Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci kept a bowl
Of herbs which flourished by his window. Morning light
Discovered him in leather sandals under hooded cowl,
Dreams refreshed, staring at the herbs which might
Have shown him sculptured space in opening frond
Or solid emptiness supporting scent and stalk
Had not his mind turned on the delicate hand
Of Mary and the pale transluscent blue which he must work.
Release the grace of tender line
To flow in seven tasks at once; that is the aim
With which the workshop swallows up his time,
Fills him with meat, wraps him warm again
This winter. More than this, the comfortable spell
Of tool and method, pestle and pigment locks him in
And halts the leading edge of meaning which must spill
In tiny consummations for a new birth to begin.
And Michelangelo is twenty years away
In thunder speaking softly in the Tuscan hills
And patterned in pietra serena dust, blue-grey
By stoneblocker’s hut. A sudden early chill
Comes in by Pietro’s window, moves unseeing stare
Away from herbal stalks and fronds
(Of solid emptiness and sculptured air)
And makes him shiver, turn away, and rub his hands.
Passionate method, drug of colour’s pure
Rhapsodic mix seems much to blame, and four
Long centuries before an urchin race will sneer
At craft. But Il Perugino is growing old. Questions gnaw
His brittle bones which yet give breath
To sweet angelic flesh. Dying, he makes a sign
Which asks for meaning in a non-believer’s death,
Shocking his priest, refusing extreme unction one last time.
Born in Città della Pieve in 1445, ‘Il Perugino’ (the man from Perugia) was baptised Piero di Cristoforo Vannucci. He was the founder of Early Classicism, setting the stage for the artists of the High Renaissance. As Perugino lay dying, the man who had dedicated his life to producing images of Christian devotion refused to be given extreme unction. To some it seemed he wished to see what would happen to the soul of a non-believer.