Luca Signorelli
by Maud Cruttwell
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The scene is conceived in a spirit somewhat trivial for Signorelli, and has but little of his usual stately strength. The composition is too much crowded on one side, and, as far as can be judged from the state of the fresco, the draperies of the monks are mechanically treated. The parts most worthy of praise seem to be the vivacity of the devils, and the effect of spacious distance, but it is in so damaged a condition that it would be unfair to be over-critical.

The next is in an even worse condition. It illustrates "How S. Benedict converted the inhabitants of Monte Cassino," to whom, supported by two monks, he preaches in the foreground. In the middle distance others pull down from its pillar the statue of Apollo, worshipped by these people. This is a very much finer painting. The composition is again overcrowded on one side, but there is much noble dignity in the figures of the three monks, and the beautiful architecture and perspective of the Temple, are admirable. The foreground has been entirely destroyed, the draperies are nearly effaced, and a little town in the background is so smeared over with green paint, that the effects of distance are lost.

No. III. is in better condition, though very much injured in the foreground. It shows "How S. Benedict exorcised the Devil upon the stone," who guarded the place where the statue of Apollo was buried, which brought a curse on the convent. In the background is seen the disinterment of the statue, and to the right, the vengeance of the Devil, who sets fire to their building. Flames burst through the windows, and the monks hasten with excited gestures to quench them. These remind one in their naivete of Carpaccio's scurrying friars, in S. Giorgio degli Schiavone, Venice. There are some very fine bits in this fresco; the attitude of the monk to the left who is heaving up the stone is exceedingly good and true to nature, and the landscape is spacious and distant.

No. IV. shows "How S. Benedict resuscitated the monk upon whom the wall fell," the scene of the death taking place in the background, the Devil having precipitated him from the scaffolding on which he was at work. In the middle distance three brothers bear the dead body, and in the foreground the Saint stands and raises him again to life. This fresco is very fine both in general composition and detail. The little scene of the death is full of action and animation, the group of monks who bear the corpse is dignified, and very noble is the kneeling figure of the resuscitated friar.

The paintings get gradually better, as though Signorelli had warmed to his task. The next is very charming and one of the most successful in composition. It illustrates "How S. Benedict reveals to two monks where and when they had eaten out of the Convent." The two disobedient brothers sit in the foreground of a long room (of most excellent perspective), and are served with meats and drinks. At the end of the room, at the open doorway stands the graceful figure of a youth. The section of the wall is given, showing in the distance the penitent brothers on their knees before the Saint, who has reproved their disobedience. There is something almost German in the domestic simplicity with which Signorelli has conceived the scene. The woman who waits on the right is Peruginesque in type and attitude, although with the robust physique that belongs to Signorelli. The fresco is much repainted especially in the roof.

The next shows "How S. Benedict reproves the brother of the monk Valerian for his violated fast," and reveals to him that it was the Devil who had tempted him in the disguise of a traveller, the different scenes, as usual, going on in the background. In front the youth kneels before the monks, and to the right the Devil, his horns showing through his cap, tempts him. In the distance they can be seen feasting under a rock. The fresco is much injured and repainted, but the figure of the Devil with the bundle over his shoulder is very fine and well drawn.

The two last of the series are the best. Signorelli has in them given the rein to his love of martial scenes, and painted them with great animation and verve. In No. VII. we have the scene "How S. Benedict discovers the deceit of Totila," and unmasks the shield-bearer, who, disguised as the King of the Goths, comes to prove the knowledge of the saint. In the background, a plain covered with camps and soldiers, Totila sends forth his servant, and in the foreground the Saint, surrounded by four monks, proclaims to him his identity. Statesmen, arrogant pages, and warriors, stand behind the exposed shield-bearer. It is interesting to observe how Signorelli's attention has wandered from the empty faces and mechanically executed draperies of the monks, and concentrated itself on this group. The figures, in their tight clothes, are superbly posed and modelled, especially the three who stand next to the shield-bearer.

The last of the frescoes is almost as fine a study of magnificent attitude. It shows "How S. Benedict recognises and welcomes Totila," the real King of the Goths, who kneels before him, surrounded by his army on horse and foot. In the background, troops are marching with great animation, (one of those fine effects of combined movement so characteristic of the master). Some of the foreground figures are again splendidly drawn and modelled, and the mounted soldiers sit their horses exceedingly well.

In these two last paintings we get a hint of the great work that was to come three years later—at Orvieto. Signorelli has put forth all his strength in these groups of swaggering youths in every posture of conscious power and pride, and never perhaps been more successful in individual figures. Some of the faces in the last fresco appear to be portraits, and if it be true, as Vasari says, that he painted the Vitelli and Baglioni, it is here probably that we should find them rather than among the audience of Antichrist.

In running the eye down the whole series of frescoes, the scheme of colour, as far as can be judged in their present condition, does not strike one as pleasant. Crude blues, emerald greens, brownish purples, heavy earthen browns—these are the predominating tints. The flesh tones are uniformly red and heavy. Neither is the decorative effect of the compositions specially good, as at Loreto, and more particularly at Orvieto. Perhaps even, on a superficial view, the space-filling by Sodoma is happier, and has a more imposing effect. It is chiefly in detail that the great qualities of Signorelli show themselves.

The rest of the walls of the large cloister are painted with twenty-seven subjects by Sodoma, showing the youth and hermit-life of the saint, and continuing, after the series by Signorelli, with his miracles and his old age. Although the subjects chosen by Luca illustrate the later years, yet they were painted first, and it is probable that the place of each scene was arranged before any of the work was entered upon.

The year following the execution of these frescoes Signorelli was in Siena, painting the two wings for the altar-piece of the Bicchi family, formerly in the church of S. Agostino, now in the Berlin Gallery, No. 79. A MS. of the Abbate Galgano Bicchi, which gives the date, speaks of it as an Ancona, the centre of which was a statue of S. Christopher by Jacopo della Quercia, and with a predella, which the Abbate minutely describes.[57] Nothing now remains of the altar-piece but these two beautiful wings, one of which contains figures of the Magdalen, Santa Chiara, and S. Jerome, the other, of S. Augustine, S. Antonio and S. Catherine of Siena. Vasari writes of it: "At Siena he painted in Sant'Agostino, a picture for the chapel of S. Cristofano, in which are some Saints surrounding a S. Christopher in relief."[58]

Both panels are of very rich and harmonious colour, especially the one containing the noble figure of the Magdalen, in her green robe shot with gold and deep red mantle, and her ropes of honey-coloured hair.

Perhaps about the same date, perhaps somewhat earlier, we may place the fine Tondo (No. 79B) hanging in the same gallery, formerly in the Patrizi collection, Rome. I have not given it its usual name of a "Visitation," because that scene, conventionally treated, took place before the birth of the children who here play so important a part. Signorelli has, according to his habit, conceived the subject without any reference to traditional custom. I have already spoken of the ease with which he composes in the Tondo form, and this is perhaps the best example of his skill. The natural grouping of the figures, the sweeping curves of the draperies, which, especially that of S. Joseph accentuated with gold, carry out the lines of the circle, give a sense of rest and harmony to the eye. The scene is treated with a simplicity and noble dignity which deserve special praise. It is in some ways the most sympathetic of all his Holy Families, and he seems to have felt the charm of every-day simple life, and for once has given the Christ the life and beauty of childhood. The tender foreboding sadness in the face of the Virgin, the reverential sympathy of the aged Elizabeth, and the kindly care with which the powerful Zacharias holds the Child, are touches full of poetry.

Morelli places this Tondo as a late work,[59] but the soft and harmonious colour, as well as the poetic feeling, seem to belong to this period, before the painting of the Orvieto frescoes, if not even earlier.

Lastly, in this group must be placed the Standard of Borgo San Sepolcro, painted for the Confraternity S. Antonio Abbate, now in the Municipio. It is interesting to note, as its position in the Gallery allows us to do, how completely Signorelli has now detached himself from the influence of his first master—outwardly at least. No greater contrast could well be, than the unrestful dramatic realism of the "Crucifixion" on this Standard, and the inspired serenity of the "Resurrection" of Pier dei Franceschi close by; than the coarsely-conceived figure of the crucified Christ, with its heavy features and uncouth limbs, and the spiritual beauty of the risen Saviour.

This "Crucifixion" is the least successful of all Signorelli's renderings of this subject (with the exception, perhaps, of the Morra fresco), both from its technical defects of extreme hardness and heavy colour, as well as from the lack of any real feeling in the painter for his subject. The unfortunate introduction of the patron saint, posing as Joseph of Arimathoea, disturbs the harmony of the mood, while his exaggerated gesture contrasts disagreeably with the apathetic coldness of the other figures, over-dramatic as their action is. The Christ is treated deliberately as a study of muscle, and is among the most ignominious of his types, and the fantastic landscape, with its shadowy rocks and solid clouds, is badly composed and without existence. Although there is no trace of the influence of Piero remaining, yet there is much of Antonio Pollaiuolo, especially in the muscular figure and bent legs of the Christ.

The two large Saints on the reverse of the Standard are, on the other hand, imposing and noble figures, splendidly painted in Signorelli's grandest and most sweeping manner. S. Antonio, in the black habit of the order for which the banner was executed, stands reading in a book, and by his side is S. Eligio, the smith-saint, in red mantle and dark-green robe, holding in one hand the farrier's tool, and in the other the cut-off horse's hoof of the legend. Below kneel small figures of four brothers of the Confraternity.

We have now come to the end of the series of works, executed, as nearly as can be judged, between 1490 and 1499, and with the latter date have arrived at the time of the painting of the Orvieto frescoes, which were to be the crowning point in the life's work of the master.


[53] "Purg." ii. 37 and 35.

[54] When last heard of by the author it was for sale in England.

[55] The contract, dated June 1494, is transcribed in Pungileoni's "Elogio Stor. di Giov. Santi.," p. 77.

[56] Vasari, iii. 689.

[57] The MS. is in the possession of Conte Scipione Bicchi-Borghese, Siena.

[58] Vasari, iii. 688.

[59] "Die Galerie zu Berlin," p. 46.



There seems to be a moment in the life of every great man in which he touches the height of his possibilities, and reaches the limits of his powers of expression. To Signorelli it came late, at an age when most men begin to feel at least their physical powers on the wane. The two last frescoes of the Monte Oliveto series indicate that an immense force lay in reserve, waiting an opportunity for some wider and freer field of action, than had hitherto presented itself. That opportunity now came, when, at the age of fifty-nine, he was called upon to undertake the vast work of these Orvieto frescoes. With the exception of the Sistine Chapel, no such task has been achieved at so sustained a pitch of imaginative power and technical excellence. Whether the subject stirred his dramatic spirit, or whether the great spaces to be filled gave an expanded sense of liberty to his genius, or whether his powers, intellectual and physical, really were at the zenith of their strength; whatever was the cause, he succeeded in executing a work which ranks among the greatest monuments of the Renaissance, perhaps should even rank as the very greatest.

Morelli writes: "These masterpieces appear to me unequalled in the art of the fifteenth century; for to no other contemporary painter was it given to endow the human frame with a like degree of passion, vehemence, and strength."[60] And beside the dignity with which he has in these frescoes elevated the body to an almost superhuman grandeur, his conception of supernatural things is proportionately solemn and impressive. It is impossible to look at the scenes without emotion, and the mood evoked is due in a great measure to the earnest conviction with which they are conceived. Signorelli, always a religious painter, in the wider meaning of the word, seems here to assume an almost prophetic attitude of warning, embodied, one might almost think, in the portrait of himself, stern and menacing, standing sentinel-like over the work.

Vasari thus speaks of the frescoes: "In the principal church of Orvieto—that of the Madonna—he completed with his own hand the chapel which had been begun there by Fra Giovane da Fiesole; in which he painted all the history of the end of the world, with strange fantastic invention: Angels, demons, ruins, earthquakes, fires, miracles of Antichrist, and many other of the like things; besides which, nudes, foreshortened figures, and many beautiful designs; having pictured to himself the terror which will be in that latest tremendous day. By means of this he roused the spirit of all those who came after him in such a way that since, they have found the difficulty of that manner easy. Wherefore it does not surprise me that the works of Luca should have always been most highly praised by Michelagnolo, nor that certain things of his divine Judgement which he painted in the chapel were in part courteously taken from the invention of Luca; as are the Angels, Demons, the heavenly orders, and other things in which Michelagnolo imitated the style of Luca, as everyone may see. Luca portrayed in the above-mentioned work himself and many of his friends; Niccolo, Paulo and Vitellozzo Vitelli; Giovan, Paulo and Orazio Baglioni, and others whose names are unknown."[61]

Fifty-two years before, in 1447, Fra Angelico had spent three months and a half in this Cathedral of Orvieto, painting the spandrels in the roof of the Cappella Nuova, as it was then called.[62] He had time to complete only two frescoes, being either recalled to Rome by Nicholas V., or to the convent of S. Domenico, near Fiesole (of which, in 1450, he was made Prior). These two works are among the best and strongest of his paintings. In the principal space, that over the altar, he painted Christ in glory, surrounded by a mandorla, with angels on either side; and in the spandrel on the right, a group of sixteen prophets, seated pyramidally against a blaze of gold background. It is probable that he had thought out the general scheme of the frescoes, and that Signorelli only carried out his intention in working the paintings into one great whole—Christ in Heaven, surrounded by Angels, Apostles, Martyrs, Virgins, Patriarchs and Fathers of the Church, witnessing from on high the execution of divine justice below. However that may be, it is certain that Signorelli, in his painting of the roof, kept most scrupulously to the older master's arrangement, and in one of the spandrels actually seems to have worked over his design.

After the withdrawal of Fra Angelico, the chapel remained untouched for more than fifty years. In 1449 his pupil, Benozzo Gozzoli, who had probably been his assistant in the painting, demanded permission to continue the work; but the authorities were not content to grant it, and it was only in 1499, after some futile negotiations with Perugino, who appears to have refused the commission, that they finally resolved to place the decoration in the hands of Signorelli. Perhaps decided to this step by the success of the Monte Oliveto frescoes, they were yet so cautious and so determined to have only the very best work in their chapel, that at first they only entrusted to him the painting of the vaulting, already begun. They were wise to be careful in their choice, for they were probably conscious of the extreme beauty of their cathedral, and, in particular, of the exquisite architecture of this chapel. Orvieto Cathedral is one of the finest and most impressive of the Italian churches, and from its foundation in 1290, the authorities had been notoriously lavish in their expenditure for its building, and fastidious in their choice of architects, sculptors, and painters.[63] From the point of view merely of decoration, they could have given the work to no better artist than Signorelli, and the first impression, on passing into the chapel from the austere and spacious nave, is of the harmonious plan, both of colour and design, with which the original beauty of the architecture has been enhanced, and its graceful characteristics accentuated.

The roof is of very perfect shape, and the spaces well adapted for painting. It is divided in the middle by an arch, thus having two complete vaultings, each with four spandrels. The walls are high and spacious, also divided in two parts, in each of which, on either side, is a large fresco. Signorelli has separated the lower part of the wall by a painted frieze of delicate gold and ivory, and in the lower half executed a series of portraits, each surrounded by medallions in grisaille, containing small subject-pictures, the rest of the space being filled with an intricate pattern of grotesques. The south wall, in which are three small windows, has been unfortunately disfigured by a baroque seventeenth-century altar, whose projections hide a part of the frescoes. Opposite is the entrance, a magnificently-proportioned portal, with a rounded arch, most delicately decorated in colour. Every inch of the walls is covered, and for the most part by the work of Signorelli himself, the above-mentioned grotesques, the merely ornamental painting, and a few of the medallions alone being by his assistants.

In describing the frescoes I intend to begin with those of the vaulting, and then to work gradually round the walls from the left of the entrance, where the first of the series of larger paintings begins with "The Preaching and Fall of Antichrist."

In the spandrel opposite the Christ of Fra Angelico, Signorelli has painted eight angels holding the symbols of the Passion, while two others, not unlike the great Archangels of the "Resurrection," blow trumpets to announce the impending Judgment.

Left of the altar, opposite Fra Angelico's "Prophets," and arranged in exactly the same pyramidal form, is a magnificent group, representing the "Apostles," the Virgin being seated on the lowest tier with S. Peter and S. Paul. Very noble, impressive figures, powerfully and solidly painted, with broadly-draped, heavy-folded robes, they sit like rocks upon clouds as solid as hills.

These, with the two frescoes of Fra Angelico, complete the paintings of the first vaulting.

Those on the other side of the arch are executed entirely by Signorelli, and, with the exception of one, from his own designs. This one is the weakest of his roof-paintings in execution, and the composition and actual drawing of the central figures, are the work of Fra Angelico. It represents the "Choir of Martyrs," a group of seven figures. In the centre are seated three Deacons in full canonicals, with Bishops on either side, and below two Saints in plain robes. These last have all Signorelli's characteristics of drawing, and sit with wide-spread knees and broadly-painted draperies, a striking contrast to the weak attitudes and niggling robes of the central group. Signorelli has indeed hardly altered the childish chubby features of the Deacon in the middle, nor the benevolent vacuity of the two Bishops, so different to his own austere types.

Opposite to this, over the portal, is a group of eight "Virgins," broadly and vigorously treated, in Signorelli's boldest manner. To the right is another of the pyramidal groups, fifteen "Doctors of the Church," some of whom are represented disputing and discussing points of theology.

The last of the roof-paintings is a powerful group of "Patriarchs," ranking, with that of the "Apostles," among the most impressive of the frescoes. Here appear many of his well-known types of face; the melancholy features of Pan are repeated in the turbaned youth in the top row, intended perhaps to be Solomon; the Christ of the Uffizi "Holy Family" is in the second tier to the left; the powerful Zacharias from the Berlin Tondo in the lowest.

Luzi, in his minute description of the paintings,[64] has bestowed names on all these figures, without much advantage, since they are for the most part doubtful. Few of them bear symbols, but the different groups are sufficiently described in large letters, by the painters themselves—GLORIOSVS APOSTOLORVM CHOIR—MARTIRVM CANDIDATVS EXERCITVS—etc. etc.

The figures, with the exception of those by Fra Angelico, and the design for the "Martyrs," are entirely the work of Signorelli himself. The decorations between the spaces seem to be in part by the assistant of Fra Angelico—perhaps Benozzo Gozzoli. In the first border heads are painted, in lozenges, at regular intervals, a few of which are in the older master's style, while many show the manner of Signorelli. The rounded projecting rib is painted with foliage of cypress-green, with here and there rich red and golden flowers gleaming out, and on either side a border of conventionalised water-lilies. It is difficult to say which of the masters designed this exceedingly beautiful decoration, but it is most effective, and well-calculated to accentuate the life of the fine curves in the vaulting.

These groups of Signorelli's are noble and impressive paintings, in technique strong and vigorous. The draperies are treated with simplicity and breadth of fold, and the gold background gives richness and beauty to the colour. No wonder that the authorities, jealous though they were at the beauty of their chapel, should have hesitated no longer to hand over the great spaces of the walls to the brush of the painter who had so well executed their first commission.

In the April of the following year, 1500, the new task was given. The payment for the roof was to have been 205 ducats; for the walls they offered 575. Besides this, the painter was to be furnished with ultramarine, a certain quantity of food and wine, and a free lodging, with two beds, as the lengthy documents of commission minutely tell.[65]

The paintings begin with "The Preaching and Fall of Antichrist." Here the foreground is filled with groups of the followers of the false prophet, who, with the features of Christ, stands on a little raised dais, listening with an evil expression, as the Devil behind him, unseen by the crowd, whispers into his ear what he shall say. Before the dais are scattered gold vessels, bars and coins, with which he tempts the audience. Farther back to the right, different groups represent the false teaching and miracles of Antichrist, and in the background is his Temple, with armed men going in and out of its open portico. The left of the frescoes is devoted to the fall of the false prophet, and the destruction of his followers. Above we see him precipitated head-downwards from heaven by an angel surrounded by fiery rays, which strike death to the army beneath.

In sombre black, and standing outside the scene, Signorelli has painted the portrait of himself, with fingers interlaced and firmly-planted feet, and behind, the milder, but still gloomy figure of Fra Angelico.

There is something sinister in the saturnine melancholy on the faces of the crowd, unrelieved by any lightness, and culminating in the evil expression of Antichrist himself. The peace of the gold-flecked landscape only accentuates the horror of the scene of the downfall in the background. The picture is a fit prologue to the terrible Judgment to come.

In composition the fresco is very fine, the values of distance are well kept, and the meaning of the scene is obvious and significant, and dramatically rendered. The foreground group is very strongly painted, natural in attitude and gesture, and the figure of a man in striped hose is magnificently modelled. I do not care to touch on so hypothetical a thing as the supposed portraiture in this group, but it is interesting to note, in the old man right of Antichrist, the features familiar to us in the drawings of Leonardo, possibly painted from a study of the same model. Behind is a profile head, obviously intended for Dante. The terrible force of the angel, with its hawk-like swoop, the unresisting heavy fall of the body through the air, are rendered with extraordinary power. The foreshortening is admirable, and so is the fine perspective of the beautiful architecture of the Temple.

The figures of the soldiers on the steps recall Perugino in the manner of treatment—dark against light, and well detached from the background. The capitals of the pillars, the buttons on the clothes, and the rays of the angel are embossed with gilded gesso, as also are the distant hills. This form of ornamentation, so much used by Signorelli in these frescoes, adds greatly to their decorative beauty.

Under this painting is a square-shaped portrait, half cut away by a recess, in which stands a modern altar. It is supposed by Luzi to represent Homer, and is the first of a series which run all round the walls, much repainted, but all of them the work of the master himself. They are surrounded by four medallions, painted in grisaille, also for the most part by Signorelli, but in this case only two, and a fragment of the third, remain, the enlarging of the recess having almost entirely cut that and the fourth away. In the top medallion are five nude figures, a powerful female and four males, all wildly hastening as if from some impending destruction. In that on the left a man stands on a dais, surrounded by soldiers who hold a prisoner bound before him. In the lower fragment, only one figure remains. These all represent, according to Luzi, scenes from Homer. The groups are well composed and full of vigorous energy, the nudes are splendidly modelled in broad, bold strokes, so sharply drawn on the wet plaster that the outlines are deeply incised. Where, as here, these grisaille pictures are the work of Signorelli himself, they are worthy of more attention than is usually given to them, being as fine as any of his best work. To realise fully their vigour and excellence, one need only compare these powerful nudes with those painted in the pilasters close by, the work of assistants. The medallions in every case are surrounded by a broadly painted coloured pattern of grotesques, also by assistants, but probably to a large extent designed by Signorelli, for they are extremely characteristic of his preoccupation with the human form and with movement. Arabesques have but little attraction for him, and it will be noticed that in all his ornamental work where it is possible, he paints figures. These decorations are almost entirely composed of fantastic creatures, fauns, tiny satyrs, horses, birds, etc., who blending their shapes and borrowing each other's limbs, frisk all over the walls, and by their gambols and contortions form a pattern of curves and lines, which is a maze of animated life, retaining at the same time the broad and harmonious effect of an arabesque.

The next large painting represents "The Crowning of the Elect." A crowd of men and women, many draped round the loins, some quite naked, gaze upwards ecstatically, or kneel reverently to receive the gold crowns which angels are placing on their heads. Above, seated on clouds, are nine other angels, draped in many-folded robes, who play musical instruments. To the right two figures (in one of whom the Echo of the "Pan" is repeated) seem to walk out of the scene, thus connecting this fresco with the next, in which the elect and crowned souls prepare to ascend to Heaven.

The background is entirely of gold, thickly studded with bosses of gilded gesso. The figures are finely modelled and posed. The flesh-painting, as in all the frescoes, is perhaps somewhat heavy in colour, but the whole effect is rich and harmonious. The chief defects in the work are the overcrowding of the composition, and the bad values of distance, caused in a great measure by the gold background. Signorelli's treatment is too realistic, his figures are too solid and too true to life, to bear the decorative background so suitable to the flat, half-symbolic painting of the Sienese school. They need space and air behind them, and lacking that, one feels a disagreeable sensation of oppression and overcrowding. Keeping the eye upon the ground, which is treated naturally, this feeling goes; the long shadows distinctly marked, send the figures to their different planes, and the confused composition becomes clear.

Underneath are the usual decorations, two square portraits surrounded each by four medallions. We do not need the help of Luzi to recognise Dante in the first, injured though it is, and much repainted, especially about the mouth, which gives the face a somewhat grotesque expression.

The grisaille paintings represent stories from the "Purgatorio," but although fine in design, are not executed by Signorelli himself. They have none of the breadth and grandeur of the first series, and the effect is meagre and niggling, equal importance being given to the rocks and to the figures.

The other portrait is probably intended for Virgil, who, with upturned face and melodramatic expression, seems to seek for inspiration. This expression is exaggerated, but the painting is vigorous and strong.

Around, the medallions again represent subjects from the "Purgatorio," and are apparently by the same hand as the last, with the exception of the lower one, which seems to have some of Signorelli's own work in the nude figures.

The south wall is pierced by three lancet windows, the central one over the altar, dividing the two principal frescoes of "Heaven" and "Hell." The former is, as I have said, a continuation of the last scene, and represents angels preceding the elect souls, and showing them the way to Heaven. In the sky, heavily embossed with gold like the last, float angels with musical instruments, one of whom, with face downward, blowing a pipe, is not so successfully foreshortened as is usual with Signorelli.

In the thickness of the small window which cuts into this fresco, are painted two coloured medallions, one of an angel vanquishing a devil, the other of S. Michael, with the balances, weighing souls—both by the master himself. Below are two series of small pictures in grisaille, with scenes from the "Purgatorio." The lowest is unfortunately hidden by the altar. All of them are by Signorelli himself, exceedingly good, and worthy of careful study, one being especially beautiful—the top picture of the first series, in which Dante and Virgil stand before the Angel, with the gold-plumed Eagle in the foreground—a most nobly conceived illustration to the ninth canto of the "Purgatorio."

On the opposite side of the altar is the Judgment of Minos, and the driving of the lost souls to Hell under the superintendence of the two Archangels, who stand in the sky with drawn swords, sorrowfully watching the fulfilment of divine justice. Signorelli here has followed very closely the text of the "Inferno." In the foreground "Minos standeth horribly and gnasheth," condemning the miserable souls before him each to his different circle, his tail wound twice about his middle. Farther back, the Pistoiese, Vanno Fucci, with blasphemous gesture, yells out his challenge to God; Charon plies his boat; and in the background despairing souls follow a mocking demon who runs before them with a banner.

The two medallions on the sides of the window contain, one the Archangel Gabriel with the lily of the Annunciation, the other a very beautiful group of Raphael and Tobias, both by Signorelli himself. Below, the decorations correspond to those on the opposite side, the grisaille pictures, representing, according to Luzi, scenes from the "Metamorphoses" of Ovid, all, with the exception, perhaps, of the medallion just below the window, being also the work of the master, and very powerfully painted.

Leaving the window wall, we now come to the finest of all the frescoes, the magnificent scene of the "Damnation." So vivid is the realisation, so life-like the movements and gestures, that the writhing mass appears really alive, and one can almost hear the horrible clamour of the devils, and the despairing yells of the victims. The general effect is of one simultaneous convulsed movement, one seething turmoil. In detail, the horror is most dramatically rendered. The malignancy of the devils, their brutal fury as they claw their prey, tear at their throats, and wrench back their heads; the utter horror and anguish of the victims, the confusion, the uproar, are given with a convincing realistic force, which makes the scene ghastly and terrible. In most representations of Hell, and especially of Devils, human imagination fails in conveying any sense of real horror, even the earnest Duerer and Botticelli treating them with a grotesqueness which shows how far they were from any conviction of their reality. Signorelli is the only painter of the Renaissance I can recall who has succeeded in giving a savage sternness, a formidable brutishness to his fiends, which is very far from grotesque, but is really appalling. These ferocious creatures are of all colours, slate-blue, crude purple, heavy green, livid mauve—sometimes of all these poisonous-looking colours fading one into the other. Strong and malevolent, they triumph in their work of torture, with a gloomy malignancy very different from the trifling malice of the fiends he painted at Monte Oliveto. Above stand the three Archangels, in armour, with half-drawn swords, menacing those who try to fly upward instead of toward the flames of Hell. Two, in their hurry to escape chastisement, let fall their prey; another, with great bat-wings which cut the air like scythes, swoops down again into the chaos below.

I suppose a mass of convulsed limbs has never been rendered in so masterly a manner. The effect is so natural that one is inclined to forget the difficulties Signorelli has so superbly overcome. But if one considers in detail the different attitudes, the violent action of the arms and legs, the contorted positions of the bodies—every muscle either on the stretch or relaxed into a flaccid limpness,—the foreshortened limbs twisted into every kind of unnatural posture, and the complicated interweaving of the whole, one realises that it is indeed his masterpiece, not only for the mood of terror and awe it induces by its imaginative power, but for its marvellous rendering of tumultuous movement, and the ease with which enormous technical difficulties have been surmounted.

The portraits below are, according to Luzi, of Ovid and Horace, the four medallions round the former seeming, in their energy and furious life, to carry out the tumult of the great fresco above. They represent scenes from "The Metamorphoses," and deal chiefly with Hades and the infernal Deities. Above stand four female figures with fluttering draperies, among whom we can distinguish Diana with the bow, and Pallas with the lance and shield. Below, Pluto stands in a chariot drawn by dragons. This painting is very much injured, as is much of this lower part of the wall, especially the grotesques. On the right Pluto bears away Persephone in his arms in a chariot drawn by two fantastic horses, which an attendant urges furiously forward with a caduceus. On the left Ceres, with wildly-floating hair, leaps into a tearing chariot drawn by two winged serpents, which Cupid goads onward with a flaming torch. These are all by Signorelli himself, and, for the rendering of violent movement, worthy of their position under the great painting.

Round the other portrait are subjects also connected with the infernal regions. Over it, AEneas stands before the Cumoean Sybil, a very injured painting. Below, Orpheus in Hades plays before Pluto and Persephone to win back Eurydice, who lies bound before them. On the right Hercules rescues Theseus from Hades, and slays Cerberus, and on the left, Eurydice, following Orpheus, looks back, and is re-seized by the demons. These are all exceedingly good and dramatic paintings, and are by Signorelli himself.

The next large space, after the fresco of "The Damnation," is filled with "The Resurrection." Above, the two mighty Archangels sound their trumpets, and the dead wake, and break through the crust of the grey earth below. They stand about embracing each other, or helping each other to rise, or gazing with rapture up at the Archangels, who, with fluttering draperies and ribbons, and great spread wings of purple and peacock-green, stand, surrounded by little shadowy cherubs, in the gold-embossed sky. Most of the figures are of Signorelli's usual powerful build, one, however, is an emaciated youth with little on his bones but skin, many are skeletons. To these last he has given a pathetic look of ecstasy, which is wonderfully expressive, considering it is obtained only by means of eyeless sockets and grinning jaw-bones.

The fresco has suffered much, particularly from the painting, in later times, of draperies round the loins, some of which have been worn or rubbed half off. Almost in the centre is a large stain, outlining the shape of a window, which Signorelli caused to be filled up, and which can still be seen on the outside of the Cathedral. The damp, oozing through the new plaster round the framework, partly destroyed the painting, but the centre is remarkably well preserved.

It is interesting to note in studying this fresco, that, student of anatomy though he was, the skeleton seems to have had little attraction for Signorelli. The placing of the bones is, of course, correct, but the delicacy of their curves, their relative proportions and thicknesses, their beauty of detail, are not given at all. For example, in the skeleton in the foreground, the pelvis has scarcely the shape, and none of the variety of line, of the bone itself, but is merely a coarsely-drawn girdle. Compared to the extreme delicacy with which he models flesh, and his minute appreciation of every gradation of curve in the muscles, this carelessness in the treatment of the skeleton is noteworthy.

Under this, the last of the larger frescoes, is a recess, in which was formerly the sarcophagus containing the bones of Pietro Parens, the patron saint of Orvieto. In this recess, under the brackets on which the sarcophagus stood, Signorelli has painted one of his most beautiful "Pietas." Unfortunately, half hidden by a marble group, sculptured in 1574 by Ippolito Scalza, it is difficult to see, and impossible to photograph, and is therefore not so well known and appreciated as it deserves to be. The Christ is an exact repetition of the figure in the "Deposition," of the Cortona Cathedral, and was probably painted about the same time—1502. The position only is reversed. The other two figures are also repeated from that altar-piece, with only very slight variations. Behind is painted the Tomb, on which is a relief in grisaille of four naked figures bearing the dead body of the Saviour. This formed the lower part of the now removed sarcophagus, the three stone supports of which still project from the wall. On the right of the "Pieta," is painted the martyr Pietro Parens himself. The saint gazes down with tender reverence at the scene at his feet, standing in fur-trimmed robes and cap, one hand on his breast, the other holding the palm of martyrdom. Over his head is the hammer, the instrument of his death. The face is of extreme beauty, with gentle expression, the robes are finely draped, the attitude most natural, and the whole figure is one of the noblest and most sympathetic of all Signorelli's works, and deserves to be better known. On the other side, and also as supporter of the "Pieta," stands Faustinus, another patron saint of the city, also a very beautiful figure, with features which recall the type generally used by Signorelli for S. John. At his feet lies the millstone with which he was drowned. On either side, in the thickness of the wall, is a medallion in grisaille, containing the scenes of their deaths, very powerfully painted.

This recess occupies more than one half of the space below "The Resurrection," allowing room for only one portrait and two medallions. The former Luzi has decided to be Lucan, and represents a beautiful youth, with a mass of loose curling hair crowned with oak-leaves and acorns. The scenes of the medallions are supposed to be from "The Phaisalia." In that above three nude men fight with fists, one binds his prostrate foe, and another bears off a slain body. In that on the right four men fight with clubs and swords. All are powerful figures, painted by Signorelli in his most characteristic manner. Below the portrait of the poet is an inscription of 1667, honouring the memory of Signorelli, and of Ippolito Scalza, the sculptor of the marble "Pieta."

The frescoes round the beautifully-proportioned entrance portal, being on an inside wall, are in a state of better preservation than the rest, and the colours brighter. They represent "The Signs of the Destruction of the World." For imaginative power they can be compared only with the woodcuts of Albrecht Duerer's "Apocalypse." To our right on entering, the "Rain of Fire" shoots in heavy lines from the hands and bodies of demons with outspread wings. The distraction of the people on whom it falls is well rendered. In the foreground armed men on horse and foot seek wildly to escape the shafts, which have already precipitated some to the ground. In the middle distance the flames pursue a flying mob of terrified women clutching their infants, and men trying to protect them; while in the foreground old men, youths, and children, are struck down in heaps, stopping their ears, and gazing up in panic at the unearthly apparition.

On the opposite side the sun and moon are eclipsed, and a dark rain of blood falls from the gloomy sky. An earthquake has shaken the city, and its buildings totter and fall in fragments on the people. In the foreground is a group, perhaps intended for the Prophets of the Destruction, who gaze up, less terrified, but with fear and solemn awe.

Next to "The Damnation," these are perhaps the finest of the series, and show most imagination and dramatic feeling. The foreshortening of some of the figures is admirable, the composition in the restricted space is good, and there is superb drawing and modelling in the foreground figure among the Prophets in the last fresco.

In the centre, over the arch, Signorelli has painted a group of winged children, who hold a tablet by a bunch of ribbons, in one of whom are repeated the features of the Christ-child of the Uffizi "Holy Family."

In the space under "The Rain of Fire" has been painted a portrait, but not a fragment of the face remains, an obelisk-shaped monument having in later times been placed against the wall, completely destroying it. Cavalcaselle, for what reason is not clear to me, supposes that it represented Niccolo Franceschi, the treasurer of the works. On the opposite side of the doorway is a coloured medallion, representing a man with a turban, who, leaning his back over the frame as though it were a window, seems to be gazing up at the painting above. This, Cavalcaselle suggests, is a portrait of the painter himself; Luzi, however, considers it to be Empedocles. Over it in the decorations are two small tablets bearing the master's initials, L. and S.

We began by considering the general impression of the frescoes upon the mind, their great imaginative qualities, and the solemn mood they induce. We will conclude by summing up the technical excellences, which distinguish them from all his previous work by extra power and ability. The beauty of the compositions, the filling of the spaces and the effectiveness of the scheme of decoration are as much above the work of three years before—the Mount Oliveto series—as is the freedom and dramatic power with which the scenes are rendered.

What chiefly strikes one is the homogeneousness of the whole design, each part of the work keeping its due place in the great scheme. We are never unconscious, even while carried away by the emotions of each separate scene, of the solemn presence of the Judges above, who preside over the final justice. Considered as subject-pictures, the intense dramatic feeling makes them extremely powerful in their different effects, so that it is impossible to look at them unmoved. Finally, the facility and freedom with which his anatomical knowledge has allowed Signorelli to render all the possibilities of movement and gesture, is as much in advance of his age, as is his modern and natural visualisation, and the impressionistic breadth of his brushwork. In that respect, indeed, it is impossible to go farther. Later painters have erred as much in exaggerating violent action and over-developing muscles, as the earlier master fell short in dry and laborious stiffness. Signorelli, while retaining the earnest sincerity and thoughtfulness of the earlier workers, has been able at the same time to render with modern facility every movement of the human frame, and the result is an achievement which no later skill has surpassed, which is perhaps the last word in the treatment of the nude in action.

Before closing these remarks, I must not omit to record the gratitude due to the two German painters, Bothe and Pfannenschmidt of Wuertemburg, who, in 1845, at their own cost, cleaned and carefully restored the frescoes, a work done on the whole with great discretion.

Two other paintings of the master, now in the Opera del Duomo, are so closely connected with the chapel, that the description would be incomplete without mention of them here—the altar-piece of the Magdalen, and the portraits of himself and the treasurer of the Cathedral, Niccolo Franceschi.

The former, painted originally for the Cathedral, is a life-sized, very broadly painted figure, somewhat coarse in execution, but exceedingly powerful. She wears a gorgeous gold garment, elaborately embroidered, and over it a brownish-red mantle lined with green. There is a stately dignity in the picture itself which the photograph unfortunately does not reproduce. It is dated 1504, and on the old frame is the following Inscription:



The double portrait, painted in 1503,[66] is a work of the greatest importance, both by reason of the interest attached to the portraiture, and also that it remains to us absolutely untouched, every stroke being in the original state as the master left it. The heads are full of character and life, powerfully and rapidly painted in black and red, on a brick or tile, thickly overlaid with gesso. The brush-strokes are bold and firm, and the outline slightly incised in the plaster. Under each head Signorelli has painted the names LVCA and NICOLAVS, and on the back is a most interesting inscription, apparently painted by himself, although the words are most probably the composition of the Treasurer. The following is a translation: "Luca Signorelli, an Italian by race, citizen of Cortona, renowned for his skill as a painter, comparable to Apelles for attainment, has, under the rule and in the pay of Niccolo Franceschi, of the same race, but a citizen of Orvieto, Treasurer of the vestry of its Cathedral, painted with clear meaning this chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, with figures of the Last Judgment; and, eager for immortal fame, on the back of this inscription, has painted the effigy of both, life-like, and with wonderful art. In the reign of Pope Alexander VI. and of the Emperor Maximilian IV. in the year of grace M.CCCCC. in the third Kalends of January."


[60] "Italian Painters," i. 92.

[61] Vasari, iii. 690.

[62] It was not till the seventeenth century that the chapel was dedicated to the Madonna di San Brizio, on account of a Byzantine miraculous picture of the Virgin, still on the altar.

[63] For an account of the Cathedral, see the Padre della Valle's "Storia del Duomo di Orvieto."

[64] "Il Duomo di Orvieto." Ludovico Luzi. Firenze. Le Monnier, 1866.

[65] Preserved among the Archives of the Cathedral. Transcribed by Vischer, p. 349, etc.

[66] The head of Luca is reproduced, divided from the other, as the frontispiece.



We have seen that during the four years and a half in which Signorelli was engaged on the great work of the Orvieto frescoes, he yet spent some part of the time in his native city, and there, in 1502, he painted the signed and dated "Deposition" with its predelle for the church of Santa Margherita, now removed to the Cathedral. Vasari thus speaks of it: "In Santa Margherita of Cortona, his native town, belonging to the Frati del Zoccolo, he painted a dead Christ; one of his most excellent works."[67] This dead Christ is the figure which by its realism and pathos gave rise to the legend, already quoted,[68] that it was painted from the body of his own son. It is an exact counterpart of the "Pieta" in the Orvieto frescoes, except that it is here reversed. It is a work of great beauty and feeling, painted with sincere emotion, and has none of the academic dryness with which he treated the same subject in Borgo San Sepolcro. The fine grouping, the restraint with which the sorrow is rendered, the real pathos of the scene, give the picture dignity and solemnity, and the glow of colour, obtained by the lavish use of gold in the embroideries, add to its richness and decorative beauty. The Virgin is nearly the same figure as in the Orvieto fresco, and in feature recalls the San Sepolcro "Crucifixion," and the Magdalen is almost identical with the altar-piece of the Opera del Duomo, just considered, although here painted with more refinement and grace. In the background is one of those vivid scenes of crowded movement, which occur so often at this period of the master's development—a group of excited soldiers pressing round the Cross, with fluttering pennons and prancing steeds. The predella hung just below, contains four subjects—"Christ in Gethsemane," "The Last Supper," "The Betrayal," and "The Flagellation." Unfortunately, both pictures are so badly lighted that it is almost impossible except on a very bright day to appreciate the colour. The scenes in this predella are nearly the same as in that of the Florence Academy, which hangs as part of the altar-piece, No. 164, although it does not seem really to have belonged to it. The two predelle must certainly have been painted within a very short time of one another. In both the composition of "The Last Supper" is precisely the same, as well as "The Flagellation." In the "Betrayal" there is the same violent crowd with spears and pennons, surging round the Christ. In the Florence picture, however, there are only three divisions, "The Betrayal" and "The Way to Calvary" forming the background to "The Agony in the Garden," where Christ kneels before a little brook, with the Apostles sleeping in rows behind Him. The broad impressionistic manner in which they are painted is the same; and, coarse as is the brushwork, dark and heavy as is the colour, especially in the flesh tints, they are yet exceedingly fine examples of Signorelli's bold style and quick resolute workmanship, and well illustrate his power of rendering violent combined movement, in the crowds which throng round the betrayed Christ, and march tumultuously on the way to Calvary.

The "Madonna and Saints" above this last predella (No. 164) although according to Signor Milanesi, not its altar-piece,[69] must certainly have been painted somewhere about the same time, for the broad style, tending rather to coarseness, of the work of this period is very noticeable. It was executed for the church of Santa Trinita in Cortona, and Milanesi suggests that it might be the altar-piece ordered in 1521 by the authorities of that church,[70] but the description given by the document of commission is very different, and the picture itself seems to bear evidence of an earlier date. Like so many of the works in this Gallery, the painting has been so thickly daubed over by modern restorers, that it is next to impossible to form a just idea of the original colour; in its present state it is disagreeably crude and heavy, and in any case the overcrowding of the composition would prevent its being considered a successful example of the master's work, although it has his usual stately dignity and impressive qualities in the individual figures. The Virgin sits with the Child on her knee, clad in red robes, over which is a garment, now smeared over with black paint, but which formerly was covered with gold embroideries. Over her head is a Trinity, in a mandorla surrounded by cherubs. On the left stands the Archangel Michael, in Roman armour, holding the balances, in which are little nude figures representing the souls of the dead; on the right stands Gabriel with the lily and scroll containing the Message of the Annunciation. Below, seated at the foot of the throne, are Saint Augustine and Saint Anastasio, the latter the same burly Bishop with wide-spread knees of the Loreto Cupola, and the Volterra altar-piece. These two Saints are fine, stately figures, painted with broad sweeping lines. The green robe of S. Anastasio was originally covered with a gorgeous pattern, probably of yellow or gold, but this has been effaced by the thick smear of repaint. The gentle humility in the face of the Virgin recalls the "Madonna," of the Brera Gallery, Milan (No. 197 bis) with which the picture has, besides, much in common, the Child, as well as the hands of the Virgin, being exactly the same, although in a reversed position. We shall not probably be far wrong in placing the Florence altar-piece about the same time as this "Madonna," of the Brera, which is dated 1508, and was painted for the church of S. Francesco in Arcevia (a town famous for its possession of one of Signorelli's most important works, which we shall presently consider). Very much repainted, the Madonna still retains great charm and beauty, but the composition is geometrical, and the figures of the Saints uninteresting and empty. In these, especially the standing figure on the left, I feel the hand of an assistant. With all Signorelli's mannerisms, it lacks his resolute touch and powerful presentation. It is probable that the great inequalities in many of his paintings, especially at this later time, are due to his leaving much of the execution to assistants. Whatever faults are in the work of the master himself, he is never, up to the last, guilty of any feebleness or insipidity, such, for instance, as in the painting of this unsolid figure.

I have been led from one picture to another by reason of similarities of form, and have omitted to speak of a beautiful and important painting, evidently executed soon after the Orvieto frescoes, with which it has much in common. This is the altar-piece in the church of S. Niccolo, Cortona, on one side of which is a "Madonna and Saints," on the other a "Dead Christ upheld by Angels." It is as far as I know, original in idea—this dead Christ supported by the Archangel, while others show the symbols of the Passion to the group of kneeling Saints. The four Angels are very noble figures, and resemble those of the "Hell" and "Resurrection," of Orvieto. The "S. Jerome" is sincerely painted, and without any of the senile sentimentality with which Signorelli occasionally represents this Saint. The one false note in the work is the stunted figure of the dead Christ, which seems all the more insignificant by contrast with the grand Archangel who supports it. This poetic figure with its great wings and its tender beauty is perhaps the greatest of all the master's renderings of the "Divine Birds." The colour scheme is much lighter than usual, the flesh-tints being especially fair, and the painting is another instance of those seeming efforts to adopt a less heavy palette, to which I have drawn attention in speaking of the Uffizi Tondo.

Vischer considers the "Madonna and Saints" on the reverse of the panel to have been painted at a different date.[71] It is an exceedingly fine picture, with all the great qualities of majestic beauty. The Virgin sits enthroned between SS. Peter and Paul, robed in red, and wearing a blue mantle lined with green. The Child, half lying on her knee, has his hand raised in act to bless. It is well modelled, and of a more pleasing type than usual.

In 1507 was painted another very important work—the altar-piece in the church of S. Medardo in Arcevia, a splendid Ancona, still in its original Gothic frame. The Virgin is of the same tender type as in the Brera and Florence Academy pictures, but with an added stateliness and gravity. In the centre panel she sits enthroned, with the Child on her knee, clad in an embroidered robe, on the breast of which are two naked cherubs. On the left stand S. Medardo and S. Sebastian, on the right S. Andrew and S. Rock, each figure separated, as in the old polyptychs, by the pilasters of the frame. Above is God the Father, with two Saints on either side, left S. Paul and S. John the Baptist, right S. Peter and S. James of Camerino. Each of the side pilasters of the frame is divided into seven small spaces, each containing the half figure of a saint, the work of assistants. The effect of the whole painting is of great splendour, the colours are of glowing depth, and the richness enhanced by the low relief in gilded gesso of some of the brocades. But with all its state and dignity, perhaps the most important part of the altar-piece is the predella with its five beautiful pictures, flanked on either side by the arms of Arcevia. As colour these are remarkably fine and are treated with more care and less rapidity than Signorelli usually gave to predella work, while retaining the same breadth and freedom of general effect. "The Annunciation," with its beautiful perspective, is one of his best compositions of this subject, in which he is always so successful. "The Nativity" recalls that of the Uffizi predella; "The Adoration of the Magi" is a fine rendering of the scene, but the two last are the most interesting as well as being the best in workmanship. In "The Flight into Egypt" the painter has evidently been influenced by the engravings of Albrecht Duerer, and has painted the little fortified town of the background very much in his manner. "The Murder of the Innocents" contains two figures in splendid action, the executioners, one with his dagger raised in act to strike, the other holding the child up by the leg—both magnificent studies of the nude, and worthy of the painter of the Orvieto frescoes.

Very inferior is the altar-piece of "The Baptism," in the same church of S. Medardo. The existence of the contract of commission, dated June 5, 1508,[72] shows that Signorelli bound himself to paint the figures of Christ, of the Baptist, and of God the Father, with his own hand, leaving the rest of the work to his best pupils. These figures are, however, so different from any of the master's own work, that it is difficult to believe that they are entirely by him. The picture had evidently to be finished in great haste, since the receipt for payment in Luca's hand is dated the 24th of the same month of June, thus leaving only nineteen days between commission and completion, a very short time for so large a work. The Baptist stands in a rich red mantle pouring the water on the head of the Herculean Christ, who wears the Pollaiuolesque striped loin-cloth. The coarseness and exaggeration of the muscular development have not the characteristics of Signorelli's own errors in over-realism, but bear the same relation to his style that the work of Bandinelli bears to that of Michelangelo. Above is a feeble figure of God the Father, and in the middle distance a man pulls off his shirt, reminding one, both in form and treatment, of the figures in Pier dei Franceschi's "Baptism," of the National Gallery. Another sits by the river putting on a sandal, not unlike, although very inferior to, the athlete of the Munich Tondo. The composition is grand, and in the importance given by it to the two principal figures we certainly see the work of Signorelli. The picture is an example of one of those mysterious conflicts of documentary and internal evidence, which the study of Art occasionally furnishes. It still remains in its beautiful original frame, in the gables of which is painted an "Annunciation," and below, on each side, three half figures of Saints by some assistant, who was not even a pupil of Signorelli, but obviously a follower of Niccolo da Foligno. The predella contains five scenes. "The Birth of the Baptist," "The Preaching in the Desert," "The Denouncing of Herod and Herodias" (a Tondo), "The Feast of Herod," and—rather out of its due course, since the head is offered in the charger in the fourth scene—"The Decapitation in Prison."

There is a very beautiful fragment of an unknown predella in the possession of Mr Jarvis of New Haven, U.S.A., which belongs approximately to this period. It has all the impressive dignity and breadth of treatment of Signorelli's best work. The subject is conceived with special feeling for its stateliness, Joseph standing by the side of the Virgin to receive the gifts, as a Chamberlain might stand beside the throne, while the earnest reverence of the kneeling King, who has cast his crown at the feet of the Child, is most nobly rendered. The gold in the brocaded robes is here slightly in relief. The face of the kneeling King recalls that of the aged Apostle in "The Institution of the Eucharist," Cortona, a painting dated 1512; a beautiful picture, executed for the high altar of the Gesu, but which has now been removed to the Cathedral. Like the other works in this choir it is very badly lighted, and the photograph is also indistinct. Vasari writes of it: "In the Compagnia del Gesu, in the same city (Cortona), he painted three pictures, of which the one over the high altar is marvellous, where Christ communicates the Apostles, and Judas puts the wafer in his satchel."[73] At the end of a shallow hall, in the usual good perspective, His head accentuated against the sky, as in Leonardo's "Last Supper," Christ stands, and puts the sacred wafer in the mouth of a kneeling Apostle. In the foreground Judas, with a crafty look, opens his satchel. The composition is exceedingly fine, the twelve Apostles making a stately frame for the central figure of Christ. The attitudes and gestures are natural and dramatic, and the faces have individual character.

The two other pictures of which Vasari speaks as having also been painted for the Gesu, now the Baptistery, are—"The Nativity" (a coarse and badly-painted school picture, having affinities with that of the National Gallery, London, No. 1133), and a "Madonna and Saints," which still remains in the Baptistery. Here the Virgin sits, with a Bishop on either side, and two monks below. Dry and precise in composition, like that of the Brera, and apparently painted with the assistance of pupils, the Madonna herself is still very characteristic of the master, and not unlike those of the Brera and the Florence Academy. The picture is in an exceedingly ruined state, and the gabled top in which is painted God the Father, though not without merit, does not belong to the original painting, but is of a later date.

Lastly, we may place in this group, the broadly-painted predella, which hangs now, badly lighted, in the sacristy of the Arezzo Cathedral. It is unknown to what altar-piece it belonged, and the pictures are now divided and separately framed. The first represents "The Birth of the Virgin," the second "The Presentation," and the last "The Marriage." "The Presentation" is the finest in composition and general effect, and contains very stately figures of Joachim and Anna, with splendidly draped robes, and behind them a fine austere landscape. All three pictures are broadly painted and swept in in the usual impressionistic manner.


[67] Vasari, iii. 686.

[68] See p. 10.

[69] Vasari, iii. 70. Commentario.

[70] See Chronological Table, p. 127.

[71] Vischer, p. 259.

[72] For these notices see Anselmi's monograph, "A proposito della classificazione dei monumenti nazionali nella provincia d'Ancona." (Foligno, 1888), p. 35. Also quoted by Cavalcaselle e Crowe, viii. p. 480.

[73] Vasari, iii, 686.



We have now considered in detail most of the important works of Signorelli's early manhood and maturity, and up to his seventy-fourth year have found him, both in conception and execution, still maintaining a high standard of excellence, and at an age when the life's work is supposed to be over showing but little sign of failing powers. On the contrary, he seems to have gained ground in certain things most characteristic of his technical ability—in a rugged strength of modelling, in facility of drawing and freedom of brushwork, and particularly in that mastery of united movement, which it seemed his special desire to attain. Even in this last group of paintings which we have now to consider the mind works as powerfully, and the subjects are conceived with the same impressive grandeur, as before, and only in one or two instances can it be noticed that the hand does not always respond so readily to the purpose.

In the "Madonna and Saints," of the Mancini collection, Citta di Castello, a slight technical falling off is apparent, although it is possible that this may be due to the assistance of pupils. Its history would seem, however, to point to its being the unaided work of Signorelli; but, as we have already seen, documentary evidence is by no means infallible. In the archives of Montone, a little town near Umbertide, a deed, dated September 10, 1515, was discovered, which speaks of an altar-piece presented by the master as a free gift to a certain French physician, Luigi de Rutanis, in gratitude "for services rendered, and for those which he hoped to receive in future."[74]

The Virgin stands heavily on the heads of cherubs, with S. Sebastian on one side, and Santa Cristina, with a terribly realistic millstone hung round her neck, on the other. Two angels hold the crown over her head, and below stand S. Jerome and S. Nicholas of Bari, both intently reading. The background stretches away into a charming distant landscape, in which is a lake, not unlike Trasimeno, and sloping hills, on which scenes of pastoral life are taking place. This landscape, taken by itself, is the best part of the painting; of the rest, the composition is too mechanically precise, the values of distance are bad, the figures being all on the same plane, and even the landscape does not keep its proper place in the picture. This last fault may, however, be due to repainting, which is so thick that it is useless to speak of the present colour. The altar-piece was discovered by Signor Giacomo Mancini in a cellar in Montone, almost destroyed by damp and neglect, and since its restoration it is perhaps hardly fair to discuss more than the general lines; yet these, in the awkwardness of arrangement, and the comparative triviality of the figures, both in attitude and gesture, betray a weakness we have not hitherto met with.

Another picture of the same date—1515—is "The Madonna and Saints," in the church of San Domenico, Cortona, also in very bad condition. The restoration of the seventeenth century added a piece of canvas all round, in order to enlarge it. It was painted for Serninio, Bishop of Cortona, whose portrait is to be seen in the corner, full of expression and exceedingly well modelled. The Virgin, in red robe and green mantle, sits with her feet resting on the heads of cherubs, with an angel on either side, and below S. Peter Martyr, and S. Domenico. It is an important work, and among the most successful of the later paintings, and it is curious that it should not have been photographed by either of the larger firms.

The next year, 1516, Signorelli painted "The Deposition," of Umbertide, in which he shows all the technical power of his maturity—(or was it, perhaps, that he left less of the execution to assistants?). It was executed for the little dark church of Santa Croce, in this village, till recently called La Fratta, and still stands over the high altar—not, however, in its original frame, which was removed in the seventeenth century. It seems that there was a lunette over the top, containing a Pieta.[75] Terribly defaced by bad restoration, and the cracking of the later paint, it is still a very beautiful work, and its predella has all the qualities of boldness and freedom characteristic of the master's best times. Some of the figures are perhaps too obviously life-studies, especially the Mary, standing in the foreground left, which he evidently painted straight from some contadina, whose stolid features he reproduced without reference to the subject. The body of the Christ is successful, and has all the weight and helpless inertia of a corpse; the composition is admirable, and there is sincerity of emotion in the painting of much of the scene. It is, however, in the three pictures of the predella that we shall find most proof of the vigour of mind and hand. It is interesting to compare Signorelli's treatment of the same subject with that of Pier dei Franceschi in Arezzo, at the painting of which he probably assisted, more than forty years before—"The March of Constantine," "The Discovery of the Cross," and "The Entry of Heraclius into Jerusalem." The first of the three is the best, both for the special quality of animated movement, and for the excellence of its composition and its effect of spacious movement. How much larger a tiny panel like this appears than some of the crowded altar-pieces of his later years! Dashed in with a few broad touches, as a modern impressionist might paint, the scene of the camp is most natural, with its groups of soldiers and marching troops with raised lances and fluttering pennons.

In the second, three scenes are run into one, without much reference to any sequence of the story. On the right the Queen of Sheba kneels before the bridge which she has recognised as the sacred wood; on the left the Empress Helena finds the three crosses; and in the centre takes place the testing of the true one in the resuscitation of the dead youth. In the third—"The Entry of Heraclius into Jerusalem"—we have again a splendid effect of a moving body of men. The Emperor has descended from his horse, which is led behind him, and barefooted, in his shirt, he carries the Cross within the gates.

The next dated work—"The Madonna and Saints," of the Arezzo Gallery, was painted three years after this, in 1519. "He executed," says Vasari, "in his old age, a picture for the Compagnia of S. Girolamo, part of which was paid for by Messer Niccolo Gamurrini, Doctor of Law, Master of the Rolls, whom he portrayed from life in that picture, on his knees before the Madonna, to whom he is presented by a S. Nicholas, also in the said picture; there are besides, S. Donato and S. Stephen, and below a nude S. Jerome, and a David who sings on a Psaltery; there are also two Prophets, who appear, by the scrolls in their hands, to be discussing the Conception."[76]

The commission was given to Luca by the Compagnia of S. Girolamo, on September 19, 1519, and the price was to be one hundred broad gold florins, to be shared by Messer Gamurrini and the Confraternity.

In this picture it is in the intention rather than the execution that we shall find the vigour and strength which ended only with the painter's life. Much still remains grand and impressive, but though it shows considerable power, the actual work is not so good. The colour is exceedingly dark, and full of harsh contrasts; the composition is overcrowded, as in many of his later paintings; and the figure of David, although nobly conceived, is awkward and ill-balanced. On the other hand, the Virgin is as powerfully executed as ever, and so is the earnest, white-haired Prophet at her feet. It seems to me that the master has given his own features in this upturned face, with its firmly-cut lips and square jaw, certainly much more real a person than the apathetic kneeling Donor. After its removal from its original place over the altar of the Confraternity, the picture was for several years in Santa Croce, and, after the suppression of that convent in 1849, removed to Santo Spirito, and from thence to the Gallery.

Very close to it in style, and probably painted at no distant date, is the predella owned by Mr Ludwig Mond. It has three stories—I. Ahasuerus and Esther, II. and III. (with no legendary connection of which I am aware) Scenes in the Life of S. Augustine. The first is the finest. Ahasuerus, surrounded by his councillors, bends forward, and touches with his sceptre the head of the kneeling Esther. His figure is very like that of the David in the foregoing picture. On the right is a fine back view of one of the characteristic swaggering soldiers in tight striped clothes. The treatment is broad, but the drawing in parts is somewhat careless. In the other two scenes, the composition is jerky and insignificant, but the individual figures are characteristic, especially the nude ecorche-like old saint. They represent visions which appear in the air to S. Augustine, who sits below under a loggia.

Again, very close to the Arezzo altar-piece is "The Conception of the Virgin," painted for the church of the Gesu, Cortona, now in the Cathedral. The Virgin stands, on the usual cherub heads, in red and blue robes, while God the Father bends over her, and two angels scatter flowers through the air. Below are six prophets, among them David, with his Psaltery, and Solomon, in crown and royal robe. Under the Virgin, apparently supporting the cherubs, is the Tree of Life, with two very fine nude figures of Adam and Eve receiving the fruit from the serpent. It is the lower part only we have to consider, the whole of the upper painting, with the weak, badly-draped Virgin and the theatrical angels being certainly the work of assistants, as also, it seems to me, is the drapery of the half-kneeling Prophet to the right. The David is exactly the same figure as in the Arezzo altar-piece, to which, besides, there is a great resemblance in all the faces, and in the hard coarse manner in which the draperies are treated. The picture, however, lacks the rugged strength which makes the Arezzo picture, with all its shortcomings, so impressive, and only in the nude figures is the old power unimpaired. These, however, are very good, the Adam especially being as fine a study of the human form as any of the earlier work.

At Morra, a little village not far from Citta di Castello, in the church of San Crescenziano, are two very important frescoes, a "Crucifixion" and a "Flagellation," evidently very late work of the master. In the latter the composition is very little altered from the early picture of the Brera. Christ is in the centre, bound to the pillar, and on the right stands the Roman soldier. The executioner near him is almost a repetition of the magnificent drawing in the Louvre (see reproduction), except that the legs are wide apart. All Signorelli's energies have again gone into the figures of the executioners, but, fine as they are, they are not treated with the same breadth as in the earlier picture, albeit the painting is free almost to roughness. The background, instead of the carved wall, now opens out of the court into a spacious landscape.

In the "Crucifixion," the group at the foot of the Cross is arranged much like those of the San Sepolcro, Urbino, and Cortona pictures, but it is half lost in the confusion of a crowd of mounted soldiers. The impressive silence and solemnity of these earlier "Pietas" is changed here to a scene of noisy turmoil, and the painter's interest is obviously centred on the movement of this hustling crowd. The horses are badly drawn and ill-balanced, as in the Louvre "Adoration," and the Magdalen is very coarsely painted. The animation and action are well rendered, but something of the grandeur of his earlier work is sacrificed.

This grandeur was, however, fully regained in the last work of the master, painted in 1523, the very year of his death—"The Coronation of the Virgin," in the Collegiata of Foiano, a small town near Sinalunga.

The Virgin, in red robes and greenish-blue mantle, with fair hair, kneels before Christ, who places the crown on her head. On either side two angels play musical instruments, and on the right and left stand S. Joseph and the Archangel Michael. In the foreground kneels S. Martin, to whom the altar-piece was dedicated, in a magnificent gold cope, having on his left S. Jerome with a grey loin-cloth. Farther back are three monks, and behind S. Martin stands the Magdalen, while on the other side an old saint introduces the donor, Angelo Massarelli. The general tone of colour is not nearly so heavy as in the Arezzo painting, the reds are of a pale rose-colour, and only the flesh-tints of S. Jerome are very dark. This figure and the S. Martin are nobly and powerfully conceived. The donor recalls the portrait of the Gamurrini of Arezzo.

The painting does not seem to be the unassisted work of Signorelli, the S. Michael being too insignificant a figure, and the Magdalen too weakly executed to be by his own hand. The predella bears evidence that he had an assistant, for, of the four stories of S. Martin, which they illustrate, only two are by the master. These two are very fine and bold, in composition and brushwork. In the first the Saint, clad in armour, is seated on the characteristic white horse, with a man-at-arms behind him, and divides his cloak with the nude beggar. The background is a broadly-painted landscape. The other represents the Saint kneeling before a Bishop and two acolytes, clothed in a green tabard, a romantic and beautiful figure. The two remaining divisions are larger in size, and obviously the work of assistants, one illustrating S. Martin exorcising a mad bull, the other his funeral and the miraculous healing of the sick by the dead body.

It is satisfactory to have to conclude the list of works with one so strong, and which combines so many of the qualities which we have learnt to look for in Signorelli's painting. Rugged energy, dignity, decorative grace, and even romantic beauty are all to be found in this altar-piece, which is a fit ending to the life's work of the master.[77]


[74] Transcribed in Vischer, p. 360.

[75] Cavalcaselle e Crowe, viii. 493.

[76] Vasari, iii. 692.

[77] These detailed studies do not include all the works of Signorelli, but a complete list of all that are known to the author is to be found in the catalogue at the end.



The study of Signorelli's drawings is unsatisfactory, both by reason of their scarcity, and the enormous difference of merit, even among those few which can be considered as genuine. Morelli writes: "His drawings are found in all the most important collections of Europe,"[78] but he mentions only thirteen, and although many certainly in all the galleries bear his name, and the impress of his influence, later study appears to accept only six as by his own hand; and of these six two are so much inferior to the rest that I cannot bring myself to feel any degree of certainty as to their genuineness.

This difficulty of acceptance arises from a comparison with the very high standard of excellence in the two magnificent studies of the nude in the Louvre collection, which correspond, in breadth of feeling, in grandeur of pose, and in boldness and accuracy of touch, to his best brushwork.

No. 345, formerly in the Baldinucci collection, represents two nude male figures of superb proportions, one standing with his hands on his hips, the other, in the characteristic attitude with wide-spread, firmly-planted feet, having his hand on the shoulder of the first. It is in black chalk, dashed in swiftly, with bold sweeping strokes, apparently direct from the life. It is one of the finest studies of the nude in existence, both for the splendid anatomy of the figures and the freedom and energy of touch. No. 343, also from the Baldinucci collection, which is here reproduced, is hardly inferior to it in the same qualities of boldness and freedom. It seems to be the study from which Signorelli painted the executioner in grisaille near the "Pieta," in Orvieto, and later the scourging figure of the Morra "Flagellation," although in both there are slight differences of position. The action is exceedingly fine, the poise of the figure on the well-drawn feet being especially good, while all the force of the strong body is thrown into the arms stretched high up over the head.

In Dresden is a sheet of studies, which, while less fine than these two, are yet very characteristic, and undoubtedly genuine. They are also in black chalk, but very much rubbed, and consequently rather indistinct They represent four nude figures in different postures, which Morelli considers to be studies for part of the Orvieto frescoes, although I have failed to discover there anything which corresponds to them.

In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, is another black chalk study of two men being chained by devils, which, again, seems as though it must have been intended for some of the figures in the "Damnation," but which I cannot find there. This drawing is also very characteristic, and although falling far below the merit of the Louvre studies, has all Signorelli's qualities of dramatic energy and strength of touch.

The heavy, coarse study for a "Death of Lucretia," also in the Uffizi, I find extremely hard, in comparison with any of the foregoing, to accept as an undoubted work of the master, although I am not prepared to absolutely deny it. There is a want of proportion in the figures, and an indecision in the strokes, hard to reconcile with all we know of his work.

In the collection at Windsor is another chalk drawing—"Hercules overcoming Antaeus"—of little merit either of anatomy or of technique, but which may possibly be from his hand. There is something of the influence of Antonio Pollaiuolo visible in this treatment of his favourite subject, and it is just conceivable that it may be an early study by Signorelli done in his workshop.

The list of all the drawings which are attributed to him in different collections would take too long for the slight purpose it would serve; but for the benefit of those who desire to compare for themselves those which Morelli and Vischer decide to be genuine, I have added a list of their attributions, transcribed without addition or correction.


DRESDEN (Gallery).—Study of four nude figures.

FLORENCE (Uffizi).—Case 459. [No. 1246.]

LONDON (Brit. Mus.).—Three drawings, in vol. 32.

PARIS (Louvre).—[Nos. 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346.]

WINDSOR (Library).—A drawing, attributed to Masaccio.

Besides these, a design for Marcantonio's engraving of "Mars, Venus, and Cupid" (Bartsch, 345), attributed to Mantegna.


BERLIN (Gallery).—Man's head with cap (exposed in frame).

CHATSWORTH.—Four Saints (Waagen's attribution).

DRESDEN (Gallery) Case I. 10.—Head of a Woman. (Exposed in room II.).—Battlefield (?) [This so-called Battlefield is the study of four nudes, mentioned among the genuine drawings.—Author's Note.]

FLORENCE (Uffizi).—Figure of Youth. Two Damned bound by Devils. Nude Figure bearing Corpse. Madonna and Child (doubtful). Death of Lucretia (?). Bacchanal.

PARIS (Louvre) 340.—Four nude figures; black chalk. 341. Two Saints; coloured chalk. 342. A Saint; coloured chalk. 343. Nude figure scourging; black chalk. 344. A Saint; black chalk. 345. Two nude figures. 346. Pieta. 347. Nude figure bearing corpse; water-colour (more finished repetition of the Uffizi study).

SIENA (Collection of Mr C. Fairfax Murray).—Seated Saints (study for grisaille Prophets in the nave of the church of Loreto).

WINDSOR (Collection of H.M. the Queen).—Devil seizing man; black chalk (study for Orvieto frescoes). Male figure in three positions; Indian ink (attributed to Raffael).


[78] "Italian Painters," i. 93.



It would not be possible, in the space at my disposal, to go with any thoroughness into the work of Signorelli's imitators, even of those who fell directly under his influence. The painters who stand foremost among them, Don Bartolommeo della Gatta and Girolamo Genga, are both too important to be dealt with in a short notice, while it would be a thankless as well as an arduous task, to try to distinguish the different painters of what is generically classed as school-work, being, as it nearly always is, without either individuality or merit. I shall do little more, therefore, than make a brief mention of the names and principal works of the known imitators, and try instead to indicate the influence of Signorelli's style upon painting in general.

Morelli says much of his "uncompromising guidance," and of the "degeneration" of those who fell under his "crushing influence."[79] Something of the sort has been said of Michelangelo, and might be said of every strong man whose personality is powerful enough to stamp its mark on his contemporaries, but since no one who is content to be merely a copyist could produce valuable work, the world has probably lost little by the submission. It is, however, true that, as the powerful muscles of Michelangelo's statues become meaningless lumps in the works of Bandinelli and Vasari, so the mannerisms of Signorelli, which were the outward sign of his strong and energetic temperament, lost all significance, and were merely coarse exaggerations in the work of his imitators. The swaggering attitude, the freedom of gesture, and the dramatic expression, shorn of the strength and earnest emotion from which they sprang, became disagreeably incongruous in the pictures of the feeble painters who imitated them.

But one, at least, of Signorelli's disciples was neither slavish nor feeble. Bartolommeo della Gatta, otherwise Piero di Antonio Dei, the most important of those who came under his influence, was a painter of great charm and ability. If it be true, as a recent criticism has pronounced, that the beautiful "Madonna," of the Christ Church collection, Oxford, there attributed to Pier dei Franceschi, is from his brush,[80] we have to deal with a man who started work under the same ennobling influence as Signorelli himself. Be that as it may, and as future research will decide, the fresco of "The Death of Moses," in the Sistine Chapel, which later study has presumed to be almost entirely his work, proves him to be a painter of great beauty and importance. Signor Gaetano Milanesi has thrown doubt upon his existence as a painter of anything except miniatures,[81] but the happy discovery of a document, referring to his altar-piece of "S. Francis receiving the stigmata," in the Church of that Saint in Castiglione Fiorentino, has placed the fact beyond dispute.[82] The student who desires to know more of this painter is referred to the last Italian edition of Cavalcaselle e Crowe, vol. viii., and to the "Life" by Vasari, whose reliability in this case the researches of the critics so well confirm. Born probably in 1408, he was already a man of mature age when Signorelli himself was a child, but his simple, pliable nature fitted him to be a follower rather than a leader, and we find him now influenced by Pier dei Franceschi, now by Signorelli, and again later by Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. If it be true that the really splendid painting of the Sistine Chapel is due to him entirely, it is, of course, his masterpiece, and reaches, indeed, a level not very inferior to that of Signorelli himself. His most important undisputed works are the above-mentioned painting in the church of S. Francesco, Castiglione Fiorentino, the altar-piece in the Collegiata of the same town, a S. Rock in the Gallery, and a fresco of S. Jerome, in the Bishop's Palace, Arezzo, etc.

Another imitator of importance, Girolamo Genga, impressionable as his nature was, yet has much individual excellence to distinguish him from the rest of Signorelli's assistants. Born at Urbino in 1476, he was placed, at the age of fifteen, in the studio of Signorelli, with whom, according to Vasari, he remained for twenty years, becoming "one of the best pupils that he had."[83] After assisting the master in the painting of the Cappella Nuova, Orvieto, Genga (always according to the same authority) placed himself to study perspective with Perugino, at the time that Raffaelle was also under the influence of that painter. This, as well as the fact that he was a native of Urbino, and had probably also felt the impression of Timoteo Viti, would account for the enormous influence Raffaelle's painting had upon his later work. He seems to have had an extraordinary facility for changing his style; for, while under the influence of Signorelli, as in the Petrucci Palace frescoes (Nos. 375 and 376 in the Gallery of Siena), his work bears so much resemblance to that of the master, that so observant a critic as Morelli declared the composition of both to be most certainly by Luca himself.[84] Genga seems to have caught, not the superficial forms only, but also the spirit of Signorelli in these frescoes, for in one—"The Flight of AEneas from Troy"—there is an exaggeration of the characteristic energy and movement, which, almost hysterical though it be, is yet successful and full of real life; while in the swaggering strength of the nude figures in "The Rescue of Prisoners" there is something of Luca's own dignity and impressiveness. In his later work, although he never departs from certain likenesses to his first master, yet he gives himself up to the influence of Raffaelle unreservedly, as may be best seen in the Cesena altar-piece, now in the Brera, Milan. Morelli writes of him: "This eclectic painter, who, though working in a baroque style, is not without talent, is confounded with the most diverse masters, both in drawings and paintings";[85] and the fact that besides the above-mentioned variations of style, his work is also pardonably attributed to Girolamo del Pacchia[86] and to Sodoma,[87] fully justifies the epithet and the assertion. Of the other and less important followers, Tommaso Bernabei, called Papacello, seems to have been first assistant of Giulio Romano, and then of Giambattista Caporali, with whom he is said to have painted the frescoes in the Villa Passerini, near Cortona. His first original work is of the year 1524—a "Conception of the Virgin," in the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, near Cortona, in which the manner of Signorelli is very apparent. In the same church are two other paintings by him, dated 1527, an "Adoration of the Magi," and an "Annunciation," which are sufficient to indicate the small amount of artistic ability of the painter. The date of his birth is unknown; he died in 1559.[88]

We have, besides, four members of Signorelli's own family. First, his son Polidoro, whom we know to have been his assistant at Orvieto; for, in a document of 1501, he is mentioned as having received certain payments there for salary, as well as for materials for the work.[89] His manner of painting is unknown to us, so that it is impossible to distinguish his share in the frescoes.

Two other sons, Antonio and Pier Tommaso, were, it seems, also assistants of their father, the former being the painter of a dated altar-piece in the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, near Cortona.[90] Lastly, his nephew Francesco, the most important of the assistants bearing his own name, from whose hand there are several paintings very close to the master in style. To him, at least, are attributed the standard of "The Baptism," in the Gallery of Citta di Castello, and a Tondo of a "Madonna and Saints," in the Palazzo Pubblico, Cortona. There is one signed altar-piece by him, "The Conception of the Virgin," in the choir of S. Francesco, Gubbio.

Turpino Zaccagna is another pupil, of whom Manni writes that he was a noble youth of Cortona, who took to painting, and imitated Signorelli's style.[91] Of his work remains an altar-piece in the church of S. Agata di Cantalena, near Cortona, signed and dated 1537.

With him the list of known pupils closes. But more really important than either of these minor scholars is the unknown imitator who painted the beautiful "Magdalen," of the Florence Academy. Executed on linen, and evidently intended for a church standard, this is the most successful of all the works in Signorelli's manner, which yet cannot be accepted as genuine. The design of the principal figures in the foreground and middle distance I believe to be by Signorelli himself, and the intensity of emotion in the Magdalen, who has cast herself at the foot of the Cross, and the impressive grandeur of the three figures to the right, have lost none of the original spirit of the master. The colour is entirely different, and would alone preclude the acceptance of the painting as Signorelli's work, but, moreover, the general effect has so little of his sweeping breadth, and the details of the shadowy landscape are so poorly composed, that it is probable even the whole of the drawing is not by him.

An interesting picture in the Gallery of Buda-Pesth, there attributed to Luca himself, connects the charming and mysterious "Griselda" series (Nos. 912, 913, and 914), of the National Gallery,[92] with some follower of Signorelli, for it is sufficient to glance at the background of this "Tiberius Gracchus" to be convinced that its painter is the same unknown master. In the "Griselda" pictures there is more evidence than here of the influence of Pintorricchio, to whom they are, not unnaturally, attributed; while in the "Tiberius," in the drapery of the figure, and the type of the children who support the tablet, especially, there is much of the real spirit of Signorelli, as well as a good deal of his breadth and solidity of drawing. The painter must, for the present, remain as an unknown Umbrian, almost equally influenced by Pintorricchio and Luca, and with peculiar qualities of simple grace and romance, which give his work an extremely individual character.

Very different is the imitation of Signorelli's mannerisms in such works as "The Nativity," of the National Gallery, "The Madonna and Saints," of the Gallery of Citta di Castello, and "The Abbondanza," of the Uffizi. In these the imitation is mechanical, and without any comprehension of the master's spirit. It would be useless to mention more of the school-work, in which superficial excellences and defects are copied with equal zeal.

On the other hand, the spiritual qualities which these mechanical imitators missed, were felt intensely by men who never adopted his mannerisms, and it is in the work of these that the real effect of Signorelli's influence is to be found. The frescoes of Orvieto never became, like Masaccio's in the Carmine, a school to which the younger painters thronged, purposely to learn the methods of the master, but their impressive grandeur and solemnity, and the breadth of brushwork and solid modelling by which these qualities were in a great measure obtained, worked, nevertheless, a very important change in the Art of the time, and a wave of strong fresh blood was sent through its veins. Without them, perhaps, we should never have had the same appeal to the imagination and the nobler instincts in the Sistine paintings, although there is not in the whole of the work one single mannerism from Signorelli's style.[93] But what is called the "Terribilita" of the older master was entirely free from the sombre melancholy which strikes so gloomy a note in the work of Michelangelo. Signorelli's greatest gift to us is his conception of humanity, not only of its robust strength, but of its mental vigour. His figures are solemn, but it is a solemnity untainted with sadness, conscious only of the dignity of the human race, its significance and responsibilities.

By his power over his materials, won by hard study, he added much to Art, and presented things, not as conventional symbols, but as they are actually reflected on the eye. His people stand on solid ground by the help of firm muscle, substantial realities that we feel could be touched and walked round. His atmosphere gives the sense of real space and air. His trees seem to have roots, and their branches to be full of sap. By this truth and power of presenting things as they are he was able to endow his paintings with his own conception of Nature, grander and wider than our own, and to make us see mankind with his eyes, built on broader, stronger lines. Nothing trivial or insignificant enters into his perception of life. He takes his place with Mantegna, with Duerer, and with Cossa, the austere painters, who felt the dignity of life to lie in rugged strength, iron resolution, and unflinching self-reliance.

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