Oration in the Garden
Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, known as Perugino (Città della Pieve, circa 1450 - Fontignano, 1523)
The work depicts the Oration in the Garden, the episode that according to the Gospel marks the beginning of the Passion of Christ. In the centre of the scene, kneeling on a rocky outcrop, Jesus is absorbed in prayer and turns his gaze to the angel who appeared to hand him the chalice, a symbol and prefiguration of his death on the cross. Below, the apostles John, Peter and James the Elder, who were supposed to remain awake together with their master in the Garden of Gethsemane, have fallen asleep. The atmosphere of silence and meditation that dominates the scene is about to be interrupted by the arrival of the soldiers in the background, who are going to arrest Jesus. They are divided in two troops symmetrically arranged on the sides of the painting and are led by Judas Iscariot, the traitor, who is depicted on the left. The arrival of the soldiers, however, doesn’t bring any dramatic or chaotic note to the scene, as a sense of order and compositional balance prevails, also accentuated by the placid landscape in the background.
The painting arrived to the Uffizi in 1919 and was originally placed on the partition of the Church of San Giusto alle Mura in Florence, together with a Crucifix by Benedetto da Maiano and with Perugino's Pietà [Uffizi, 1890 no. 8365], so as to form a sort of triptych dedicated to the Passion of Christ.
Its execution can be traced back to the first half of the 1490s, as it is apparently testified by a series of payments from the Jesuate Fathers to Perugino, probably related to the painter's work on the two altarpieces in San Giusto. This dating is confirmed by the work's adherence to the 'classical' style of the production by Perugino during that period, which is characterised by relaxed and serene rhythms and by figures that are well combined with the space.
A. Cecchi, La pietà del Perugino per San Giusto degli Ingesuati, in Restauri: la Pietà del Perugino e la Madonna delle Arpie di Andrea del Sarto, Firenze 1984, pp. 29-35; A.V. Coonin, New documents concerning Perugino’s workshop in Florence, in “The Burlington Magazine”, CXLI, 1999, pp. 100-104.