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Signorelli in Città di Castello

Pinacoteca comunale

Luca Signorelli (1445-1523) carried out works of art many times in Città di Castello and in the Alta Valle del Tevere area during his career. Of the numerous works made by the Cortona artist for the city, four of them are housed in the Pinacoteca comunale. We should also add the frescoed cycle in the nearby oratory of San Crescentino, in the village of Morra (approximately 1504-1507), the works which have migrated and those that are just recorded. The strong relationship of Signorelli with Città di Castello was due in part to the Vitelli’s, the lords of the city, being very connected to the Medici and, in particularly, to Lorenzo il Magnifico, and the painter became part of this elite.

He probably already came to the Alta Valle del Tevere area at the time of his apprenticeship at Piero della Francesca, and the proximity of the artist to Sansepolcro is demonstrated by the oldest piece remaining by him in the city: a fragment of fresco from 1474 originating from the Bishops Tower, on display in the Pinacoteca comunale.

Between 1486 and 1488 Signorelli received payments for the creation of the lost banner for the local brotherhood of Santa Maria. The piece earned the painter honorary Tifernate citizenship in 1488. In this period the artist gained his most important commissions from the Vitelli family, such as the portraits of Niccolò and his children (Birmingham, Barber Institute and Florence, Villa i Tatti).  Copies of these are kept at the Pinacoteca, and also of the highest-ranking religious individuals of the town such as the Adorazione dei Magi and the Natività for the church of Sant’Agostino (respectively Paris, Louvre and Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte) and the Adorazione dei pastori for the church of San Francesco (London, National Gallery). In addition to these migrated works of art we can also add those recorded but still not identified such as a second Natività for Santa Maria Nuova and an altar piece painted for the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

Inside the Pinacoteca comunale in Città di Castello is the suggestive Martirio di san Sebastiano, recently restored. The piece, commissioned in 1498 by the merchant Tommaso Brozzi for his chapel in San Domenico church, was to have a strong influence on the artists of the time, so much so that he was of inspiration to the young Raffaello, who arrived in the town some years later. The processional banner Battesimo di Cristo and San Giovanni Battista was created, with the collaboration of the studio, for the local Confraternita di San Giovanni Decollato, and dates back to the beginning of the sixteenth century. Also part of the public collections is a piece traceable to the later work of the painter: the Pala di Santa Cecilia originating from the same-named Tifernates Franciscan monastery.