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Artists in 60 Seconds: Pinturicchio

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© Baglioni Chapel, Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello; used with permission

Bernardino di Betto, called Pinturicchio (Italian, ca. 1452-1513). Self Portrait, detail from The Annunciation, ca. 1500-01. Fresco.

Baglioni Chapel, Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:

Italian Early Renaissance, Umbrian School

Date and Place of Birth:

Perugia, ca. 1452

Born, at most, just a few years after the canonization of Bernardino of Siena, the artist was likely named after the saint (as were many Italian male babies at the time). His christened name is supposed to have been Bernardino Benedetto, though the latter was shortened to di Betto years later. We, however, know him by the singular nickname "Pinturicchio" (sometimes spelled "Pintoricchio"), which means "little painter" and referred only to the fact that he was a rather short man. The sobriquet neither disparaged his artistic talent, nor meant "rich painter" as one sometimes sees written.

Early Career:

Primary documentation on Pinturicchio is scant, so we're not sure under whom he trained. The most likely candidates are Perugian masters Fiorenzo di Lorenzo or Bartolomeo Caporali.

Regardless of which workshop claimed him as an alumnus, Pinturicchio had joined the Perugia painters' guild by 1481. He was called to Rome that same year to collaborate with Perugino on a series of wall frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. These went over well in Vatican circles, and Pinturicchio was kept busy with Roman fresco commissions (including many from the della Rovere family) for the next nine years.

Middle Years:

Pinturicchio remained deluged with work in Rome, even after Alexander VI assumed the papacy in 1492 and brought the Borgias to power. Pinturicchio spent three more years frescoing the Appartamento Borgia (Alexander's living quarters), before returning to Perugia in 1495. Now hugely famous in his native Umbria, the artist had more offers for commissions than one man could accept. It was during this period that he executed his most important non-fresco work, the massive wooden altarpiece for Santa Maria dei Fossi, a church in Perugia.

Late Work:

From 1502 onwards, Pinturicchio spent the bulk of his time in Siena where he primarily worked on the fresco series Life of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini. (Its subject is better-known as Pope Pius II, and it was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, who himself would go on to become Pope Pius III. See? There's no getting around the fact that Pinturicchio was a hit with contemporary Popes.) By 1505, unfortunately, Pinturicchio was both past his artistic peak and coasting on the reputation he had won honestly in prior years.

Best Known For:

Although he did a small number of easel paintings and one amazing altarpiece, Pinturicchio is best known today for his colorful, highly-detailed frescoes. He has sometimes been criticized--most notably by the artist/author Giorgio Vasari--for maintaining an antiquated, almost Gothic style, but this is an unfair assessment. His style was what his numerous, well-heeled patrons expected, and he got truly important commissions for it.

The smart person will soak in his decoratively-rich work with its serene figures, and note the profound influence Pinturicchio had on the next generation of Umbrian artists. Namely Raphael.

Important Works:

  • Journey of Moses and The Baptism, Sistine Chapel, Rome, 1491-92
  • Decoration of the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican Palace, Rome, 1492-95
  • Altarpiece of Santa Maria dei Fossi, ca. 1495-96
  • Decoration of the Baglioni Chapel, Santa Maria Maggiore, Spello, 1500-01
  • Life of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, fresco series for the library of Siena Cathedral, 1502–1507/08

See pictures of Pinturicchio's work in the Special Exhibition Gallery - Pinturicchio in Umbria.

Date and Place of Death:

Siena, December 11, 1513

Somewhere around 1498, when he was in his mid-40s and then a famous, wealthy land-owner, Pinturicchio married a much younger woman named Grania. The couple reportedly grew to loath one another, despite coproducing at least three children (presumably before the worst of the loathing set in). Pinturicchio's friend and neighbor, the Sienese historian Sigismondo Tizio, wrote that Grania starved her ill husband to death while busy carrying on an affair with some young hunk. This hearsay, of course, cannot be substantiated in either the 16th or the 21st centuries.

How To Pronounce "Pinturicchio":

    pin·tuh·ree·kee·yoh

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Ricci, Corrado. Pintoricchio.
    London : J.B. Lippincott Company, 1902.

  • van Marle, Raimond. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting.
    Brooklyn : Hacker Art Books, 1970 reprint of 1923-38 ed.

  • Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of Seventy of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.
    London : G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1896 ed.

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