NASHVILLE, TN.- The Frist Center for the Visual Arts
presents Sanctity Pictured: The Art of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders in Renaissance Italy, a groundbreaking exhibition of Italian art produced between 1250 and 1550. Conceived and organized by Frist Center Curator and Renaissance art historian Trinita Kennedy, it explores the significant role of the Dominicans and Franciscans in the revival of the arts that began in Italy in the thirteenth century and demonstrates how these religious orders fueled the creation of some of the most splendid works of Italian Renaissance art and architecture.
Sanctity Pictured is the first major exhibition to examine the art of the two great orders together during the period in which they were at the height of their power in Italy and had leading artists in their service. Their construction of large churches across Italy, such as San Francesco in Assisi, San Domenico in Bologna, and Santa Croce in Florence, created a tremendous demand for art to fill them, and commissions for altarpieces, crucifixes, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, and marble tombs followed. The exhibition tells a wonderfully accessible yet surprisingly underreported story of the rivalry between the Dominicans and Franciscans that is most plainly evident in the iconography of their art and the competing sizes of churches that served as outward signs of their popularity and power.
Unlike the medieval monastic orders, such as the Benedictines, which cloistered themselves in the countryside and lived off the income from their property, the Dominicans and Franciscans were city-dwelling mendicant ordersthose that depend directly on charity for their livelihoodand interacted with laity, says Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy. Art became central to their missions and it was through frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, prints, and sculptures that the two orders communicated to a broad public their respective theologies and encouraged the veneration of their saints.
Organized thematically in five galleries, Sanctity Pictured brings together more than sixty works of art in media ranging from painting and manuscript illumination to bronze medals and printed books, by artists active in Bologna, Florence, Milan, Naples, Siena, Venice, and other Italian cities. Among the highlights are the Vatican Museums Saint Francis with Four Post-Mortem Miracles, one of only eight Saint Francis vita panels to survive from the thirteenth century; the J. Paul Getty Museums Abbey Bible, among the earliest works of art made for the Dominicans; the Allen Memorial Art Museums little-known and recently conserved thirteenth-century painting Madonna and Child with Saint Francis sometimes attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna; and the Gettys dramatic painting Saint Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata by Domenico Beccafumi.
The exhibition explores the incredible legacy of Assisi, the ancient hill town in central Italy where Saint Francis lived and where many people consider the Italian Renaissance to have begun with the innovative art and architecture of the Basilica of San Francesco, says Frist Center Executive Director and CEO Dr. Susan H. Edwards. With Francis, the patron saint of Italy and animals, as one of the stars, this exhibition will appeal to the general public as well as scholars. It is serendipitous that while we were organizing this show the new pope took the name Francis and renewed interest in this already popular saint.
Historical Background on the Franciscan and Dominican Orders
The Franciscan order was founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi (1181/821226; canonized 1228). After his death, his followers used images to promote their belief that he was both a unique Christ-like figure and a second Adam at one with nature and animals. They made the extraordinary claims that Francis received the stigmata (the five wounds of Christs crucifixion) and that birds miraculously understood him when he preached. The order had a particularly close relationship with the popes, and the exhibition includes a late thirteenth-century choir book likely made for the papal basilica of Saint Peters in Rome ornamented with scenes of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata and preaching to the birds. The manuscript has never before traveled to the United States.
The Dominican order was founded in 1216 by Dominic of Caleruega (11701221; canonized 1234). Its contribution to the arts includes manuscripts, such as the Abbey Bible, exquisitely illuminated in Italys bookmaking capital of Bologna, and the introduction of innovative tomb design with the Arca of Saint Dominic, carved by Nicola Pisano in about 1264-67. Like Francis, the Dominican saint Catherine of Siena (13471380; canonized 1461) was believed to have received the stigmata, and it is indicative of the competition between the two orders that the Franciscans convinced Pope Sixtus IV to prohibit representations of her experiencing the miracle. Beccafumis painting of the subject on view in the exhibition is one of the few examples made in the Renaissance.