Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, known as Perugino (Città della Pieve, circa 1450 - Fontignano, 1523)
The scene, which is suspended in an intimate meditative atmosphere and pervaded by a deep sense of sorrow, is set under a Renaissance portico with pillars in pietra serena. The architecture, thanks to its essential structure and perspective articulation, represents the visual link between the hilly landscape in the background and the protagonists of this sacred drama, which are all in the foreground.
The painting depicts the episode of the Pietà, the moment that according to Christian tradition preceded the burial of Jesus following his death and deposition from the cross. Mary, who is depicted in the centre of the scene, holds her dead son in her arms and mourns his passing, together with those disciples who were on Calvary Hill during the crucial hours of the Passion. In the foreground, on the left, it’s possible to recognise John the Evangelist, who with a lost and distressed expression is supporting the bust of Christ, while on the right is depicted Mary Magdalene, who is represented in the act of praying with her hands intertwined and her eyes dripping with tears. To the side, in a slightly backward position, two other characters are witnessing the scene: the old and bearded Joseph of Arimathea and a younger figure possibly identifiable with Nicodemus, the two men who took care of Jesus' burial [Gospel of John, 19: 38-42].
The painting was executed by Perugino together with the Oration in the Garden [Uffizi, inv. 1890, no. 8367] for the Church of San Giusto alle Mura in Florence, that was destroyed in 1529 in anticipation of the siege ordered by Charles V.
The work can be dated to the period between 1493 and 1496, as it is stylistically similar to other Florentine paintings made by the author in the early 1490s, such as the 'Madonna col Bambino e santi' (Virgin and Child with Saints) for the Church of San Domenico in Fiesole [Uffizi, inv. 1890, no. 1435]. These works are characterised by plastically defined figures and airy, linear architectural settings.
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.