Ruskin follows the conventional view deriving from Vasari 's Life of Perugino to the extent that he sees the old art as being 'represented finally by Perugino, and the modern scientific art represented primarily by Michelangelo' ( Works, 22.329). Like Giovanni Bellini he marked the end of the medieval tradition. Ruskin describes the 'separation' between the 'two orders' as 'trenchant', but the challenge to the conventional judgement of their relative values is at the heart of the case being made in Modern Painters I.
In a letter to The Times in 1847 it is only the 'shallowest materialism of modern artists' which assumes that Perugino is of no value except as the master of Raphael ( Works, 12.404). The abuse of Perugino by Michelangelo ('goffo nel'arte': see Perugino's reputation) is 'as far as my knowledge of history extends, the most cruel, the most false, and the most foolish insult ever offered by one great man to another' ( Ariadne Fiorentina, 1872, Works, 22.329).
In Modern Painters III, Ruskin considers the distinction between the two in terms of ways of representing the Virgin. The change from Perugino 's Queen-Virgin into the simple Italian mother of Raphael 's Madonna of the Chair ( Madonna della Seggiola), was not an improvement:
It would have been healthy if it had been effected with a pure motive, and the new truths would have been precious if they had been sought for truth's sake. But they were not sought for truth's sake, but for pride's; and truth which is sought for display is just as harmful as truth which is spoken in malice. ( Works, 5.78)
Perugino was 'exquisite in sentiment' ( Works, 22.389), and he held in balance the Gothic and the Greek tradition ( Works, 33.310). In 1848 Ruskin defines the use of colour in Giovanni Bellini and Perugino as being 'profound' and 'serene'; 'it will never betray into looseness and audacity'. Perugino is in the class of those who are more concerned with 'revelation' rather than 'invention'; his eye is 'penetrative' rather than 'creative' ( Works, 12.296). See Ruskin and the Italian School.
A problem for Ruskin's assessment of Perugino is that Vasari asserted that Perugino was more interested in money than in religion ( Vasari, Le Vite, Testo III.611).