Venus and Cupid (Uffizi).
Celle Ligure (40 km west of Genoa). San Michele Arcangelo.
St Michael Polyptych. Wood.
The centre panel (185 x 165) shows St Michael trampling on the devil, holding in his right hand a spear with which he pierces the devil’s throat and in his left hand a pair of scales in which he weighs two souls. The figure was clearly inspired by Raphael’s famous painting in the Louvre. St John the Baptist and St Peter are depicted in the wings (each 120 x 53). A Crucifixion (76 x 89) is above the centre panel and the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation (each 53 x 53) above the wings. Two predella panels (29 x 40) have survived, showing the Calling of St Peter and Martyrdom of St John the Baptist. The frame is lost. According to an inscription, the altarpiece was painted in 1535 for the fishermen of Celle Ligure. (There seems no truth in the local tradition that it was given to the church by Perino as a votive offering after his escape from a shipwreck.) It originally stood over the high altar of the simple church. Polyptychs – multi-panelled altarpieces in elaborate frames – had been long out of fashion in Rome; but they were still current in provincial Liguria and Perino painted several during his time in Genoa. The side panel with St John the Baptist, which had split vertically into two parts, was restored in 1949-50. There was a restoration of the whole altarpiece in 1983.
Chantilly. Musée Condé.
Holy Family. Canvas, 100 x 91.
The Virgin holds a book in her right hand and a ball (representing the terrestrial globe?) in her left. A sprig of plums lies on top of the marble parapet. The composition is closely related to Raphael’s small Aldobrandini Madonna (National Gallery, London). Probably comparatively late (around 1540). Listed in 1603 in the inventory of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini’s collection at Rome. It remained with Aldobrandini’s descendants until the early nineteenth century, when it was bought for the King of Naples. Bequeathed in 1886 to the Institut de France with the Duc d’Aumale’s château and art collection. There is an autogragh replica or old copy in the Palazzo Barberini at Rome. There is also a version, in tondo form, in the Liechtenstein Museum at Vienna.
Judgement of Zaleucus; Founding of the Temple of Jove (or Tarquinius Priscus and the Augur Attus). Detached frescoes, 148/132 x 197/158.
The two frescoes illustrate subjects from ancient history. One shows the Greek lawgiver Zaleucus sitting in judgement. (The young man sitting on the base of the column on the right is being blinded for the crime of adultery.) The other had always been believed to show the founding of the Temple of Jove on the Capitoline Hill by Tarquinius Superbus, but the subject was reidentified in 2002 (by Linda Wolk-Simon in Apollo) as Attus Navius, the augur, cutting the whetstone with a razor, while the King of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus (Tarquin the Elder), watches in astonishment. The two frescoes, mentioned by Vasari, were part of a frieze in the salone of the palazzo of the Consistorial Advocate Marchionne Baldassini, near Sant’Agostino in Rome. They are among Perino’s earliest independent works, and must have been painted by 1525, when Baldassini died. They were discovered accidently in 1830 behind some old tapestries, detached from the wall, transferred to canvas and restored. Acquired by the Uffizi in 1880. They are normally displayed above doorways, mirroring their original position on the frieze of the salone. Some damaged frescoes remain in the palazzo.
Madonna and Child. Canvas, 121 x 91.
This large and attractive Madonna, traditionally attributed to Francesco Salviati, is now regarded as a work of Perino del Vaga or one of his followers (Marco Pino?). From 1926, it was on loan from the Florentine Galleries to the Palazzo di Montecitorio (Chamber of Deputies) at Rome. It returned to the Uffizi in 2013 after being included in the Raffaello exhibition held at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.
Genoa. Palazzo del Principe (or Villa Doria-Pamphilj).
Andrea Doria’s seaside villa was, in its time, one of the most sumptuous private palaces in Italy. It was built in 1521-29, and the interior decoration must have been largely completed by March 1533, when Charles V stayed there for twelve days. Perino del Vaga entered the service of Prince Doria in 1528, and was actively engaged in work on the villa by late 1528 or 1529. He was entrusted with much of the design and decoration, but many other artists and craftsmen were involved (including Luzio Romano, Luca Penni, Prospero Fontana and Domenico Rietti). Perino's extensive fresco work was limited largely to the ceilings, the walls being hung with tapestries. The subjects, drawn from classical mythology and Roman history, often allude to Andrea Doria’s achievements as naval commander and defender of the Genoese Republic.
In the Entrance Atrium, the central medallion of the ceiling is inscribed with Perino’s name and the date 1530. Three of the four painted ceiling panels represent Triumphs of Lucius Aemilius Paulus – the Roman general who drove the Gauls from Liguria (alluding to the recent expulsion of the French from Genoa). The other panel shows the Triumph of Bacchus in India.
The ceiling of the Loggia degli Eroi has five frescoed octagons representing heroes of the Roman Republic: Gaius Mucius Scaevola and Lars Porsena; Camillus and Brennus; Marcus Curtius; Titus Manlius Torquatus; and Horatius at the Bridge. The wall frescoes depict twelve of Andrea Doria’s ancestors, dressed in Roman armour and holding shields bearing the family crest.
The grandest room in the palazzo is the Salone dei Giganti in the west wing. Perino was responsible for the entire decoration, including the large and elaborate fireplaces. The huge ceiling fresco, still extremely well preserved and signed (lower left) with Perino’s monogram, shows the Fall of the Giants. Jupiter, hurling his thunderbolts from the circle of the Zodiac, is surrounded by the gods of Olympus. Naked giants litter the ground in bizarre and convoluted poses.
The walls of the Salone dei Giganti were originally hung with tapestries, designed by Perino and woven in Flanders, illustrating the Loves of Jupiter. The tapestries are lost, but the compositions of five of them are recorded by prints made by the eighteenth-century French engraver Bernard Lécipié. One of Perino’s cartoons (representing Jupiter and Danaë) is preserved in the Louvre. A preparatory modello (representing Jupiter and Juno) was sold at Sotheby's, New York, in 2011 for $782,500.
The other large public room, the Sala del Naufragio in the east wing, had a ceiling painting representing Neptune calming the Sea after Aeneas’s Shipwreck – a subject taken from the beginning of Virgil’s Aeneid. Andrea Doria was shown as Neptune. The painting, highly praised by Vasari, was done in oil rather than fresco, deteriorated, and was replaced in 1845 by an illusionistic architectural painting by Annibale Angelini. The composition is recorded in an almost contemporary print by the Bolognese engraver Giulio Bonasone. The room was hung with tapestries designed by Perino and illustrating other scenes from the Aeneid. One of these tapestries is preserved in Vienna (Museum für Angewandte Kunst); another is in Palermo (Fondazione Whitaker at Villa Malfitano).
Perino also decorated two smaller private rooms – one for Andrea Doria’s wife Peretta Usodimare, niece of Pope Innocent VIII, and the other for Doria himself. The Stanza delle Metamorfosi (or di Aracne) has paintings in the sixteen lunettes illustrating the myth of Arachne, who was transformed by Minerva into a spider. The Liberal Arts are represented in the twelve pendentives of the ‘umbrella’ vault. The Stanza di Psiche has paintings in the lunettes illustrating the story of Psyche and Cupid. The ceiling was partly destroyed by a bomb in 1944.
The palazzo has remained the property of the Doria-Pamphilj family. Long in a sorry state of repair, it has been restored and since 1994 some rooms have been open to the public.
Genoa. Museo dell’Accademia Ligustica.
Triptych of St Erasmas. Wood.
The centre panel (153 x 59) shows St Erasmus (St Elmo) enthroned in a niche. He is dressed as Bishop of Formia and holds a lighted candle. The ropes fastened across his surplice and the rope pattern on the candle allude to his patronage of sailors. The wings (153 x 49) show St Peter (with keys) and St Paul (with sword) standing in niches. The lunette (67 x 146) shows half-lengths of the Madonna and Child between St Nicholas of Bari and St Clare. Two predella panels survive, showing the Calling of St Peter and a Miracle of St Erasmus. The frame is lost. From the church of Sant’Erasmo at Quinto, Genoa. Acquired by the Accademia in 1870 for 7,000 lire. Restored in 1977-80.
Genoa. Museo Diocesano.
Madonna and Child with Saints. Wood.
The enthroned Madonna is crowned by two child angels. Two more child angels are seated on a cushion at the base of the throne singing from a musical score. St Francis kneels on the left, clutching the stem of the cross held by the Christ Child, with Joseph behind. St Dominic stands on the right with a book and lily. Signed with Perino’s monogram on the step of the throne. Painted, probably in the mid-1530s, for the Franciscan church of San Francesco di Castelletto at Genoa, where it was described by Vasari as a ‘most beautiful altarpiece, very finely designed’. After the church was closed in 1798 and then largely demolished, the altarpiece was moved in 1810 to the nearby church of San Giorgio di Bavari. After restoration in 1982, it was transferred to the museum. Gravely damaged – particularly on the left side, where the figures of St Francis and Joseph are partly lost.
Genoa. Nostra Signora della Consolazione e San Vincenzo.
Entombment. Detached fresco, 66 x 120.
This small monochrome fresco, saved from the Augustinians’ old church, hangs in the presbytery. Perino’s celebrated altarpiece of the Adoration of the Child, now at Washington, was painted for the church in 1534.
London. Victoria and Albert Museum.
Raising of Lazarus. Fresco (transferred to canvas), 162 x 114.
The fresco is very damaged and restored. It came from the Massimi Chapel (eighth on the right) in Santissima Trinita dei Monti at Rome (the church at the top of the Spanish Steps). Perino was not the first artist to work on the decoration of the chapel. The decoration was begun in the early 1520s, when Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni frescoed the vault and four lunettes, and painted the altarpiece. (One of the four frescoed lunettes is preserved in the National Gallery, London, and the altarpiece is probably the Noli me Tangere in the Prado.)
Perino del Vaga completed the decoration some fifteeen years later (around 1538-39), after the patronage rights of the chapel had been acquired in October 1537 by the magistrate Angelo Massimi. The Raising of Lazarus was part of a cycle of six scenes from the Life of Christ. It is the only surviving part of the cycle, which is described in some detail by Vasari. There were two large scenes facing each other on the side walls of the chapel (the Raising of Lazarus and the Pool of Bethesda), four smaller scenes flanking these, four prophets at the sides of the chapel entrance, painted grotesques, and stucco work executed by Guglielmo della Porta from Perino’s designs. The Raising of Lazarus was detached from the wall in Napoleonic times by the famous restorer Pietro Palmaroli and entered the collection of Lucien Bonaparte. It was given to the museum in 1876 by J. F. Austen. Though always attributed to Perino del Vaga, the provenance from the church of Trinita dei Monti was established only in 1960 (by the museum curator John Gere, who published his research in the Burlington Magazine).
The fresco was badly damaged, either during its detachment from the wall or when it was mounted onto a canvas backing. The subsequent application of heavy varnishes may also have contributed to flaking. The paint losses are particularly apparent in the figures behind Lazarus.
There are other fragments from the chapel's decoration in the British Museum, at Budapest and in private collections.
London. Courtauld Institute.
Holy Family with St John. Wood, 107 x 78.
Unfinished: the Virgin and St Joseph are essentially underdrawing, while the Christ Child and St John are worked up almost to a finished state. The Virgin's features appear to have been traced through a cartoon, while the drapery was drawn freehand with a brush. The panel was ascribed at one time to Fra Bartolomeo. It has sometimes been identified with a Madonna ('not very large' and 'almost half-finished') mentioned by Vasari as intended as a gift for Perino's friend, the Florentine goldsmith Piloto. That painting would, however, have been very early (1522-23), and the Courtauld panel seems later in style. It may have been painted in Genoa in the late 1520s or early 1530s. Formerly in the collection of Thomas George Baring, Earl of Northbrook. Acquired in 1932 for £2,000.
London. Royal Collection.
Good Thief; Bad Thief. Wood, each 122/124 x 85/83.
On the Bad Thief panel are half-length figures of St John the Evangelist (with head in hands) and St Peter. Two restored fragments of an altarpiece from the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva at Rome. The altarpiece, which represented the Deposition and stood against the left side of the choir, was an early work of around 1521-24. Vasari praises the figures of ‘the two thieves, left fixed upon the crosses, which, besides appearing to be real dead bodies, reveal a very good mastery over muscles and nerves’. The lower part of the picture was ruined by the flooding of the Tiber in October 1530. The two fragments were acquired by Charles I in 1626; they were valued at £40 in the Commonwealth Sale of 1649, but recovered after the Restoration. The attribution to Perino was never forgotten; but it was only in 1942 that the panels were recognised (by Sir Kenneth Clark) as fragments of the altarpiece mentioned by Vasari. A highly finished red chalk drawing by Perino in the British Museum was probably a modello for the Deposition (though it does not include the two thieves). A careful red chalk study in the Louvre of a dead Christ is probably also connected with the painting.
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.
Holy Family. Wood, 101 x 74.
This refined and highly coloured panel painting is probably a very late work (about 1545-46). The Virgin's mantle, worn over a red dress with yellow sleeves, is now almost green but may originally have been blue. Little is known of the history of the picture, which was probably acquired by Carlos Alves de Souza when he was Brazilian Ambassador to Rome in the 1950s. It was bought at Sotheby's, London, in December 1964 by the dealer Julius Weitzner, and acquired by the Melbourne gallery in 1966. An early copy at Budapest is attributed to Perino’s pupil Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta. Another, in the Galleria Spada at Rome, is sometimes given to Nicolò Circignani (called Pomarancio).
Crossing of the Red Sea. Canvas, 118 x 201.
Moses, thrusting out his rod, watches with the Israelites from the safety of dry land as the Egyptians flounder in the rising waters of the Red Sea. This large canvas, coloured to simulate a bronze relief, is mentioned by Vasari, who says that it was dashed off in a day and night during Perino’s visit to Florence in 1522-23 as a token of thanks for Raffaele di Ser Sandro, a priest of San Lorenzo who had given him lodgings. It passed to the priest’s cheesemonger brother and was then lost for centuries. It was acquired by the Brera in 1826 as a work of Polidoro da Caravaggio and identified only fairly recently as the picture mentioned by Vasari. Restored in 1993. There is a copy in the Uffizi, which was previously thought to be the original.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Holy Family with St John. Wood, 88 x 65.
The Child, sitting on a stone ledge, clutches a goldfinch with one hand and takes a cherry from the Virgin with the other. Joseph stands in the shadowy background, while the infant Baptist looks up in adoration from the bottom left corner. The Baptist is crowned with vine leaves and, instead of the usual camel hair, wears a leopold skin. This recently discovered panel (published by Linda Wolk-Simon in an article in the October 2011 Burlington Magazine) is thought to be an early work, painted in Rome around the mid-1520s. It came to light only in 2009, when it was auctioned in Genoa from the Palazzo Ricci (near Macerata) for €200,00 as the work of 'a Mannerist painter, active mid-sixteenth century'. It was bought by the Metropolitan Museum in January 2011 from Sotheby’s, New York, for $2.1 million. It is possibly the ‘panel of a Madonna with the little Christ and St John and St Joseph’ listed as a work of Perino del Vaga in a 1624 inventory of the collection of Costanzo Patrizi in Rome. Exceptionally well preserved and free from restoration. Cleaning has removed layers of grime, nicotine and discoloured varnish and old repaint on the Virgin’s mantle.
Jupiter and Danaë. Paper mounted on canvas, 238 x 279.
Jupiter surprises Danaë, as she catches the shower of gold dropping from his cloud. This larger-than-life painting, executed in tempera on 54 sheets of paper, was a cartoon for one of the Loves of Jupiter tapestries woven in Flanders for the Salone dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Principe at Genoa. After the tapestry of Jupiter and Danaë was woven in Brussels, the cartoon was returned to the Admiral-Prince Andrea Doria, and it is recorded in Doria inventories until 1620. It subsequently passed through the celebrated collections of the Duke of Arundel, Queen Christina of Sweden and the Duc d’Orléans, and entered the Louvre in 1870. Long considered lost, it was rediscovered in the museum in 1999 (having passed under an attribution to Giulio Romano) and was restored in 1999-2000.
Pisa. Museo Nazionale di San Matteo.
Holy Family. Wood, 108 x 81.
Probably the painting mentioned (without subject) by Vasari that was given by Perino del Vaga to the Benedictine nuns of San Matteo. It presumably dates from the mid-1530s, when Perino was working in the Duomo at Pisa. Rather damaged.
Pisa. Duomo. Right transept.
Madonna enthroned with Eight Saints.
The altar was dedicated to St John the Baptist and St George, who are shown kneeling in the foreground. The commission for the altarpiece was initially given to Perino del Vaga, who was also contracted to decorate the surrounding wall with frescoes of St George slaying the Dragon and St John Baptising. Perino prepared designs (there is a superb drawing for the altarpiece in the Kunsthaus at Zurich), but was called back to Genoa before he could complete the work. The commission then passed to Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, who contracted on 23 March 1536 to paint the altarpiece for 120 ducats. Sogliani seems partly to have followed Perino’s design.
Sogliani had earlier taken over from Perino a commission to paint three pictures – representing the sacrifices of Noah, of Cain and of Abel – for the choir of the Cathedral. He received final payment for the last two of these on 15 May 1533.
Princeton. University Art Museum.
Adoration of Shepherds. Wood, 102 x 125.
The Christ Child, lying in a wicker basket, is adored by the Virgin (seated with her back against the upended base of a column), St Joseph, two angels (one of whom hands the Child a small cross), the infant St John the Baptist, and three shepherds (who have placed a lamb trussed to a pole in front of the Child's basket). In the background, to the left of the classical ruins, a cow follows its calf, carried by a man on his shoulders, and another man beats a donkey with a stick. The unrestored picture was sold for £61,250 at Christie's, London, in December 2009 with an attribution to the 'circle of Perino del Vaga'. (It was exceedingly dirty and the panel had a conspicuous horizontal crack.) It was donated to the museum in 2017 by the art historiian and Princeton alumnus George R. Goldner. It has been dated to the early 1530s, when Perino was working in Genoa.
Borgia Apartments. Sala dei Pontefici. Ceiling decoration.
The room, the largest of the six Borgia Apartments, was originally painted by Pintorrichio’s workshop. Its redecoration was ordered by Leo X in about 1520 – either just before or shortly after Raphael’s death. The splendid all’antica fresco and stucco decoration of the vaulted ceiling was carried out by the young Perino del Vaga and the much older Giovanni da Udine, and may to some extent reflect Raphael’s ideas. Most of the major figures can be attributed to Perino. The theme is astrological: the planets, zodiacal signs and constellations represented in the many ceiling panels are thought to show Leo’s cosmic predestination and the return of the Golden Age under his papacy. The central medallion shows four angels/victories bearing the keys of St Peter and the Pope’s coat-of-arms is represented in stucco in the four corners. The lunettes and walls were never painted.
Stanza della Segnatura. ‘Basamenti’ frescoes.
Perino painted the monochrome scenes beneath Raphael’s frescoes (except for those under the Parnassus). Under the Disputa, the scenes show a Pagan Sacrifice, St Augustine and the Child by the Seashore, and the Sibyl showing the Virgin to Augustus; under the School of Athens, they represent Philosophy, Astrologers in conference and the Death of Archimedes; beneath Justinian presenting the Pandects, there is a scene of Salon addressing the Athenians; and beneath Gregory IX approving the Decretals, there is one of Moses with the Tablets of the Law. Perino’s frescoes were not part of the original decoration of the room. They were done during the pontificate of Paul III (1534-49) to replace dados of inlaid wood, crafted by Fra Giovanni da Verona, that were probably destroyed during the Sack of Rome.
Perino was also responsible for the decoration, with caryatids and four herms, beneath the frescoes in the Stanza d’Eliodoro.
Sala Regia (no admission). Ceiling decoration.
This sumptuous hall, situated between the Sistine Chapel and the Pauline Chapel, was built by Antonio da Sangallo as a reception room for ambassadors to the papal court. Perino’s rich stucco ornamentation of the coffered barrel vault is the earliest part of the decoration. Work on it was underway by 5 January 1542, when the first payment by the papal treasury is recorded. Perino also designed the stained glass windows (now lost; there are some cartoon fragments in the Uffizi). The stucco work on the walls was carried out by Daniele da Volterra. The work on the room was then interrupted, and was to drag on, with further interruptions, for thirty years. The large frescoed scenes on the walls (executed by Francesco Salviati, Vasari and the Zuccari) were completed only in 1573.
Loggia of Raphael (no admission).
Perino began his career in the Loggia as a member of Raphael’s workshop in 1518-19. The extent of his participation is uncertain, though the scenes from the Story of Joshua (Bay 10) and Story of David (Bay 11) are often attributed to him. Vasari drew particular attention to frescoes (now very damaged) under the windows that were painted to simulate bronze.
Santa Maria della Pietà.
The small church, which is in the Camposanto dei Teutonici within the Vatican, was assigned to the Swiss Guard in 1517-20. The decoration of the Cappella della Passione, which is neither documented nor mentioned by Vasari, was probably carried out around 1522-23 by Perino del Vaga and Polidoro da Caravaggio (and possibly a third, inferior, artist). It consisted of nine scenes from Christ’s Passion, with the Adoration of the Magi (divided by the arched widow) in the lunette above. The frescoes, which were restored as early as 1654, are in poor condition. They were detached in 1912, framed and hung on the right wall of the chapel. There is an ink-and-wash drawing by Perino for the decorative scheme in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Access to the church is only possible through the German cemetery.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
Virgin and Child (no. 393). Wood, 115 x 81.
The statuesque Virgin is shown against a curved niche. The pose of the Christ Child, seated astride a cushion, is very like that in Sebastiano del Piombo's Madonna and Child with Saints and a Donor in the National Gallery, London, which in turn resembles that of the the putto holding the Prophet Daniel's book on MIchelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. A meticulously painted basket of fruit lies on the top of the ledge and a small bird (bee-eater?) perches on the front edge. The words 'Contra invidia' ('against envy') are legible on the open book. The picture appears in old inventories with attributions to Andrea del Sarto (1693) and Bronzino (1790), and was catalogued in 1959 as the work of a follower of Perino del Vaga. Following the removal of heavy repaint in a recent restoration, it has been suggested that the picture is a collaboration between Perino (who painted the figures) and Giovanni da Udine (who was responsible for the still-life elements). (See the 2008 study Perin del Vaga, Giovanni da Udine and Marcello Venusti by Kristina Herrmann Fiore.) The picture was probably painted in Rome around 1520.
Rome. Castel Sant’Angelo.
Papal Apartments (third floor).
The decoration, in fresco and stucco, of Paul III’s apartments was Perino del Vaga’s last major project. He led a team of artists, which included the young Bolognese painter (and later architect) Pellegrino Tibaldi, the Sienese painter Marco Pino (a pupil of Beccafumi) and Domenico Rietti (called Lo Zaga). Many of Perino’s drawings for the project have survived. The rooms were restored in the early 1980s.
This great reception room was described by Vasari as ‘the most beautiful and rich room that had hitherto been seen in the world’. The decoration was ordered in 1545 and probably completed just before Perino’s death in October 1547. Perino prepared numerous drawings, but the execution was carried out largely by his collaborators, particularly Pellegrino Tibaldi. The two cycles of frescoes feature the Pope’s pagan and Christian namesakes (Paul III’s birth name was Alessandro Farnese). On the two longer walls are scenes from the Life of Alexander the Great. The scenes are painted in bronze-coloured monochrome and divided by allegorical figures of the Cardinal Virtues. The subjects are: Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot (for which there is a drawing in the Metropolitan Museum, New York); the Family of Darius before Alexander; Alexander consecrating the Altars for the Olympian Gods (for which there is a drawing in the Woodner collection, on loan to the National Gallery in Washington); Alexander ordering the Works of Homer to be deposited in a Casket (for which there is a drawing in the British Museum); and Alexander making Peace between Two Comrades. The stuccoed ceiling also depicts scenes from the Life of Alexander the Great (designed and executed by Marco Pino), and has a great Farnese crest in the centre. Above the doors, in simulated bronze medallions supported by allegorical figures, are six scenes from the Life of St Paul: the Conversion of the Saint; Sermon to the Jews; Sermon to the Gentiles; Blinding of Elymas; Sacrifice at Lystra; and Beheading of the Saint. In the centre of the two short walls are representations of St Michael the Archangel and the Emperor Hadrian. On the right is an amusing trompe-l’oeil fresco of a courtier entering through a painted door, while beneath the figure of St Michael two baboons are shown eating fruit.
Sala del Perseo.
This room, which may have served as a study, was decorated by Perino and his workshop in 1545-46. Along the top of the wall is a wide frieze showing six scenes from the Story of Perseus: His Mother Danaë bids Him Farewell; the Stygian Nymphs give Perseus his Winged Sandals and Cap of Darkness; Perseus flies in Search of Medusa; Perseus slays Medusa; the Freeing of Andromeda; and the Birth of Coral and Wedding Banquet of Perseus and Andromeda. The scenes are divided by cherubs and maidens with unicorns (a Farnese emblem) and framed with garlands of fruit and flowers.
Sala di Amore e Psiche (seen beyond a railing).
This room, traditionally identified as a bedroom, was also decorated by Perino and his workshop in 1545-46. The frieze illustrates, in ten scenes, the fable of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius’s Golden Ass. The compositions were based mainly on a series of engravings of the fable from the 1520s by the ‘Master of the Die’ after drawings by the Flemish artist Michiel Coxie. The scenes are divided by golden panels decorated with grotesques and flanked by herms and putti holding festoons of fruit.
Sala di Apollo.
The vaulted hall takes its name from the six scenes from the myth of Apollo that are incorporated into the grotesque decoration. In the central medallion, around the arms of Paul III, Apollo is shown flaying Marsyas. Work on the room seems to have begun only just before Perino’s death in October 1547 and was completed by March 1548. Much of the painting appears to have been done by Domenico Rietti.
Sala della Giustizia (Second floor).
On the end wall is a fragmentary fresco of the Angel of Justice. The room is usually open only for exhibitions.
Rome. Galleria Spada.
Cartoon for the ‘Spalliera’ of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement. Canvas.
The coloured cartoon, painted in tempera on canvas, for a tapestry (spalliera) to go beneath Michelangelo’s Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. It contains the ‘most bizarre things of fancy’: half-naked Victories are seated among weapons, swags, masks and grotesque motifs. The cartoon was commissioned by Pope Paul III (with the consent of Michelangelo), and Perino was paid in November 1542. The spalliera was never manufactured, and the cartoon remained at the Belvedere. It was later acquired by Cardinal Bernardino Spada and transferred to his Roman palazzo, where it was installed in the 1630s as a frieze.
Rome. San Marcello al Corso. 4th chapel, right.
Ceiling Frescoes: Creation of Eve and Evangelists.
The frescoes were commissioned by the Confraternità del Santissimo Crocifisso, which had built the chapel to house a wooden crucifix. (The crucifix had survived the fire of 1519 that had destroyed the old church and was held to possess miraculous properties.) It is not known precisely when the decoration was started. It was interrupted for a time by a shortage of funds, but a second contract between Perino del Vaga and the confraternity was signed on 6 February 1525. By the time of the Sack of Rome in 1527, he had painted the Creation of Eve on the vault and much of the flanking figures of St Mark and St John the Evangelist. Work was then suspended until Perino returned to Rome. It resumed after a revised contract was signed on 25 April 1539, but was delegated to Perino’s assistant Daniele da Volterra. By May 1543, the St John had been completed and the Michelangelesque figures of St Matthew and St Luke had been added. The side walls remained blank: it is not known whether frescoes were ever planned for them.
Rome. Santo Stefano del Cacco.
This very damaged fresco has usually been considered one of Perino del Vaga’s earliest surviving independent works (about 1519-21). A rather later dating (mid-1520s) has been proposed by Linda Wolk-Simon (October 2011 Burlington Magazine), who suggests that the female donor, portrayed in the bottom left corner, might be a Dianora of Cordoba, whose tomb slab is in the sacristy. Dianora died in 1526 at the age of sixteen. Perino’s Lamentation was later painted over with a larger fresco, the remains of which (with the hill of Golgotha in the background) can still be seen. There is a faithful copy, dated 1533, of the Lamentation by Camilo Angelucci in the Pieve di Mevali.
Rome. Santissima Trinità dei Monti. Cappella Pucci (north transept).
Scenes from the Life of the Virgin. Frescoes.
The decoration of the chapel was one of Perino's earliest indedendent commissions after Raphael's death in 1520. The patron was Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci, a Florentine resident in Rome and member of Pope Leo X ‘s inner circle. Perino’s frescoes are confined to the upper part of the chapel. They show scenes from the Virgin’s early life. The Meeting at the Golden Gate, Birth of the Virgin, Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple and Annunciation are represented in the four triangles of the Gothic cross vault, and the Visitation is represented in the lunette on the upper part of the altar wall. Over the arch of the chapel, two putti display Cardinal Pucci's escutcheon (a moor's head) between reclining figures of the prophets Daniel and Isaiah. The Visitation was praised by Vasari for the 'spirited and natural attitudes' of the figures and beauty of the buildings. The scene is set in a large and busy Renaissance piazza, and the main incident is pushed into the right middle ground, where St Elizabeth greets the Virgin Mary on the steps of a great palazzo.
Work on the chapel decoration was very long-drawn-out. Records of payment suggest that it started in spring 1521. It was interupted the following year, when Perino left Rome for Florence to escape the plague, interrupted again by the Sack of Rome in 1527, and left in abeyance after Cardinal Pucci’s death in 1531. The decoration was finally completed by Taddeo Zuccari (1563-66) and his brother Federico (1589).
Preparatory studies by Perino have survived for all four triangular scenes from the Virgin's life (Albertina, Louvre and Metropolitan Museum).
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Lamentation. Wood, 197 x 145.
The Virgin, seated at the foot of the cross, supports the dead Christ across her knees. The Three Maries hold his head, legs and left hand. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea stand behind with nails and pincers. Acquired in 1937 as the work of an unknown Italian artist. Though signed with Perino’s monogram, it was not until 1980 that the picture was attributed to him (by Konrad Oberhuber). It may have been painted in Genoa in the early 1530s. There are conspicuous paint losses along the vertical joins in the panel. There is a damaged replica, possibly by Perino’s workshop, in the museum of the monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet, near Tarragona in Spain.
Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand. Ink, chalk and wash on paper, 36 x 34.
In 1522-23, when Perino del Vaga briefly revisited his native Florence to escape the plague in Rome, he received a commission to paint a large fresco of the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand for a confraternity of artisans, the Compagnia dei Diecimila Martiri, that met at the monastery of San Salvatore di Camaldoli in Oltrarno. After preparing a full-scale cartoon, Perino abandoned the project when the monastery was turned into a hospital for plague victims. He returned to Rome, but the cartoon remained in Florence in the possession of a goldsmith called Giovanni di Baldassare Piloto. It was greatly admired by Vasari, who says that 'judges of discernment declared that they had never seen such beauty and excellence in design since the cartoon drawn by Michelangelo Buonarroti for the Council Hall [ie. Michelangelo's cartoon for the Battle of Cascina]'. The cartoon was subsequently lost. The compositional study at Vienna is possibly the modello for it mentioned by Vasari ('a small drawing, regarded as divine'). There is another version of the drawing in the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Formerly ascribed to Perino, it is now regarded as a copy by Vasari.
Vienna. Liechtenstein Museum.
Holy Family. Wood, 85 in dia.
Another version of the painting in Chantilly. There are some differences: in the Chantilly version, Joseph is on the right rather than the left, and the Virgin holds a book in her right hand and a small globe rather than an apple in her left. Acquired by Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein in 1822 as a work of Raphael from the dealer Carlo Gamora in Vienna. First attributed to Perino in 1912 (by Gustavo Frizzoni). Once considered an early work, it is now usually dated around 1540-45.
Washington. National Gallery.
*Adoration of the Child ('Pala Baciadonne'). Canvas (transferred from panel), 274 x 221.
Often called the Nativity, but there are neither shepherds nor ox and ass. There are six saints. Joseph (the only one actually present at Christ’s birth) leans on a wall behind the Virgin, the plague saints Sebastian and Roch stand at the sides, John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria kneel in adoration to the Child, and the pilgrim James the Great stands behind them. God the Father, appearing in the heavens with a host of child angels, holds a crystal orb in one hand and raises the other in blessing. The landscape is peopled with tiny figures. Upper right, a man with a bundle climbs a stairway. In the bottom right corner, a snail is represented. Signed, both with Perino's name and his monogram, and dated 1534 on the foreshortened tablet, bottom centre. This large, well preserved altarpiece is the only work by Perino that can be precisely dated, and it is the most important of his few surviving panel paintings. It was commissioned by a member of the Baciadonne family for a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione at Genoa. It remained in situ until the late eighteenth century, and then passed through the collection of Cardinal Fesch in Rome (sold 1845), the Dudley collection at Worcester (1849-92) and Cook collection at Richmond (1892-1947). Among a batch of twenty-one paintings acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1949 from Contini Bonacossi. There is a red chalk modello for the picture in the Albertini, Vienna.