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Press release


March 16 - June 27, 1999

In an unprecedented collaboration, the Ministry of Culture in Rome, the Apostolic Library at the Vatican, and the Basilica and Convent of San Francesco at Assisi have organized this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition to heighten awareness of the effects of the earthquakes that devastated Assisi, Italy, in September 1997. Nearly 70 masterpieces of medieval and Renaissance panel painting, sculpture, goldsmiths' work, textiles, and manuscript illumination have been lent from the collections of the Basilica of San Francesco. These will be joined at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by an additional 30 works of art from museums and private collections throughout Europe and America in The Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi. Among the works featured will be some of the key monuments in the development of early Renaissance art, leading up to that epoch's first flowering in the work of Cimabue and Giotto in Assisi approximately 700 years ago.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sacro Convento di San Francesco di Assisi, and the Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali, with the cooperation of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

The exhibition in New York is made possible by the Robert Lehman Foundation. Support for the international tour has been provided by Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena S.p.A.

Transportation assistance has been provided by Alitalia.

More about the Exhibition
Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum, commented on the exhibition: "It is a great privilege to present this spectacular survey of artistic riches from the Treasury of Saint Francis to American audiences. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to see — outside of Assisi — the development of the Franciscan style of painting in the 13th century, one of the seminal moments in the history of Western art. By sharing these treasures with the world in the wake of the catastrophic earthquakes, this exhibition underscores the need to preserve all aspects of our artistic legacy."

The Basilica of San Francesco
The Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi will be organized in three principal parts. The first section will emphasize the central importance of the Basilica of San Francesco, beginning with its foundation in 1228, as an internationally renowned center of medieval piety, and as such, the gathering point for many of the most influential artists, religious figures, and rulers of the period. It will feature a selection of extraordinarily precious reliquaries, chalices, and other liturgical objects, as well as manuscripts and embroideries, from the Byzantine period through the 16th century, that were executed for, or donated to, the Basilica. Among them will be the renowned Chalice of Nicholas IV (ca. 1290) by the Sienese goldsmith Guccio di Mannaia; the sumptuous 14th-century Reliquary of the Seamless Robe, executed by one of the finest Parisian goldsmith ateliers; and the finely embroidered Altar Frontal of Sixtus the IV (1476-78), designed by Antonio Pollaiuolo and Francesco Botticini.

Other highlights are a series of manuscript pages and illuminated books, including four leaves by the so-called Master of the Assisi Choirbooks, one of the most refined 13th-century Umbrian illuminators working for the Basilica. The luxuriously illuminated Missal of Saint Louis — among the finest French manuscripts of the 13th century — was donated to the Basilica by the French King Louis IX, one of the earliest and staunchest supporters of the Franciscan order. Among the most generous donors to the Basilica, he was canonized in 1297.

The Cantiere of Assisi
The second section of the exhibition will be devoted to "The Cantiere of Assisi," the large artistic workshops that centered around the Convent of Assisi during the period of its construction and decoration from 1230 to 1330. On view will be some of the landmarks of 13th-century Italian painting, including the Dossal of Saint Francis, one of the earliest known portraits of the Saint. Painted by the so-called Treasury Master (active, second quarter of 13th century), Saint Francis is depicted surrounded by four narrative scenes recounting in vivid detail miracles from his legend. A monumental yet delicately painted Processional Cross by the Master of the Blue Crucifixes — so named, as this work reveals, for the stunning palette of his paintings — on loan from the Treasury will be displayed with similar works from American collections by the same artist, as well as rare processional crosses by Umbrian masters of the following generation.

This presentation will provide a panoramic view of the fervid activity of the Basilica workshop and the key role played by these artists in shaping the visual culture of the Renaissance. The exhibition will also feature an altarpiece painted by the Master of Saint Francis — one of the key personalites active at the Basilica in the third quarter of the 13th century — that was created for the Church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia. The altarpiece will be reassembled in this exhibition for the first time in centuries, thanks to the unprecedented loan of five panels from the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Perugia, which will join the other remaining elements in the Treasury of Assisi, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., a private collection, and the Robert Lehman Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Frederick Mason Perkins
The final section of the exhibition will feature a selection of objects, mostly panel paintings from the collection of Italian art formed by the American art historian and dealer Frederick Mason Perkins, which was donated to the Basilica in 1955. Included will be works by some of the better known 14th- and 15th-century Sienese and Florentine masters, such as Pietro Lorenzetti (who also worked at the Basilica), Lorenzo Monaco, Fra Angelico, Sassetta, and Giovanni di Paolo. Among the works on view will be Fra Angelico's intimate and beautifully rendered portrait, St. Anthony of Padua (ca. 1428-30), and Gherardo Starnina's luminous panel depicting Saint Lawrence (ca. 1405-10).

The Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue published in English and Italian by Electa, Milan.

At the Metropolitan Museum, the exhibition is organized by Laurence B. Kanter, Curator-in-Charge, with Pia Palladino, Research Associate, both of the Museum's Robert Lehman Collection.

January 11, 1999

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