How did Italian Renaissance artist Pietro Perugino use perspective in his painting "Jesus Handing the Keys to Peter"?

Images:
This image has been Flagged as inappropriate Click to unflag
Image (1 of 1)

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pietro Perugino’s fresco “Jesus Handing the Keys to Peter” (1481–1483) is a balanced and rhythmically-articulated composition. The author emphasizes the central event, which is placed on the foreground and is in the focus. The act of the handing of the keys is depicted according to strict rules of the perspective,...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Pietro Perugino’s fresco “Jesus Handing the Keys to Peter” (1481–1483) is a balanced and rhythmically-articulated composition. The author emphasizes the central event, which is placed on the foreground and is in the focus. The act of the handing of the keys is depicted according to strict rules of the perspective, with figures being located on the planes that are parallel to the background. Less important figures are relegated to the middle ground.

On the left and on the right of Christ and Peter, there are groups of the apostles whose postures and movements direct the beholder’s attention to the center. But there is another focus in the painting, and that is the dark doorway of the baptistery, which is where the rays of the perspective converge. The orthogonal rays help to unfold the theme from the forefront to the background by symbolically linking the keys in Christ’s hand to the idea of the Church, which is embodied here in the particular edifice.

Perugino was able to put the science to the service of his art. The skyline is unnaturally high above the heads of the figures, and the whole of the foreground and middle ground is occupied by the unnaturally smooth paved square. The symmetry of this composition evokes the idea of something primitive and naive. But the mastery of the composition assures us that this naïveté is not something unconscious. The artist was fully aware of what he was achieving by the technical devices that he employed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Perugino's early-1480s fresco is famous for its use of one-point perspective. In one-point perspective, an artist draws a precise series of lines or rays (later erased or painted over) to a single-vanishing point on the canvas. This creates a realistic sense of three-dimensional depth and keeps all other elements in the painting in proper alignment with that particular point.

Before the 1430s, even famous artists like Giotto used hierarchical and intuitive perspectives. In hierarchical perspective, the most important figure in a painting is painted larger than the other figures, whether this is realistic or not. In intuitive perspective, the painter makes the background smaller, but with no real attempt at accuracy.

As we can see in Perugino's fresco, the eye is drawn to the focal point of the domed structure in the background. This creates an intense sense of depth. A series of figures, centering on a Christ who is no larger than the surrounding figures, takes up the front of the canvas, seemingly closest to us as viewers. Then there is a large, empty plaza, ending with the afore-mentioned domed basilica, and beyond that, a further landscape of mountains fading into the horizon.

This level of accuracy and perspective created a realism that was new in painting and offered viewers the illusion that they could step into the painting and enter a real world that would keep on going.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although not as well-known as Michelangelo, Perugino also painted scenes at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, including this Biblical scene associated with the book of Matthew, found on the chapel's north wall.  In the tradition of the Italian Renaissance, Perugino used perspective and symmetry to create what amounts more or less to a grid of sorts.  Horizontal lines delineate clear foreground, middle ground, and background planes, while strong diagonals meet at the doorway of the building in the middle of the background.  With nearly perfect symmetry, two more scenes in the stories of Jesus are placed to the left and right in the middle ground, and use of aerial perspective creates the look of hills fading into the background to the temple's left. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team