Last week, we were all very excited to welcome back our painting by Perugino from its trip abroad. The Miracle of the Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore with a Fall of Snow, or Miracle of the snow, has been in Paris since September 2014 as part of an exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André entitled ‘Perugino, Master of Raphael’. With its return, I thought it fitting for it to be the object of the month.
Miracle of the snow is one of the smaller paintings in our collection, measuring only 184 x 400 mm and is hung in the South Corridor. We do have a fantastic array of paintings in our collection at Polesden Lacey, many of which are very large in size, so I must admit, I did not look at the painting too closely before it went off on its travels. I therefore thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out more about the painting and artist.
The painting is oil on poplar panel. Originally part of an altarpiece, this panel would have formed a section of the pedestal called the predella situated below the main religious scene. It is usually made up of narrative scenes depicting the lives of the saints who are represented in the main panels above. The altarpiece to which this predella panel once belonged have been lost. The scene in the painting shows an event which was foretold in a vision to Pope Liberius. On 5th August 352, a miraculous fall of snow on the Esquiline Hill in Rome traced out the plan of the church that he was to build. In the centre the Virgin Mary looks down on the miraculous event. On the left the Pope raises his mattock, watched by the patrician John from the other side and behind each are attendant figures with the background consisting of Renaissance buildings.
Pietro Perugino was born around 1450 at Città della Pieve, close to Perugia in Italy and is one of the best examples of an Italian Renaissance painter. He is linked with many other famous artists, including Raphael (1493-1520), who was his student from 1500-4. The exhibition in Paris consisted of around sixty paintings, including Miracle of the snow, and was about, in the Museum’s words, ‘establishing a direct link between Perugino’s and Raphael’s works in relation to…landscape and portrait.’
Polesden Lacey’s painting comes within the period of Perugino’s early years and was probably painted in Florence around 1475. At this stage he was almost certainly influenced by the art of Piero della Francesca and particularly in the treatment of space and figures. It was in these early years that Perugino met artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. His fame expanded and from 1481-82, Perugino helped with the decoration of the walls of the Sistine Chapel, at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican, in Rome for Pope Sixtus IV, along with a group of Florentine painters including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli. In particular, Perugino painted the altarpiece and several other importantly placed fresco scenes.
There is some knowledge of previous ownership but it is uncertain when Mrs Greville precisely acquired the painting by Perugino, or why she purchased it. But it is known that she bought it from Langton Douglas (1864 – 1951), who was primarily an Italian renaissance art scholar and that the painting was originally hung in Mrs Greville’s Boudoir.
It has been a fascinating painting to learn more about. Why not visit and see it for yourself!