(b. 1450, Citta della Pieve, d. 1523, Perugia)

Polyptych of Certosa di Pavia (details)

c. 1499
Oil and tempera on poplar panel
National Gallery, London

The three panels (all cut down) shown in this picture represent the Archangel Michael (126 x 58 cm), the Virgin and Child with an Angel (127 x 64 cm), and the Archangel Raphael with Tobias 126 x 58 cm), respectively. These panels form a part of an altarpiece commissioned from Perugino for the Charterhouse of Pavia, a Carthusian monastery patronised by the Duke of Milan.

The altarpiece originally comprised six parts: God the Father at the top, with on either side the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin of the Annunciation and, below, the three panels in the National Gallery showing the Virgin adoring the Christ Child flanked by two other archangels, Michael and Raphael. Michael, as commander of the celestial host who vanquished Lucifer, is customarily shown in armour. Perugino's use of oil paint has enabled him to depict light reflected from the metal, and objects - such as the pommel of the sword and the red strap - mirrored in it. Michael's scales for weighing souls hang from a tree behind him. The devil at his feet was trimmed off when all three panels were cut.

In the painting, the figures' sweet angelic air is as characteristic of Perugino's idealised world as the graceful landscape with its feathery trees. But the only sign of the labour-saving devices which were later to spell the artist's decline is in the three angels of the central panel. They seem to have been transferred to the painting at a late stage from a full-scale drawing (cartoon) not designed for this composition, and appear in at least one other picture by Perugino from this period.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.