By: Amy Fredrickson
Pietro Buonaccorsi, better known as Perino del Vaga, died in Rome at the height of his fame on 20 October 1547. Perino’s style was inventive; making him one of the most skillful draughtsmen of the sixteenth century. He was a versatile artist, as his oeuvre encompassed both small-scale devotional paintings and several large-scale wall cycles, but he is most famous for his preparatory designs. Perino’s artistic progression has proved challenging for scholars to trace because he trained in various studios and relocated to different cities over the course of his lifetime. He lived during a time of economic and political unrest, and his career parallels the evolution of sixteenth-century art as he bridges the gap between the High Renaissance and the maneria.
Perino’s training began in Florence where he learned designo. As was typical of sixteenth-century apprentices, he learned from copying Michelangelo’s Battle of Casina and Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari. Perino joined Andre de’ Ceri’s workshop and later apprenticed with Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, who was a close friend of Raphael. Perino was regarded as one of the finest students in Ridolfo’s studio. After approximately four years, Perino relocated to the Roman province of Toscanella where he worked for the provincial painter Vaga Fiorentino, who, according to Vasari, was “a master of no great excellence.” Vaga observed Perino’s drawing in Ridolfo’s workshop and hired Perino to help him plan and execute his designs. After a few years in Toscanella, Perino yearned to move to Rome, which was now considered the center of art and was where artists Michelangelo, Raphael, and Sebastiano del Piombo were working on various commissions for the papacy. The artists parted ways as Vaga remained in Toscanella. He did, however, recommended Perino to his Roman contacts, which led the artist to take the name Perino del Vaga. Unfortunately, securing commission proved challenging, and Perino worked as a journeyman to support himself before famously joining Raphael’s bustling workshop in 1516.
According to Vasari, Perino drew attention from Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni, who recommended him to their master. Raphael was pleased with Perino’s work and hired him to assist Giovanni da Udine with the Vatican Logge. Perino had only worked in Raphael’s workshop for a few years when Raphael died in 1520. Roman patrons commissioned Perino’s designs, and he also aided Raphael’s heirs on the Sala dei Pontefici.
Pope Leo X died eight months later in December 1521, and commissions became scarce because the papacy and many creditors were in financial ruin. The plague struck Rome in early 1522, which caused many artists to flee. Perino returned to Florence where he worked with Rosso Fiorentino and began a cartoon of a Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand for the Compagnia de’ Martiri in Camaldoli, which was a meeting place for Florentine artisans. Perino did not finish the project, but his cartoon influenced Florentine artists, including Pontormo, Vasari and Salvati.
Once the plague reached Florence, Perino returned to Rome sometime between 1523 and 1524. His versatility secured several commissions, but the 1527 Sack of Rome cut all artistic activity short. The event triggered the diaspora of artists from Rome to neighboring cities. Perino moved to Genoa through an invitation from Admiral Andrea Doria, Genoa’s newly appointed ruler, who commissioned Perino to decorate his Palazzo. Perino became a court artist and headed his own workshop, which produced frescos, stucco work, and designs for tapestries, portals, mantelpieces, and interior furnishings. Perino learned how to delegate and teach a new generation of artists after Raphael. He remained in Genoa for about ten years.
By 1536, Perino returned to Rome after the political situation became stable. Paul III Farnese was elected as the new pope and Perino became his official painter. He often used young assistants to execute his designs, as he preferred “to design his works rather than to execute them.” Perino died of exhaustion, according to Vasari, at the age of 46, and was buried in the Pantheon. He died during the height of her career and left behind several drawings illustrating his abilities as a superior draftsman. His drawings inspired young artists to copy his works, just like Perino, as a young artist, had practiced drawing with Michelangelo and Raphael’s cartoons.
The Holy Family, c. 1540, Oil on Panel, Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna