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The Miraculous Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

Pietro Perugino (Città della Pieve c.1450 – Fontignano 1523)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

circa 1475

Materials

Oil on poplar panel

Measurements

184 x 400 mm

Place of origin

Florence

Order this image

Collection

Polesden Lacey, Surrey (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Polesden Lacey, Surrey, London and South East, National Trust

NT 1246461

Caption

This subtle depiction of the providential beginnings of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome on 5th August 352 dates to the earliest phase of Perugino’s career. Surrounded by prelates, Pope Liberius in his tiara to the left and the Patrician, John, in a turban to the right, witness an unseasonal fall of snow as it gently describes the foundations of a great cruciform building on the ground. The Virgin Mary, who presides over the scene from heaven, had previously appeared to Liberius in a dream, instructing him to found a church on a miraculously-revealed site. He solemnly raises a mattock to break the ground and commence this holy task. The panel once formed part of a predella; a set of small narrative images inserted beneath a large devotional painting for the adornment of a church altar.

Summary

Oil painting on poplar panel (horizontal oval), The Miraculous Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (predella panel) by Pietro Perugino (Città della Pieve c.1450 – Fontignano 1523), c.1475. In the centre the Madonna appears in clouds while falling snow marks the site of the church; on the left the Pope raises his mattock, watched by the patrician John from the other side; behind each are attendant figures; in the background are Renaissance buildings. Seal on reverse. In shadow box. A red and white feigned-marble oval framing which also appears in the associated Birth of the Virgin predella panel in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Provenance

Reputedly in the chapel of the Casa Pucci, Florence; purchased by Henry Tresham (1756-1814) for Lord Cawdor (1753-1821) between 1775 - 1789; his sale, Skinner and Dyke, 6 June 1800, lot 27; anonymous sale (probably Colonel Matthew Smith), Christie's, 12 May 1804, lot 41, probably bought in; sale Colonel Matthew Smith collection, Christie's, 1 May 1812, lot 52, bought in; purchased as a Filippino Lippi at an unknown date by Margaret Greville (1863-1942) from Robert Langton Douglas (1864 - 1951), through Tancred Borenius (1885 - 1948). Bequeathed in 1942 by Margaret Helen Greville DBE (1863-1942) to the National Trust, along with the Polesden Lacey Estate in memory of her father William McEwan MP (1827-1913). [The probate inventory of January 1943 shows this item on the record for Polesden Lacey pictures, drawings etc., stored in the safe, page 175.]

Credit line

Polesden Lacey, The McEwan Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

Verso: on back of panel ( still thick, and with the four nicks where original held in place): top left, red wax seal of [presumably] Lord Cawdor [ a zig-zag between three roses, with a long-tailed beast as crest]; in old ink: Maso/& [?]/ [--------][ both words illegible]; on large paper label, in ink:The Miracle on Founding the Church of Sta Marai Magiore [on] the Equiline Hill in Rome - John, a noble Patrician in the reign of the Empr./ Contantione and in the Pontificate of St Liberius, on the birth of a son mad/ a vow in conjuntion with his consort to build a Church, and dedicate/it to the Blessed Virgin: uncrtain where to put it, the Virgin appeared to /John, in a vision, ordered him to build a Church to the Most/Holy Virgin on that spot, on whihch he should the next day observe a /Mircale. Accordingly, on going over the City, the following day: being the /5th of August 352, an heavy shower of snow fell on the Esquiline hil, and covered/ a alrge span of Ground: the Vision and Miracle were considered confirmed, / and on that spot John created his Church - Vide Wright. Vasi Jacobi/Lauri etc; and on panel in pencil: No. 5

Makers and roles

Pietro Perugino (Città della Pieve c.1450 – Fontignano 1523), artist previously catalogued as attributed to Pietro Perugino (Città della Pieve c.1450 – Fontignano 1523), artist previously catalogued as attributed to Filippino Lippi (Prato c.1457 – Florence 1504), artist

References

Cooke 1962 Anne Cooke, 'A Companion Panel to Liverpool's 'Birth of the Baptist'', Liverpool Bulletin, 10, 1962, pp.14-22 Polesden Lacey, Surrey, 1971 [The National Trust;St. John Gore] 1964; revised 1971, p.18-19, no.18 Le Pérugin: Maître de Raphaël (exh cat), Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, 12 September 2014 - 19 January 2015, pp. 67-87, 71, 72, no. 6 Chu 2017 John Chu, The Pictures at Polesden Lacey, National Trust, 2017, p.12

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