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THE EXHIBITION "Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth" explores Renaissance painter Fra Angelico's talent for storytelling. For the first time ever, the four newly restored reliquaries--containers for holy relics that were painted for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy, between 1424-34--are being reunited. Together, they picture the life of the Virgin Mary and offer the opportunity to explore Angelico's talent for sacred tales.

Angelico (c. 1400-55) was celebrated in his own time as the most-famous painter in Italy. With remarkable ingenuity and rare technical expertise, he reconceived popular compositions and infused familiar Christian stories with new meaning. His iconic altar-pieces and frescoes--painted for two Popes, members of Florence's Medici family, and the city's merchant elite--transformed Western art, securing his place in history and forging the future of painting in Italy.

Born near Florence, Angelico trained in the workshop of the highly accomplished Lorenzo Monaco, collaborating with him on small narrative panels and manuscripts. Angelico's admission to the Dominican Order, a religious group devoted to Saint Dominic, transformed his career. Success at their Florentine headquarters of Santa Maria Novella and the Church of San Marco led to prestigious commissions outside of Florence, including employment at the Vatican Palace in Rome under Pope Nicholas V. Anointed "angelic" by the Dominican Order after he died in 1455, the title gave Angelico stature akin to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

"Heaven on Earth" brings together choice examples of his narrative art, inviting visitors to experience the wonder of his breathtaking stories up close and in a new light. Two monumental altarpieces, an intricate series of panels from his Silver Chest (Armadio degli Argenti), a precious triptych for private devotion, and nine predella scenes join the four reliquaries in a dramatic installation evocative of their Renaissance context. Many of these works are visiting the U.S. for the first time from their home collections in Italy.

Unprecedented loans for this exhibition include the three extraordinary reliquaries (Museo di San Marco, Florence) a magnificent altarpiece of Paradise (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence) and the jewel-like Corsini Triptych (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini, Rome). Also restored for this exhibition is the altarpiece of "The Entombment of Christ" (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), which will be on display to the public for the first time in more than 40 years.

In 1899, Isabella Stewart Gardner acquired one of the four reliquaries: the mesmerizing "Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin." It was the first painting by Angelico to come to America. The other three reliquaries--"The Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi," "The Coronation of the Virgin," and "The Madonna della Stella"--reside in Florence. Newly restored to their Renaissance splendor thanks to a special collaboration with the Museo di San Marco, the reliquaries reveal Angelico's mastery of materials and genius for narrative composition.

"Although separated for over 200 years, these four precious painted reliquaries showcase Fra Angelico's peerless creativity and unparalleled technical accomplishments," says Nathaniel Silver, the Gardner Museum's associate curator of the collection. "The reliquaries, carefully selected altarpieces, furniture panels, and a triptych illuminate the relationship between form and function, revealing how the artist shaped each story for its intended purpose."

"We are thrilled to present the work of this extraordinary Renaissance artist and storyteller," adds ISGM Director Peggy Fogelman. "[Isabella Stewart] Gardner was the first collector in the U.S. to acquire a Fra Angelico, when she had already begun plans for her boldly conceived museum. It is only fitting that these works be reunited here... for the public to enjoy."

The accompanying exhibition catalogue contains nine essays challenge the prevailing view of Angelico as the tradition-bound painter of pious Madonnas, repositioning him on the cutting edge of Renaissance artistic developments, and revealing the Dominican networks crucial to his success.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Mass., is the sole venue for "Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth," on view through May 28.
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Title Annotation:MUSEUMS TODAY; "Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth" exhibition
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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