The world’s largest repository of Umbrian art covers seven or so fruitful centuries and showcases dozens of artists, among whom two stand out in particular. Pride of place belongs to the altarpieces by Perugino, who was born nearby in Città della Pieve and spent much of his career working in Perugia, between time in Florence, where he studied alongside Leonoardo da Vinci, and in Rome, where he executed frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Among his works in Rooms 22–26 are delicate landscapes, sweet Madonnas, and grinning Christ childs that reveal his spare, precise style. They are all the more ironically transcendent given that Perugino was openly anti-religion, and they certainly reveal nothing of the artist’s fairly turbulent life—he was arrested in Florence for assault and battery and barely escaped exile; sued Michelangelo for defamation of character; and more than once was censored for reusing images and lacking originality. He persevered, however, and worked prodigiously until his death at age 73 and left a considerable fortune.
The museum’s other showpiece is by a Tuscan, Piero della Francesca, who completed his “Polyptych of Perugia” for the city’s church of Sant’Antonio in 1470. The symmetry, precise placement of figures and objects, and realistic dimensions of interior spaces reveal the artist’s other occupation as a mathematician, though his figures are robustly human, real flesh and blood. The artist works sheer magic at the top of the piece, in a scene of the Annunciation, when an angel appears to Mary to tell her she will be the mother of the son of God. She’s standing in a brightly lit cloister, and the illusion of pillars leading off into the distance is regarded as one of the greatest examples of perspective in Renaissance art.