The “Virgin Mary and Christ Child” in the Church of the Annunciation in Fontignano: one of Perugino’s last works
In Fontignano, not far from Perugia, Perugino spent the last years of his life; and left some of his last works in the Church of the Annunciation existing in that small town.
Just one of them, however, has remained to embellish the walls of the little sacred building; it was even covered with lime for some time, and then brought back to light. It depicts Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, a work commissioned in 1522 by Agniolus Toni Angeli (that is “Angel, the son of Anthony Angel”), as reported by an inscription in the lower section of it. It was painted by Perugino in 1523.
Structure and state of preservation
There appear obvious marks of time on the painting; but although its colors have faded, the composition can still be made out.
Virgin Mary is seated on a wood bench – thanks to an ingenious play with perspective, the corners of the bench seem to protrude out of the general frame, making the picture three-dimensional. She wears a dress that should have originally been rosy or red, with a blue cloak on her shoulders. Jesus stands on his mother’s legs, one little hand akimbo, the other hand apparently grasping Mary’s dress so as to support himself on his feet, in a very natural attitude.
Perugino’s technique and style
The faces exhibit that sweetness that was typical of the painter’s later works: languishing eyes, heads slightly bowing, and a touch of melancholy. The landscape behind the figures can still be partially appreciated in its atmospheric perspective: the sky looks clearer on the horizon and darker above, precisely the way the human eye perceives it.
This painting has been put in relationship with the Virgin Mary enthroned, between Saint Blaise and Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary’s major church) in Spello, in the Perugia territory. This was painted by Perugino in 1521, not much earlier than the one in Fontignano; in both cases he obviously used the same cartoon in order to outline Mary and her Child.
The last phase in Perugino’s life and art
The Virgin-Mary painting in Fontignano is among the master’s last works, painted just few months before his death.
In the Church of the Annunciation, Perugino had authored five frescoes. The only other one we have trustworthy pieces of information about is The Adoration of the Shepherds (1523), that was completed by his pupils after his death. After having been detached and sold in the mid-nineteenth century, it is currently on exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Three frescoes – Saint Roche, Saint Sebastian, and another Virgin Mary – do not belong to their original place any longer, and are considered to be lost.
Finally, another strong link exists between this sacred building and Perugino: his mortal remains are in fact buried in the Church of the Annunciation, inside a white urn made in 1929.
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