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Pietro Perugino, The Archangel Michael

Key facts
Full title The Archangel Michael
Artist Pietro Perugino
Artist dates living 1469; died 1523
Group Three Panels from an Altarpiece, Certosa
Date made about 1496-1500
Medium and support Oil with some egg tempera on poplar
Dimensions 114.7 × 56.6 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1856
Inventory number NG288.2
Location Gallery C
Collection Main Collection
The Archangel Michael
Pietro Perugino

This panel is one of three that come from the lower tier of an altarpiece made for the Duke of Milan (the other two are also in our collection). The Archangel Michael stands triumphant after his cosmic battle with the devil (Revelation 12: 16). A pair of scales, hanging on the tree stump to the left, are a symbol of Michael’s role in the judgement of souls after death, when good and evil deeds were weighed up.

Depictions of Michael often show him dressed in armour trampling the devil, and you can still see part of the body of the devil here: his long, curved horn is hooked over Michael’s foot, his black wing against his shield. The rest was lost when the panel was cut down in the eighteenth century.

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Three Panels from an Altarpiece, Certosa


Perugino painted this altarpiece for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. It stood in the side chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael in the Carthusian monastery (also known as a charterhouse or certosa) in Pavia, a town outside Milan. The Duke was captured by invading French forces in 1499, and the altarpiece was completed in the early sixteenth century by two other painters: Fra Bartolommeo and Mariotto Albertinelli.

Our panels formed the lower tier of two in this large-scale construction. The upper tier showed the Annunciation: the Archangel Gabriel, on one panel, giving the Virgin Mary, on another panel, the news that she would conceive the son of God. Between these panels was an image of God in glory, which is still in the church.

The painting shows Perugino’s skill in working with oil paint. Because oil paint dries slowly, it is possible to blend different tones together to create subtle transitions, particularly evident here in the figures' flesh – their cheeks, for example, have a rosy blush.