IT was early morning, and the rays of the rising
sun had scarcely yet caught the roofs of the city
of Perugia, when along the winding road which led
across the plain a man and a boy walked with
steady, purposelike steps towards the town which
crowned the hill in front.
The man was poorly dressed in the common
rough clothes of an Umbrian peasant. Hard work
and poverty had bent his shoulders and drawn stern
lines upon his face, but there was a dignity about
him which marked him as something above the
common working man.
The little boy who trotted barefoot along by the
side of his father had a sweet, serious little face, but
he looked tired and hungry, and scarcely fit for such
a long rough walk. They had started from their
home at Castello delle Pieve very early that morning,
and the piece of black bread which had served
them for breakfast had been but small. Away in
front stretched that long, white, never-ending road;
and the little dusty feet that pattered so bravely
along had to take hurried runs now and again to
keep up with the long strides of the man, while the
wistful eyes, which were fixed on that distant town,
seemed to wonder if they would really ever reach
their journey's end.
 'Art tired already, Pietro?' asked the father at
length, hearing a panting little sigh at his side.
'Why, we are not yet half-way there! Thou must
step bravely out and be a man, for to-day thou shalt
begin to work for thy living, and no longer live the
life of an idle child.'
The boy squared his shoulders, and his eyes shone.
'It is not I who am tired, my father,' he said.
'It is only that my legs cannot take such good long
steps as thine; and walk as we will the road ever
seems to unwind itself further and further in front,
like the magic white thread which has no end.'
The father laughed, and patted the child's head
'The end will come ere long,' he said. 'See
where the mist lies at the foot of the hill; there we
will begin to climb among the olive-trees and leave
the dusty road. I know a quicker way by which
we may reach the city. We will climb over the
great stones that mark the track of the stream, and
before the sun grows too hot we will have reached
the city gates.'
It was a great relief to the little hot, tired feet to
feel the cool grass beneath them, and to leave the
dusty road. The boy almost forgot his tiredness as
he scrambled from stone to stone, and filled his
hands with the violets which grew thickly on the
banks, scenting the morning air with their sweetness.
And when at last they came out once more
upon the great white road before the city gates,
there was so much to gaze upon and wonder at, that
there was no room for thoughts of weariness or hunger.
 There stood the herds of great white oxen,
patiently waiting to pass in. Pietro wondered if
their huge wide horns would not reach from side to
side of the narrow street within the gates. There
the shepherd-boys played sweet airs upon their
pipes as they walked before their flocks, and led the
silly frightened sheep out of the way of passing
carts. Women with bright-coloured handkerchiefs
tied over their heads crowded round, carrying
baskets of fruit and vegetables from the country
round. Carts full of scarlet and yellow pumpkins
were driven noisily along. Whips cracked, people
shouted and talked as much with their hands as
with their lips, and all were eager to pass through
the great Etruscan gateway, which stood grim and
tall against the blue of the summer sky. Much
good service had that gateway seen, and it was as
strong as when it had been first built hundreds of
years before, and was still able to shut out an army
of enemies, if Perugia had need to defend herself.
Pietro and his father quickly threaded their way
through the crowd, and passed through the gateway
into the steep narrow street beyond. It was cool
and quiet here. The sun was shut out by the tall
houses, and the shadows lay so deep that one might
have thought it was the hour of twilight, but for the
peep of bright blue sky which showed between the
overhanging eaves above. Presently they reached
the great square market-place, where all again was
sunshine and bustle, with people shouting and selling
their wares, which they spread out on the ground
up to the very steps of the cathedral and all along
 in front of the Palazzo Publico. Here the man
stopped, and asked one of the passers-by if he could
direct him to the shop of Niccolo the painter.
'Yonder he dwells,' answered the citizen, and
pointed to a humble shop at the corner of the
market-place. 'Hast thou brought the child to be
Pietro held his head up proudly, and answered
quickly for himself.
'I am no longer a child,' he said; 'and I have
come to work and not to sit idle.'
The man laughed and went his way, while father
and son hurried on towards the little shop and
entered the door.
The old painter was busy, and they had to wait
a while until he could leave his work and come to
see what they might want.
'This is the boy of whom I spoke,' said the
father as he pushed Pietro forward by his shoulder.
'He is not well grown, but he is strong, and has
learnt to endure hardness. I promise thee that he
will serve thee well if thou wilt take him as thy
The painter smiled down at the little eager face
which was waiting so anxiously for his answer.
'What canst thou do?' he asked the boy.
'Everything,' answered Pietro promptly. 'I can
sweep out thy shop and cook thy dinner. I will
learn to grind thy colours and wash thy brushes,
and do a man's work.'
'In faith,' laughed the painter, 'if thou canst do
everything, being yet so young, thou wilt soon be
 the greatest man in Perugia, and bring great fame
to this fair city. Then will we call thee no longer
Pietro Vanucci, but thou shalt take the city's name,
and we will call thee Perugino.'
The master spoke in jest, but as time went on
and he watched the boy at work, he marvelled at
the quickness with which the child learned to
perform his new duties, and began to think the jest
might one day turn to earnest.
From early morning until sundown Pietro was
never idle, and when the rough work was done he
would stand and watch the master as he painted,
and listen breathless to the tales which Niccolo
loved to tell.
'There is nothing so great in all the world as the
art of painting,' the master would say. 'It is the
ladder that leads up to heaven, the window which
lets light into the soul. A painter need never be
lonely or poor. He can create the faces he loves,
while all the riches of light and colour and beauty
are always his. If thou hast it in thee to be a
painter, my little Perugino, I can wish thee no
Then when the day's work was done and the
short spell of twilight drew near, the boy would
leave the shop and run swiftly down the narrow
street until he came to the grim old city gates.
Once outside, under the wide blue sky in the free
open air of the country, he drew a long, long breath
of pleasure, and quickly found a hidden corner in
the cleft of the hoary trunk of an olive-tree, where
no passer-by could see him. There he sat, his chin
 resting on his hands, gazing and gazing out over
the plain below, drinking in the beauty with his
How he loved that great open space of sweet
fresh air, in the calm pure light of the evening hour.
That white light, which seemed to belong more to
heaven than to earth, shone on everything around.
Away in the distance the purple hills faded into the
sunset sky. At his feet the plain stretched away,
away until it met the mountains, here and there
lifting itself in some little hill crowned by a lonely
town whose roofs just caught the rays of the setting
sun. The evening mist lay like a gossamer veil
upon the low-lying lands, and between the little
towns the long straight road could be seen, winding
like a white ribbon through the grey and silver, and
marked here and there by a dark cypress-tree or a
tall poplar. And always there would be a glint
of blue, where a stream or river caught the
reflection of the sky and held it lovingly there, like
a mirror among the rocks.
But Pietro did not have much time for idle
dreaming. His was not an easy life, for Niccolo
made but little money with his painting, and the
boy had to do all the work of the house besides
attending to the shop. But all the time he was
sweeping and dusting he looked forward to the
happy days to come when he might paint pictures
and become a famous artist.
Whenever a visitor came to the shop, Pietro
would listen eagerly to his talk and try to learn
something of the great world of Art. Sometimes he
 would even venture to ask questions, if the stranger
happened to be one who had travelled from afar.
'Where are the most beautiful pictures to be
found?' he asked one day when a Florentine painter
had come to the little shop and had been describing
the glories he had seen in other cities. 'And where
is it that the greatest painters dwell?'
'That is an easy question to answer, my boy,' said
the painter. 'All that is fairest is to be found in
Florence, the most beautiful city in all the world,
the City of Flowers. There one may find the best of
everything, but above all, the most beautiful pictures
and the greatest of painters. For no one there can
bear to do only the second best, and a man must
attain to the very highest before the Florentines
will call him great. The walls of the churches and
monasteries are covered with pictures of saints and
angels, and their beauty no words can describe.'
'I too will go to Florence, said Pietro to himself,
and every day he longed more and more to see that
It was no use to wait until he should have saved
enough money to take him there. He scarcely
earned enough to live on from day to day. So at
last, poor as he was, he started off early one morning
and said good-bye to his old master and the hard
work of the little shop in Perugia. On he went
down the same long white road which had seemed
so endless to him that day when, as a little child, he
first came to Perugia. Even now, when he was
a strong young man, the way seemed long and
weary across that great plain, and he was often foot-
 sore and discouraged. Day after day he travelled
on, past the great lake which lay like a sapphire in
the bosom of the plain, past many towns and little
villages, until at last he came in sight of the City
It was a wonderful moment to Perugino, and he
held his breath as he looked. He had passed the brow
of the hill, and stood beside a little stream bordered
by a row of tall, straight poplars which showed
silvery white against the blue sky. Beyond, nestling
at the foot of the encircling hills, lay the city of his
dreams. Towers and palaces, a crowding together
of pale red sunbaked roofs, with the great dome of
the cathedral in the midst, and the silver thread
of the Arno winding its way between—all this he
saw, but he saw more than this. For it seemed to
him that the Spirit of Beauty hovered above the fair
city, and he almost heard the rustle of her wings
and caught a glimpse of her rainbow-tinted robe in
the light of the evening sky.
Poor Pietro! Here was the world he longed to
conquer, but he was only a poor country boy, and
how was he to begin to climb that golden ladder of
Art which led men to fame and glory?
Well, he could work, and that was always a
beginning. The struggle was hard, and for many a
month he often went hungry and had not even
a bed to lie on at night, but curled himself up on a
hard wooden chest. Then good fortune began to
smile upon him.
The Florentine artists to whose studios he went
began to notice the hardworking boy, and when
 they looked at his work, with all its faults and want
of finish, they saw in it that divine something called
genius which no one can mistake.
Then the doors of another world seemed to open
to Pietro. All day long he could now work at his
beloved painting and learn fresh wonders as he
watched the great men use the brush and pencil.
In the studio of the painter Verocchio he met the
men of whose fame he had so often heard, and whose
work he looked upon with awe and reverence.
There was the good-tempered monk of the Carmine,
Fra Filipo Lippi, the young Botticelli, and a youth
just his own age whom they called Leonardo da
Vinci, of whom it was whispered already that he
would some day be the greatest master of the
These were golden days for Perugino, as he was
called, for the name of the city where he had come
from was always now given to him. The pictures
he had longed to paint grew beneath his hand,
and upon his canvas began to dawn the solemn
dignity and open-air spaciousness of those evening
visions he had seen when he gazed across the
Umbrian Plain. There was no noise of battle, no
human passion in his pictures. His saints stood
quiet and solemn, single figures with just a thread
of interest binding them together, and always beyond
was the great wide open world, with the white light
shining in the sky, the blue thread of the river, and
the single trees pointing upwards—dark, solemn
cypress, or feathery larch or poplar.
TWO SAINTS FROM THE FRESCO OF THE CRUCIFIXION. BY PERUGINO
There was much for the young painter still to
 learn, and perhaps he learned most from the silent
teaching of that little dark chapel of the Carmine,
where Masaccio taught more wonderful lessons by
his frescoes than any living artist could teach.
Then came the crowning honour when Perugino
received an invitation from the Pope to go to Rome
and paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Hence
forth it was a different kind of life for the young
painter. No need to wonder where he would get
his next meal, no hard rough wooden chest on which
to rest his weary limbs when the day's work was
done. Now he was royally entertained and softly
lodged, and men counted it an honour to be in his
But though he loved Florence and was proud to
do his painting in Rome, his heart ever drew him
back to the city on the hill whose name he bore.
Again he travelled along the winding road, and
his heart beat fast as he drew nearer and saw the
familiar towers and roofs of Perugia. How well he
remembered that long-ago day when the cool touch
of the grass was so grateful to his little tired dusty
feet! He stooped again to fill his hands with the
sweet violets, and thought them sweeter than all the
fame and fair show of the gay cities.
And as he passed through the ancient gateway
and threaded his way up the narrow street towards
the little shop, he seemed to see once more the
kindly smile of his old master and to hear him say,
'Thou wilt soon be the greatest man in Perugia,
and we will call thee no longer Pietro Vanucci, but
 So it had come to pass. Here he was. No longer
a little ragged, hungry boy, but a man whom all
delighted to honour. Truly this was a world of
A bigger studio was needed than the little old shop,
for now he had more pictures to paint than he well
knew how to finish. Then, too, he had many pupils,
for all were eager to enter the studio of the great
master. There it was that one morning a new
pupil was brought to him, a boy of twelve, whose
guardians begged that Perugino would teach and
Perugino looked with interest at the child. Seldom
had he seen such a beautiful oval face, framed by
such soft brown curls—a face so pure and lovable
that even at first sight it drew out love from the
hearts of those who looked at him.
'His father was also a painter,' said the guardian,
'and Raphael, here, has caught the trick of using his
pencil and brush, so we would have him learn of the
greatest master in the land.'
After some talk, the boy was left in the studio at
Perugia, and day by day Perugino grew to love him
more. It was not only that little Raphael was
clever and skilful, though that alone often made
the master marvel.
'He is my pupil now, but some day he will be
my master, and I shall learn of him,' Perugino
would often say as he watched the boy at work.
But more than all, the pure sweet nature and the
polished gentleness of his manners charmed the
heart of the master, and he loved to have the boy
 always near him, and to teach him was his greatest
Those quiet days in the Perugia studio never
lasted very long. From all quarters came calls to
Perugino, and, much as he loved work, he could not
finish all that was wanted.
It happened once when he was in Florence that a
certain prior begged him to come and fresco the
walls of his convent. This prior was very famous
for making a most beautiful and expensive blue
colour which he was anxious should be used in the
painting of the convent walls. He was a mean,
suspicious man, and would not trust Perugino with
the precious blue colour, but always held it in his
own hands and grudgingly doled it out in small
quantities, torn between the desire to have the
colour on his walls and his dislike to parting with
anything so precious.
As Perugino noted this, he grew angry and
determined to punish the prior's meanness. The next
time therefore that there was a blue sky to be
painted, he put at his side a large bowl of fresh
water, and then called on the prior to put out a
small quantity of the blue colour in a little vase.
Each time he dipped his brush into the vase,
Perugino washed it out with a swirl in the bowl at
his side, so that most of the colour was left in the
water, and very little was put on to the picture.
'I pray thee fill the vase again with blue,' he said
carelessly when the colour was all gone. The prior
groaned aloud, and turned grudgingly to his little
 'Oh what a quantity of blue is swallowed up by
this plaster!' he said, as he gazed at the white wall,
which scarcely showed a trace of the precious
'Yes,' said Perugino cheerfully, 'thou canst see
thyself how it goes.'
Then afterwards, when the prior had sadly gone
off with his little empty bag, Perugino carefully
poured the water from the bowl and gathered
together the grains of colour which had sunk to the
'Here is something that belongs to thee,' he said
sternly to the astonished prior. 'I would have thee
learn to trust honest men and not treat them as
thieves. For with all thy suspicious care, it was
easy to rob thee if I had had a mind.'
During all these years in which Perugino had
worked so diligently, the art of painting had been
growing rapidly. Many of the new artists shook
off the old rules and ideas, and began to paint in
quite a new way. There was one man especially,
called Michelangelo, whose story you will hear
later on, who arose like a giant, and with his new
way and greater knowledge swept everything before
Perugino was jealous of all these new ideas, and
clung more closely than ever to his old ideals, his
quiet, dignified saints, and spacious landscapes. He
talked openly of his dislike of the new style, and
once he had a serious quarrel with the great Michelangelo.
TWO SAINTS FROM THE FRESCO OF THE CRUCIFXION. BY PERUGINO
There was a gathering of painters in Perugino's
 studio that day. Filippino Lippi, Botticelli,
Ghirlandaio, and Leonardo were there, and in the
background the pupil Raphael was listening to the
'What dost thou think of this new style of
painting?' asked Botticelli. 'To me it seems but
strange and unpleasing. Music and motion are
delightful, but this violent twisting of limbs to show
the muscles offends my taste.'
'Yet it is most marvellously skilful,' said the
young Leonardo thoughtfully.
'But totally unfit for the proper picturing of
saints and the blessed Madonna,' said Filippino,
shaking his curly head.
'I never trouble myself about it,' said Ghirlandaio.
'Life is too short to attend to other men's work. It
takes all my care and attention to look after mine
own. But see, here comes the great Michelangelo
himself to listen to our criticism.'
The curious, rugged face of the great artist
looked good-naturedly on the company, but his
strong knotted hands waved aside their greetings.
'So you were busy as usual finding fault with my
work,' he said. 'Come, friend Perugino, tell me
what thou hast found to grumble at.'
'I like not thy methods, and that I tell thee
frankly,' answered Perugino, an angry light shining
in his eyes. 'It is such work as thine that drags
the art of painting down from the heights of
heavenly things to the low taste of earth. It robs
it of all dignity and restfulness, and destroys the
 precious traditions handed down to us since the days
The face of Michelangelo grew angry and scornful
as he listened to this.
'Thou art but a dolt and a blockhead in Art,' he
said. 'Thou wilt soon see that the day of thy
saints and Madonnas is past, and wilt cease to paint
them over and over again in the same manner, as a
child doth his lesson in a copy book.'
Then he turned and went out of the studio before
any one had time to answer him.
Perugino was furiously angry and would not
listen to reason, but must needs go before the great
Council and demand that they should punish
Michelangelo for his hard words. This of course
the Council refused to do, and Perugino left
Florence for Perugia, angry and sore at heart.
It seemed hard, after all his struggles and great
successes, that as he grew old people should begin
to tire of his work, which they had once thought
But if the outside world was sometimes
disappointing, he had always his home to turn to, and
his beautiful wife Chiare. He had married her in
his beloved Perugia, and she meant all the joy of
life to him. He was so proud of her beauty that he
would buy her the richest dresses and most costly
jewels, and with his own hands would deck her with
them. Her brown eyes were like the depths of
some quiet pool, her fair face and the wonderful
soul that shone there were to him the most perfect
picture in the world.
 'I will paint thee once, that the world may be the
richer,' said Perugino, 'but only once, for thy
beauty is too rare for common use. And I will
paint thee not as an earthly beauty, but thou shalt
be the angel in the story of Tobias which thou
So he painted her as he said. And in our own
National Gallery we still have the picture, and we
may see her there as the beautiful angel who leads
the little boy Tobias by the hand.
Up to the very last years of his life, Perugino
painted as diligently as he had ever done, but the
peaceful days of Perugia had long since given place
to war and tumult, both within and without the
city. Then too a terrible plague swept over the
countryside, and people died by thousands.
To the hospital of Fartignano, close to Perugia,
they carried Perugino when the deadly plague seized
him, and there he died. There was no time to think
of grand funerals; the people were buried as quickly
as possible, in whatever place lay closest at hand.
So it came to pass that Perugino was laid to rest
in an open field under an oak-tree close by. Later
on his sons wished to have him buried in holy
ground, and some say that this was done, but
nothing is known for certain. Perhaps if he could
have chosen, he would have been glad to think that
his body should rest under the shelter of the trees
he loved to paint, in that waste openness of space
which had always been his vision of beauty, since,
as a little boy, he gazed across the Umbrian Plain,
and the wonder of it sank into his soul.