Luca Signorelli

Luca Signorelli (c. 1450—16 October 1523) was an Italian Renaissance painter who was noted in particular for his ability as a draftsman and his use of foreshortening. His massive frescoes of the Last Judgment (1499–1503) in Orvieto Cathedral are considered his masterpiece.

Signorelli, Luca - selfportrait alone
Self portrait of Luca Signorelli


Luca Signorelli - Testamento e morte di Mosè
Testament and Death of Moses, detail
Luca signorelli, educazione di Pan, distrutto
Education of Pan, 1490s.

He was born Luca d'Egidio di Ventura in Cortona, Tuscany (some sources call him Luca da Cortona). The precise date of his birth is uncertain, but birth dates between 1441 and 1445 have been proposed. He died in 1523 in his native Cortona, where he is buried. He was likely between seventy-eight and eighty-two years old. He is considered to be part of the Tuscan school, although he also worked extensively in Umbria and Rome.

His first impressions of art seem to originate in Perugia — including the styles of artists such as Benedetto Bonfigli, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo and Pinturicchio. Lazzaro Vasari, the great-grandfather of art historian Giorgio Vasari, was Luca's maternal uncle. According to Giorgio Vasari, Lazzaro had Luca apprenticed to Piero della Francesca. In 1472 the young artist was painting at Arezzo, and in 1474 at Città di Castello. He presented to Lorenzo de' Medici a work which is likely School of Pan. Janet Ross and her husband Henry discovered the painting in Florence circa 1870 and subsequently sold it to the Kaiser Frederick Museum in Berlin, though it was destroyed by allied bombs in WWII.[1] The painting's subject is almost the same as that which he also painted on the wall of the Petrucci palace in Siena—the principal figures being Pan himself, Olympus, Echo, a man reclining on the ground, and two listening shepherds.

Additionally, Signorelli executed various sacred pictures, displaying a study of Botticelli and Lippo Lippi. Pope Sixtus IV commissioned Signorelli to paint some frescoes, now mostly very dim, in the shrine of Loreto—Angels, Doctors of the Church, Evangelists, Apostles, the Incredulity of Thomas and the Conversion of St Paul. He also executed a single fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Testament and Death of Moses, although most of it has been attributed to Bartolomeo della Gatta; another, the Moses Leaving to Egypt, once ascribed to Signorelli, is now recognized as the work of Perugino and other assistants.

Signorelli worked in Rome from 1478 to 1484. In 1484 he returned to his native Cortona, which remained his home until his death. In the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Siena he painted eight frescoes, forming part of a vast series depicting the life of St. Benedict; they are at present much injured. In the palace of Pandolfo Petrucci he worked upon various classic or mythological subjects, including the aforementioned School of Pan. Signorelli remained healthy until his death, continuing to paint and accept commissions into his final year, including the altarpiece of the Church at Foiano.[2]

Work in Orvieto

Luca signorelli, compianto, cortona, dettaglio 01
Lamentation over the Dead Christ, detail, 1502

From the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Siena, Signorelli went to Orvieto and produced his masterpiece, the frescoes in the chapel of S. Brizio (then called the Cappella Nuova), in the cathedral.

The Cappella Nuova already contained two groups of images in the vaulting over the altar, the Judging Christ and the Prophets, murals initially begun by Fra Angelico fifty years prior. The works of Signorelli in the vaults and on the upper walls represent the events surrounding the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment. The events of the Apocalypse fill the space which surrounds the entrance into the large chapel.

The Apocalyptic events begin with the Preaching of Antichrist, and proceed to the Doomsday and The Resurrection of the Flesh. They occupy three vast lunettes, each of them a single continuous narrative composition. In one of them, the Antichrist, after his portents and impious glories, falls headlong from the sky, crashing down into an innumerable crowd of men and women.

The events of the Last Judgment fill the facing vault and the walls around the altar. The series is composed of Paradise, the Elect and the Condemned, Hell, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Destruction of the Reprobate.

Luca signorelli, compianto, cortona, e predella
Lamentation of Christ, Orvieto, Monte Oliveto

To Angelico's ceiling, which contained the Judging Christ and the Prophets led by John the Baptist, Signorelli added the Madonna leading the Apostles, the Patriarchs, Doctors of the Church, Martyrs, and Virgins. The unifying factor of the paintings is found in the scripture readings in the Roman liturgies for the Feast of All Saints and Advent.

Stylistically, the daring and terrible inventions, with their powerful treatment of the nude and arduous foreshortenings, were striking in their day. Michelangelo is claimed to have borrowed, in his own fresco at the Sistine Chapel wall, some of Signorelli's figures or combinations. The lower walls, in an unprecedented style, are richly decorated with a great deal of subsidiary work connected with Dante, specifically the first eleven books of his Purgatorio, and with the poets and legends of antiquity. A Pietà composition in a niche in the lower wall contains explicit references to two important Orvietan martyr saints, San Pietro Parenzo and San Faustino.

The contract for Signorelli's work is still on record in the archives of the Cathedral of Orvieto. He undertook the task of completing the ceiling on April 5, 1499 for 200 ducats, as well as 600 ducats for the walls, along with lodging, and a monthly payment of two measures of wine and two quarters of corn. The contract directed Signorelli to consult the Masters of the Sacred Page for theological matters. This is the first such recorded instance of an artist receiving theological advice, although art historians believe such discussions were routine. Signorelli's first stay in Orvieto lasted no more than two years. In 1502 he returned to Cortona, later returning to Orvieto to continue the lower walls. He painted a dead Christ, with Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, and the local martyr Saints Pietro Parenzo and Faustino.The figure of the dead Christ, according to Vasari, is the image of Signorelli's son Antonio, who died from the plague during the course of the execution of the paintings.

Work in Siena, Cortona, Rome, and Arezzo

Luca Signorelli - Two nude youths carrying a young woman and a young man - Google Art Project
Signorelli paid great attention to anatomy. Two nude youths carrying a young woman and a young man

After finishing the frescoes at Orvieto, Signorelli was often in Siena. In 1507 he executed a great altarpiece for S. Medardo at Arcevia in the Marche, the Madonna and Child, with the Massacre of the Innocents and other episodes.

In 1508 Pope Julius II summoned artists to Rome, including Signorelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio and Il Sodoma to paint the large rooms in the Vatican Palace. They began work, but soon the Pope dismissed all to make way for Raphael. Their work was taken down, except for the ceiling in the Stanza della Segnatura. Luca returned to Siena, but mostly lived in his hometown of Cortona. He was constantly at work, but the products of his closing years were not of the quality of his works from 1490–1505.

In 1520 Signorelli went with one of his pictures to Arezzo. He was partially paralyzed when he began a fresco of the Baptism of Christ in the chapel of Cardinal Passerini's palace near Cortona, which is the last picture attributed to him (alternatively, a Coronation of the Virgin at Foiano). Signorelli stood in great repute as a citizen, entering the magistracy of Cortona as early as 1488 and holding a leading position by 1523, the year of his death.

Signorelli paid great attention to anatomy. It is said that he carried on his studies in burial grounds, and his mastery of the human form implies a familiarity resulting from dissections. He surpassed contemporaries in showing the structure and mechanism of the nude in immediate action, even going beyond nature in experiments of this kind, trying hypothetical attitudes and combinations. His drawings in the Louvre demonstrate this and bear a close analogy to the method of Michelangelo. He aimed at powerful truth rather than nobility of form; comparatively neglecting color, and his chiaroscuro exhibits sharp oppositions of lights and shadows. He had a vast influence over the painters of his own and of succeeding times, but had no pupils or assistants of high repute; one being a nephew named Francesco.

Vasari, who claimed Signorelli as a relative, described him as kindly, and a family man, and said that he always lived more like a nobleman than a painter. Vasari included Signorelli's portrait, one of seven, in his study in Arezzo, along with Michelangelo and himself. The Torrigiani Gallery in Florence contains a grand life-sized portrait by Signorelli of a man in a red cap and vest, and corresponds with Vasari's observation. In the National Gallery, London, are the Circumcision of Jesus and three other works. Legend holds that Signorelli depicted himself in the left foreground of his Orvietan mural The Rule of Antichrist. Fra Angelico, his predecessor in the Orvieto cycle, is thought to stand behind him in the piece. However, the figure thought to be Fra Angelico is not dressed as a Dominican friar, and Signorelli's supposed portrait does not match that in Vasari's study.

Major works

Luca signorelli, annunciazione di volterra
Annunciation, Volterra
1492 Signorelli Portrait of an older man anagoria

Portrait of an older man

Luca signorelli, santi eligio e antonio, sansepolcro

Saint Anthony and Saint Eligius

Luca signorelli, crocifissione di san sepolcro


Luca signorelli, vergine in trono e santi, volterra, dettaglio san girolamo

Madonna with angels and Saints, detail, San Girolamo (Saint Jerome)

Luca signorelli, martirio di san sebastiano, dettaglio


Luca signorelli, cappella di san brizio, predica e punizione dell'anticristo 01

Fresco of the Deeds of the Antichrist (c. 1501) in Orvieto Cathedral.

Signorelli self

Selfportrait of Luca Signorelli (left) with Fra Angelico

Luca Signorelli - Christ and the Doubting Thomas - WGA21269

Christ and the Doubting Thomas

Signorelli Resurrection

Resurrection of the Flesh (1499–1502) Fresco Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto.

Orvieto096 kopie

The Elect In Paradise

Luca Signorelli 001

The Damned in Hell

Luca Signorelli Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels
Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels. Mid or late 1510s

See also


  • Henry, Tom; Lawrence Kanter (2002). Luca Signorelli: The Complete Paintings. New York: Rizzoli.
  • Cruttwell, Maud, Signorelli. George Bell & Sons in London, 1899 (online)
  • Gilbert, Creighton (2002). How Fra Angelico and Signorelli Saw the End of the World. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-02140-3.
  • Henry, Tom, The Life and Art of Luca Signorelli. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012 (Review)
  • James, Sara Nair, Signorelli and Fra Angelico at Orvieto: Liturgy, Poetry, and a Vision of the Endtime. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing,2003. ISBN 0-7546-0813-1 [1]
  • James, Sara Nair, “Penance and Redemption: The Role of the Roman Liturgy in Luca Signorelli’s Frescoes at Orvieto” in Artibus et Historiae vol XXII, no. 44 Fall, 2001.
  • James, Sara Nair. "Vasari on Signorelli: The Origins of 'The Grand Manner of Painting,'" in Reading Vasari, edited by Anne B. Barriault, Andrew Ladis, Norman E. Land, and Jeryldene M. Wood. London and Athens, GA: Philip Wilson Publishers and the Georgia Museum of Art, 2005.
  • James, Sara Nair, “Apocalypse in the Visual Arts” for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, published by Verlag Walter de Gruyter in Berlin (Germany), Volume A, 2009.
  • James, Sara Nair, “Antichrist in the Visual Arts” for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, published by Verlag Walter de Gruyter in Berlin (Germany), Volume A, 2009.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Signorelli, Luca" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 81–82.
  • Riess, Jonathan B. The Renaissance Antichrist: Luca Signorelli’s Orvieto Frescoes, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
  • Mauro Zanchi, Signorelli, Giunti, Firenze 2016. ISBN 9788809994201


  1. ^ See: Benjamin, Sarah, A Castle In Tuscany, pp. 63–67 (image of the painting at pp. 64–65), Murdoch Books, Australia, 2006.
  2. ^ Cruttwell, Maud (1972). Luca Signorelli. Scholarly – via Project Gutenberg.

External links

Communion of the Apostles (Signorelli)

The Communion of the Apostles is a painting by Italian Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli, dating from around 1512. It is currently housed in the Diocesean Museum of Cortona, Tuscany.

Crucifixion (Perugino and Signorelli)

Crucifixion is a painting of the Crucifixion of Christ, usually attributed to Perugino, with or without assistance from Luca Signorelli. The work's dating and attribution are both uncertain - Venturi and Schmarsow attribute it to a pupil of Perugino, whilst other art historians attribute it to Perugino alone or with assistance from Signorelli. The deep chiaroscuro is comparable to Signorelli's style elsewhere or to the early style of Perugino whilst he was still heavily influenced by Verrochio. The landscape background is typical of Perugino, with mountains and hills in deep perspective.

It is usually dated to between 1470 and 1478 or to between 1480 and 1490 - if it is the latter, it was one of three paintings produced for the church of the Jesuati monastery of San Giusto alle mura in Florence - the other two are Pietà and Agony in the Garden. To the left of the cross stand saint Jerome (inspiration for the Jesuati) and Francis of Assisi. To its right are Mary Magdalene touching Christ's feet, Blessed Giovanni Colombini (founder of the Jesuati) and John the Baptist (patron saint of Florence). John points to Christ, whilst Jerome has thrown down his cardinal's cap at the foot of the cross, symbolising his rejection of earthly honours

Giorgio Vasari saw all three paintings in their original positions over the church's side altars, but after the church was destroyed in the 1529 Siege of Florence all three paintings were moved to the order's new monastery of San Giovanni Battista della Calza near the city's Porta Romana. After that monastery was suppressed the Crucifixion passed through several different hands before being bought by its current owner the Uffizi in 1904 for 30,000 lira.

Diocesan Museum (Cortona)

The Diocesan Museum in Cortona is an art museum in Cortona, Tuscany, Italy. Located on the former site of the local Church of Gesù, it houses works of art by artists such as Fra Angelico, Pietro Lorenzetti, Bartolomeo della Gatta, Luca Signorelli and Sassetta. The oldest item in the museum is a marble Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD), depicting depicts the battle of Dionysus.

A room in the museum is specifically dedicated to the works of Luca Signorelli and his workshop, and emphasizes the bond between Signorelli and his hometown, and correspond to the artist's last years of work, from 1512 to 1523, the year of his death. Ten of the works bear the personal signature of Signorelli, the others are assumed to be from his workshop.The large tempera on panel depiction of the Lamentation of Christ, which used to be in the church of S. Margaret of Cortona, was called "a rare form of art" by Giorgio Vasari. The predella, on which Girolamo Genga may have also worked displays scenes of the Passion such as of the Last Supper, Agony in the Garden, and the Flagellation of Christ. The Communion of the Apostles, by Signorelli, was painted for the high altar of the Church of Gesù, and has an unusual iconography in which the apostles are gathered around a table at the Last Supper, in a semicircle, standing or kneeling and around the figure of Christ. Only Judas, concealing his 30 pieces of silver faces the viewer, his glance revealing the inner struggle of betrayal. Another work attributed to Signorelli, or his workshop, is the 1519–1520 Assumption of the Virgin from the Cathedral of Cortona.Other major art in the museum include:

The Cortona Triptych by Fra Angelico

Madonna and Child by Niccolò di Segna (c. 1336)

A large cross painted by Pietro Lorenzetti (1315–1320, from the church of San Marco)

Maestà by Pietro Lorenzetti

Triptych of the Madonna of Humility with Saints by Sassetta (c. 1434)

Assumption by Bartolomeo della Gatta (1470–1475)

Ecstasy of St. Margaret of Cortona by Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1701)

Francesco Signorelli

Francesco Signorelli (c.1495–1553) was a 16th-century Italian Renaissance painter.

He was nephew and artistic heir to his uncle Luca Signorelli. Not much is known about Signorelli's life except through his works. He was born, and lived and worked his whole life in and around Cortona. He primarily painted religious-themed paintings for church commissions. One work executed by Francesco Signorelli Madonna and Child is part of the National Museums Liverpool collection.

Lazzaro Vasari

Lazzaro Vasari (1399–1468), also known as Lazzaro Taldi and as Lazzaro di Niccolò de' Taldi, was an Italian painter who was born in the Province of Arezzo. His father was a potter, as was Lazzaro Vasari’s son, Giorgio Vasari I. The painter Luca Signorelli (1441–1523) was Lazzaro Vasari’s nephew, and the art historian Giorgio Vasari was his great-grandson.

Lazzaro Vasari’s best-known work is the fresco of Saint Vincent Ferrer in the Basilica of San Domenico in Arezzo, Italy. He died in Arezzo in 1468 and was buried at the Chapel of San Giorgio in the same city.

Madonna and Child with Saints (Signorelli, Arezzo)

The Madonna with Child and Saints is a painting by the Italian late Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli, executed around 1519-1523. It is housed in the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant Angelo, Rome, Italy.

The picture is a traditional Holy Conversation composition.

Our Lady of Mercy with Saints and Angels

Our Lady of Mercy with Saints and Angels is a c.1490 painting by Luca Signorelli, showing Our Lady of Mercy flanked by Saint Sebastian and Bernardino of Siena. It is now in the Diocesan Museum in Pienza.

Palazzo del Magnifico

Palazzo del Magnifico, also known as Palazzo Petrucci, built as the residence of Pandolfo Petrucci, is located in Siena on Piazza San Giovanni at the corner of Via dei Pellegrini.

Pietro di Domenico

Pietro di Domenico, also Pietro di Domenico da Siena, (1457–1506) was an Italian Renaissance painter.

Not much is known about Pietro di Domenico's life except through his works. He was born, worked, and lived all his life in Siena, and his style puts him in the Sienese School, and shows influences of the painter Luca Signorelli. He primarily painted religious-themed works for local church commissions. He died in Siena in 1506. One of his works is part of the York Museums Trust collection.

Portrait of a Man (Signorelli)

The Portrait of a Man is a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli, dated to c. 1492 and housed in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.


A predella is the platform or step on which an altar stands (*predel or *pretel, Langobardic for "a low wooden platform that serves as a basis in a piece of furniture"). In painting, the predella is the painting or sculpture along the frame at the bottom of an altarpiece. In later Christian medieval and Renaissance altarpieces, where the main panel consisted of a scene with large static figures, it was normal to include a predella below with a number of small-scale narrative paintings depicting events from the life of the dedicatee, whether the Life of Christ, the Life of the Virgin or a saint. Typically there would be three to five small scenes, in a horizontal format.

They are significant in art history, as the artist had more freedom from iconographic conventions than in the main panel; they could only be seen from close up. As the main panels themselves became more dramatic, during Mannerism, predellas were no longer painted, and they are rare by the middle of the 16th century. Predella scenes are now often separated from the rest of the altarpiece in museums.

Examples of predellas include:

Duccio – the predella of his Maestà – one of the earliest predellas.

Lorenzo Monaco – Incidents in the Life of Saint Benedict (c. 1407–1409)

Luca Signorelli – The Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1496)

Andrea Mantegna – San Zeno Altarpiece (1459)

Stanley Spencer – Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, Hants.Pre-Raphealite, Dante Rossetti, revisited the predella in his second Beata Beatrix (1871-1872).

Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Signorelli)

Saint Catherine of Alexandria is a c.1512 tempera on panel painting. It is a fragment from the predella of a lost altarpiece by Luca Signorelli. It is now in the Museo Horne in Florence.

Sant'Onofrio Altarpiece

The Sant'Onofrio Altarpiece is a painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli, housed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in the Cathedral of Perugia, Italy. It was painted for the church in 1484, commissioned by bishop Jacopo Vagnucci, a native of Cortona, Signorelli's birthplace.

Santa Croce, Sinalunga

Santa Croce is a Renaissance-style, Roman Catholic church in the center of Sinalunga, province of Siena, region of Tuscany, Italy. It is now part of the Diocese of Montepulciano-Chiusi-Pienza.

The church stands adjacent to, but predates, the Collegiata di San Martino. The façade dates to the a Mannerist architect of the 16th century. The façade has an empty frame above the central portal and other awkward elements. The church has lost many of the artworks, but still retains an altarpiece by the school of Luca Signorelli, depicting the Marriage of the Virgin.

Testament and Death of Moses

The Testament and Death of Moses is a fresco attributed to the Italian Renaissance painters Luca Signorelli and Bartolomeo della Gatta, executed in around 1482 and located in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.

The Circumcision (Signorelli)

The Circumcision is a painting of the Circumcision of Jesus by the Italian Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli, in the National Gallery in London, dated to c. 1490–1491.

The Circumcision was also the occasion of the naming of Jesus, and by this period the emphasis of Catholic devotion was on the Holy Name of Jesus. The work was commissioned by the local Confraternity of the Holy Name of Jesus for the altar of the Circumcision Chapel in the church of San Francesco, Volterra, where Signorelli was working for the Medicis. Like many Renaissance versions of the subject it conflates it with the Presentation of Jesus by including at the rear Simeon. The Renaissance art historian and artist Giorgio Vasari saw the painting and described it as damaged by humidity, the Child having been repainted by Il Sodoma. The painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1882.

Tommaso Barnabei

Tommaso Barnabei (sometimes as Tommaso Bernabei), also known as Maso Papacello (c. 1500 in Rome or Cortona – May 18, 1559 in Cortona), was an Italian painter of the Renaissance.

He was a pupil of Luca Signorelli, and aided Giulio Romano at Rome. At about 1523-4 he assisted Giambattista Caporali at the villa of Cardinal Passerini, near Cortona. He painted three pictures, representing an Annunciation, Conception, and Adoration of Magi for the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, near Cortona, and finally settled at Perugia, where he died in 1559.

Turpino Zaccagna

Turpino Zaccagna (active c. 1537) was an Italian painter of the Renaissance period, born in Florence or Cortona (according to Lanzi). He was a pupil of Luca Signorelli, and painted a Burial and Ascension of the Virgin in the choir of the Cortona Cathedral.

Virgin Enthroned with Saints (Signorelli)

The Virgin Enthroned with Saints is a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Luca Signorelli, dated to 1491 and housed in the Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Art Gallery) of Volterra, central Italy.

Decoration of the Sistine Chapel
Life of Moses
Life of Christ
Ceiling 9
Altar wall

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