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Perusing Perugino in the Pinacoteca in Perugia

There are many, many reasons why I've decided to return to Umbria for my fall trip to Italy. Beautiful towns and cities, stunning scenery, fewer crowds than one finds in Tuscany or Rome, fabulous food. And, best of all, wonderful art. All over the place. Often, in peaceful settings.

But in particular, there are some important paintings that were away, traveling to Japan, when I visited Perugia in June 2007 and so I'm determined to return to see them this year.

As an aside, I just have to say how wonderful it can be (at least, for me) to see great art, where it was produced, in a relaxed and calm setting (a very different experience from, say, visiting the ever-popular Vatican Museums when the place is packed with tour groups!)

One of my first art experiences in Umbria gave me a wonderful, lasting impression of the region. It was only my second day ever in Umbria, also my second day ever in Perugia, when I found a really lovely fresco painted by Raphael in small, very quiet chapel. A few chairs had been set out for visitors to the Chapel of San Severo, and I had to place entirely to myself. So I sat very comfortably for perhaps 30 minutes, relaxing and admiring the fresco (okay, it had been a really hot walk getting there and the chapel was cool, quiet and restful. I admit, that was a factor!) But as a bonus, during the entire time I was there, only one other couple stuck their heads in, complained the fresco looked beat up, and left.

This fresco of the Trinity by the great Raphael is mentioned on city maps, but it is a wee bit difficult to find. However, it's definitely worth the hike, as this is the lone example of Raphael's works left in Perugia. (The rest have all been spirited away to larger churches and art galleries.) The fresco was painted sometime between 1505 and 1508, and although it isn't in perfect shape, it's still very beautiful. And, for me at least, it's a really wonderful experience to be able to sit quietly and admire art, without feeling crowded and distracted by noisy groups.

Which takes me back to my original point. One of the great things that I've found about visiting Umbria - and even a major city like Perugia, Umbria's capital -- is the fact that it isn't terribly crowded. (With the notable exception of Assisi, of course!) So it is possible to visit small sites, like the Chapel of San Severo, and even larger venues such as the National Gallery of Umbria, in the centre of historic Perugia, without feeling crowded and harassed.

Last June, I spent a long morning in the National Gallery of Umbria -- which really is a treasure trove -- and aside from staff, saw perhaps a dozen other visitors.In total. It was almost eerie, to have a large gallery almost all to myself. The only fly in the ointment (or would that be, the only fly in the oils?) was the fact that a large number of the Gallery's celebrated Peruginos were traveling, to Japan (I believe.) That was disappointing -- I hadn't expected to see small photos of great works, pasted up where the art should be hanging. So, I'm returning with great hopes that all the art has also returned to the National Gallery.

It's a gorgeous venue, by the way, housed on the upper floors of the historic Palazzo dei Priori, right in the living room of historic Perugia on the Corso Vannucci. The building is a wonderful example of civic gothic architecture and dominates the wide, pedestrian corso. The Gallery has works by such artists as Piero della Francesca, Beato Angelico (two favourites of mine); il Pinturicchio (make that 3 favourites!); Pietro da Cortona, the Master of San Francesco, Gentile da Fabriano, and many, many more.

I'll be arriving too late for the Pintoricchio exhibition, but I'm sure I can make up my own itinerary and see his works in Perugia and Spello. Because of course, this year with my rental car, I'll be able to easily (!?) visit smaller centers such as Montefalco and Spello, where more great art is located. I'm also planning to take the train one day to Arezzo to see Piero della Francesco's Legend of the True Cross. (Of course, that is in Tuscany -- but close enough)

I can't wait to get back to Umbria