I have only two more months to wait until my next trip to Italy, plenty of time to finalize plans that include almost a week in the city of Perugia. There are so many wonderful things that I love about this city, capital of Umbria province and just across a valley from mystical Assisi. Perugia has some fantastic art, including this fresco which was one of Raphael's first of this kind and likely his only piece of art that is actually left in the city where he studied for roughly four years under the master Perugino.
It seems that pretty much everything Raphael created during his years in Perugia have been whisked away to the world's great art galleries. However, frescos aren't so easily shifted, and so this "Holy Trinity with Saints" rests in a small chapel in the church of San Severo in the centre of medieval Perugia.
In Giorgio Vasari's "Lives of the Artists" (published in 1550 and admittedly, not always the best source when it comes to Umbrian artists!) Vasari writes: "...and for the Lady Chapel in San Severo (a small monastery of the Order of Camaldoli) he (Raphael) did a fresco painting of Christ in Glory and a God-the-Father with angels around him and six seated figures of saints: St Benedict, St Romuald, St Lawrence, St Jerome, St Maurus, and St Placid, three on each side.
"On this work, which was at that time regarded as an extremely beautiful example of fresco, Raphael signed his name in big, very legible characters," writes Vasari.
Raphael apparently began this fresco in 1505, but before he finished the work, he was called away to Rome to begin his stanze in the Vatican. After Raphael's untimely death in 1520 at just 37, his teacher Perugino painted several saints underneath.
I am a huge fan of Raphael and made a pilgrimage to San Severo on my first full day in Perugia last year. It's not hard to find, even though the church itself is shut up and has actually been deconsecrated. However, the small chapel where Raphael painted this fresco is open to rare visitors (I sat there for a half hour and saw only two other people drift in and out!)
This, to me, is a small but appealing element of visiting Umbria. Not a lot of other people around! I still marvel at the fact that I can sit alone for as long as I like with a great work of art. I admit, this fresco isn't in very good condition, but to me that's part of its appeal. It feels very real, very authentic in its slightly raggedy state!
I don't have any good photos of my own from last year's visit to Perugia but I'll make up for that this year. Meanwhile, thanks to Wikipedia, I have this photo of the fresco which will have to do for now.....
As a bit of background, Vasari says that Raphael "was born in Urbino, a notable Italian city, on Good Friday in the year 1483, at three o'clock in the night. His father was Giovanni Santi, a mediocre painter but an intelligent man who knew how to set his children on the right path which, through bad fortune, he himself had not been shown when young."