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A Perfect, Petite Place in Perugia


I've been homesick for Perugia recently. The capital city of Italy's Umbria province is, to me, extremely cool. Many layers of history, fascinating sites, great food, and a lot of wonderful art. I'm especially interested in Renaissance art, and while there is a great deal of that in Perugia, there's one very small spot that is a favourite.


The Collegio del Cambio -- the original office of Perugia's powerful money-changers -- is so jam-packed with frescos by the master Perugino (with a little help from his students, including a teenaged Raphael) that they almost threaten to overwhelm a visitor. Particularly, because the space is so small.

Remarkably, this exquisite jewel-box of a sight doesn't seem to draw much attention. This amazes me -- not only is it exquisite, but it is so easily accessible and visitor friendly! It is tucked inside the imposing Palazzo dei Priori set right smack on Perugia's main street, the Corso Vanucci, a sweeping pedestrian mall named for the great artist (Perugino's real name was, and I suppose, still is, Vannucci.)

The Collegio itself is so small, really just two rooms, that even a day tripper or a visitor popping up to the historic centre of Perugia for lunch, could stop in for 30 minutes or so and have an amazing experience!


Guidebook writer Ian Campbell Ross has argued that the Cambio is perhaps the best surviving example in Umbria of Renaissance humanist culture, and one of the best examples of Perugino's harmonious art. That is to say, Perugino confidently fused Christian and pagan cultures in these frescos that decorate the sala dell’Udienza, or the audience chamber of the money-changers.

Perugino had earlier became famous for his frescos in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, particularly one depicting Christ giving the Keys of the Church to St. Peter. (The Sistine Chapel isn't entirely Michelangelo!)


Perugino was then hired for this gig by Perugia's money-changers guild and began work in about 1498. In the Collegio frescos, he brought together images representing the four Cardinal Virtues - Prudence, Justice, Strength and Temperance - using figures taken from Greek and Roman history; with the three Theological Virtues - Faith, Hope and Charity - represented by the Transfiguration of Christ, the Nativity and the Prophets and the Sibyls.

On the ceiling, he painted the seven planets on carts being drawn across the skies by various animals.

Fans of Raphael might want to keep an eye an out for the figure of Fortitude, seated on a cloud in the second bay of the left wall. According to Frommer's, art historians attribute this figure to the 17-year-old Raphael, who lived and worked some years in Perugia. Frommer's also suggests that Perugino used Raphael's face as the model for the prophet Daniel, which can be seen on the right wall.

By the way, the second photo is a Perugino I really like, but is not in Perugia. It's by Perugino and Filippino Lippi, The Deposition from the Cross and is found in the Galleria dell' Accademia, Florence.

Comments (7)

I would love to see this place! The frescoes look amazing; love the warm colors. It's truly mind-boggling how many hidden treasures there are in Italy.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, wonderful post. These pieces are really beautiful and I would love to visit Perugia in the future to be able to appreciate them in person. The colors are really bright and bold.

Thank you so much for pointing out the places a visitor can go to see these beautiful pieces in Perugia. I've read so much positive things about this town that I would really love to visit one day.

Thank you. Have a great day today.


Oh these warm images have brightened my grey rainy day! Gorgeous, hope to see them in person someday. You've definitely inspired in me a desire to visit Perugia!


Annie, isn't it remarkable? So many sights to discover if one does just a little bit of digging.

Thanks Kathy! Perugia really has a lot going for it. But since it's just a bit off the beaten path (ie the trail from Amalfi thru Rome to Florence and Venice) that many visitors miss out.

Anne, I hope you're able to visit it someday, it's a great city!


I noticed you were not getting the usual number of comments. I am reading (and enjoying) but often as I start to comment, I review what I have written and think it is lame so I close the tab (sorry). We are also fans of Raphael's School of Athens and once I saw the sulking Michaelangelo, suddenly the unfinished slaves and the "guns" on Mary in the "Sacred Family" made sense. We have not been to Perugia. Actually, eventhough we have seen a lot of Italy, we have barely scratched the surface. Thanks for being our trip planner.


Hi Kathryn, thanks for stopping by! I really empathize with your remark about not wanting to sound lame in commenting. I feel that way every time I blog! But for me, it's like a bit of therapy, to try to get over being so self-conscious (which is always a huge challenge!)

I so agree about the riches of Italy; it seems the more I visit, the more I realize how much there is to discover. I think you would like Perugia, it has a real mix of art and history, with a lively student population so plenty of cafes and restaurants of all types. It's also a pretty good hub for day trips to many other cities and towns in Umbria.

Gorgeous! I am kicking myself now for not knowing about this place when I was there. Thanks for pointing it out. I guess I will just have to go back to Perugia again :)

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