Montefalco, a little town in Umbria as well as one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia (the “Most Beautiful Little Towns of Italy” association), has been nicknamed “Umbria’s balustrade” because of the landscapes one can admire while standing on the hill upon which it has been built. Montefalco too belongs to Perugino’s “own” places: the painter was in fact inspired by the beauty of Umbrian Nature for the bucolic, idyllic backgrounds in so many of his works.
In one of the most important exhibition areas in Montefalco, the Museum Complex of Saint Francis, the sole work by the “divine painter” existing in this town is kept: his fresco on the Annunciation, God in glory among angels, and Nativity, about 1503. According to Silvestro Nessi, a scholar in Medieval and Renaissance art, Perugino was in Montefalco precisely in 1503, so he may be supposed to have made that painting right then. The conjecture is further strengthened by the analogy in style with another Nativity by him, namely the one that belongs to the painting series in the College of Money Changers (Collegio del Cambio) in Perugia. If we take 1503 as the correct date for the Montefalco painting, the Perugia Nativity will then turn out to be a little earlier.
The Montefalco work is vertically divided in thee scenes, following the order – both chronological and logical – in the sacred events. Top to bottom: firstly Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to Virgin Mary, then God’s blessing, and lastly the birth of Jesus. The painting has been well preserved.
The surface on which the fresco was made was the then counter-facade of the Church of Saint Francis in Montefalco. The building, that dates back to the early 14th century, has currently been incorporated into the museum.
Many artists were commissioned to fresco the side chapels of the sacred building; among whom, Benozzo Gozzoli. He is the author of the decorations in the chapel dedicated to Saint Jerome (Stories of Saint Jerome, and Saints) and in the apse (Episodes from Saint Francis’ Life), both dated 1452. The former were unfortunately lost for the most part because of architectural changes, while the series of Episodes from Saint Francis’ Life can be still be admired inside the Museum Complex of Saint Francis. It is considered one the most important extant painting series from the Renaissance.
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