Virgin and Child by Perugino

Virgin and Child is a painting by Perugino (Pietro Vannucci) in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. It is an oil-on-panel with 44 x 34 cm dimensions, and you can see it in Room IX.


A contemporary of Leonardo and an associate of Raphael (whom he would influence), Pietro Perugino painted religious subjects and portraits, managing two workshops and diffusing his characteristic style and imagery throughout central Italy in the late 15th century. He is thought to have been a pupil of Piero Della Francesca and, from 1470, was associated with the circle of Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence but may also have worked with Sandro Botticelli. From 1480 to 1482, Perugino was tasked with creating wall frescoes for the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, which were afterward destroyed to form space for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (1535-41).

Perugino’s works of art are often noted for their “sweetness”, especially his elegant, pious Madonnas and female saints set against gentle scenes, and by the early 16th century his work was becoming old-fashioned. He is thought to have been an inspiration to the Pre-Raphaelites in England within the 19th century.


Replicas of this painting comprise a canvas in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, and a panel in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The Virgin, enthroned, delicately holds the Child, albeit inverted, is the same as that in the altarpiece in the church of Santa Maria Nuova in Fano, dated 1497, in which there is a renewal of Perugino’s style forerunning Raphael’s grace.


The Virgin’s inclined head is decorated with a hairstyle that outlines her face, separated by a central parting. Her hair is braided at the sides and over her ears, agreeing to a motif frequently used by Perugino. The landscape within the background is different from those in the two reproductions.

In all three cases, art history specialists have suggested that the works of art may not be autograph which the artist may have been helped by his assistants. In any case, in the fidei-commissum of 1833 this work is recorded under Perugino’s name. Its provenance is unknown.

Italian painters of the Renaissance endeavored to humanize their figures to narrow the gap between worshipers and divine personages. In Perugino’s portrayal of the Virgin and Child, no throne or cloth of honor is included to mean their exalted status, only discrete halos. A Renaissance viewer would have recognized that the red robe means that the Madonna may be a sovereign and the personification of Divine Love. Her blue cloak, the typical color of Heavenly Love and Truth, is marked on the shoulder by a gold star, which alludes to one of her titles, Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea and Port of Our Salvation.” The lack of interaction between mother and infant and their aloofness keep this devotional Image from becoming secularized.

Read about Virgin and Child by Giovanni Bellini.

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Author: Perugino


Pietro Perugino (1446/1452 – 1523), born Pietro Vannucci, was an Italian Renaissance painter of the Umbrian school who developed some qualities that found classic expression in the High Renaissance. Raphael was his most famous pupil. Perugino was one of the earliest Italian professionals in oil painting. Some of his early works were extensive frescoes for the convent of the Ingessati fathers, destroyed amid the Siege of Florence; he created for them also many cartoons, which they executed with brilliant effect in stained glass.

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