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Discovering Luca Signorelli’s masterpieces in Umbria

Luca Signorelli (Cortona, Tuscany, c.1450 – 1523), one of the greatest artists of Italian Renaissance was an “adopted son” of Umbria.
Signorelli was born in Cortona, small but lively town on the border between Umbria and Tuscany. This town boasts works of artists such as Pietro Lorenzetti and Fra Angelico. He started his artistic education in Cortona but around 1470 he moved to Arezzo, where he served his apprenticeship with Piero della Francesca. From this experience he gained deep knowledge of perspective and mathematics that enabled him to use foreshortening and oil painting. Fundamental for his training was the period in Florence with Andrea del Verrocchio, who owns the workshop where artists such as Leonardo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino were trained; here, Signorelli bonded with Perugino, starting the collaboration that would bring to the realization –together with Bartolomeo della Gatta- of two frescoes of the cycle of the Sistine Chapel: the Delivery of the Keys (Consegna delle chiavi) and the Testament of Moses (Testamento di Mosè) (1481-1482).
It is possible that Signorelli arrived in Perugia because of Perugino. Here, the Bishop Jacopo Vagnucci, also from Cortona, commissioned him the Sant’Onofrio Altarpiece (Pala di Sant’Onofrio) made in 1484 and now displayed in the Museo del Capitolo della Cattedrale di San Lorenzo.
In Perugia, in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria is displayed the Paciano altarpiece (Pala di Paciano) made in 1517 for the church of Sant’Antonio dei minori osservanti, near the Trasimeno Lake. The altarpiece, that still has its original step, was made with the help of many artists of his workshop.
The relation between Signorelli and the Upper Tiber Valley is very strong.
In the Pinacoteca Comunale in Città di Castello is displayed a piece considered one of his first works, made in 1474. It is the Madonna with Saints (Maestà tra Santi) that once was on the front of the bishop’s tower and of which now remained some fragments, for instance the bust of Saint Paul clearly influenced by Piero della Francesca’s style.
Between 1486 and 1488 Signorelli was paid to paint the banner for the confraternita di Santa Maria, for which he earned the honorary citizenship in Città di Castello in 1488. The relation between the master and this town was very strong, also because the lords of the city, the Vitelli, were connected to the Medici, especially with Lorenzo the Magnificent, which had recently welcomed Signorelli in his court of artists.
In the Pinacoteca in Città di Castello is also displayed the beautiful work Martyrdom of St Sebastian (Martirio di San Sebastiano) made in 1498 for the Brozzi chapel in the church of San Domenico.
This piece influenced many artists, for instance the young Raffaello that arrived in town a few years later.
In the first years of the 16th century Signorelli collaborated with his disciples to make the processional banner of the Baptism of Christ and John the Baptist (Battesimo di Cristo e San Giovanni Battista) for the Confraternita di San Giovanni Decollato.
Città di Castello also owns a piece of the late period of the artist: the St. Cecilia altarpiece (Pala di Santa Cecilia) from the monastery of Santa Cecilia.