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The Virgin appearing to St. Bernard is a painting by the Italianmarker artist Pietro Perugino, the most outstanding quattrocento painter of the Umbrian school that was based in Perugiamarker. The panel was executed as an altarpiece for the church of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzimarker in Florencemarker. It was later acquired in 1829/30 for King Ludwig I of Bavaria from the Capponi in Florence, and eventually made it to the Alte Pinakothekmarker in Munichmarker. The work has been called "one of the high points of European painting in the late 15th century."

The painting shows Bernardino of Siena, deep in his studies, being interrupted by a fully corporeal vision of the Virgin Mary, who appears to him in the clear light of day. Four saints surround them. There is a seemingly effortless, perfect symmetry about the composition, yet there is nothing static or artificial about it in any way. The position of the Virgin and St. Bernard's prie-dieu are both slightly off balance, but not enough to ruin the serene harmony of the picture. The faces of the various figures contribute to this quiet beauty, without showing much individualism or realism. Likewise, the colours are bright and radiant, without being flashy.

As a highly successful painter, Perugino had a large staff of apprentices. Perugino, whose nickname characterizes him as from Perugiamarker, the chief city of Umbria, had a background from both the Umbrian and Florentine schools of painting; while the Umbrian influence can be seen in the landscape in the background, his Florentine schooling is expressed in the classicising architectural structures seen in perspective in the manner of Piero della Francesca: "In Perugino's hands the austere early classicism of Piero had become a style of détente, seeking easier naturalness and harmony in quiet, which too often verged on inertia," Sidney Freedberg remarked.

Perugino's greatest claim to fame is perhaps that he had as his apprentice the High Renaissance master Raphael. Yet Raphael—still only eleven years old at the completion of the painting—probably took no part in St. Bernard, in fact it is unclear whether he had even started his apprenticeship with Perugino at the time.



  • Gombrich, E.H., The Story of Art, 16th ed. (London & New York, 1995), ISBN 071483355X
  • Gould, Cecil, The Sixteenth Century Italian Schools, National Gallery Catalogues, (London 1975), ISBN 0947645225
  • Walther, Ingo F. & Robert Suckale (eds.), Masterpieces Of Western Art: A History Of Art In 900 Individual Studies , (Cologne, 2002) ISBN 3822818259

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