For the first time in more than 100 years, the eight known panels—and one re-created missing panel—of a 14th-century Italian altarpiece depicting Jesus’s crucifixion and scenes in the life of St. John the Evangelist can been seen and appreciated as one magnificent work of art.
After years of separation, the individual panels of Francescuccio Ghissi’s St. John Altarpiece travel to the NCMA from different museums across the U.S. to be reunited in an exhibition that retells the story of this Renaissance masterwork.
During the 19th or early 20th century, the altarpiece was dismantled and sawed apart, and groups of the lateral panels, and the central Crucifixion, were sold separately to art collectors. Three of the flanking panels (formerly in the Kress collection) are today in the NCMA’s collection; one panel (also once in the Kress collection) is in the collection of the Portland Art Museum; three are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the larger central panel is at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Because the ninth and final flanking panel has never been found, the NCMA collaborated with a conservation specialist in taking the extraordinary step to re-create the missing panel using 14th-century materials and techniques.
In addition to the reunited altarpiece, the exhibition features a video of a virtual re-creation of the altarpiece showing how it might have appeared when it left the artist’s workshop circa 1370; a video exploring the mathematical algorithmic processes Duke University researchers used to virtually age and revitalize the panels; another video documenting the collaborative process of creating the missing panel; and a display of pigments similar to those used in the Renaissance with their mineral, insect, and plant sources, as well as brushes and gilding tools.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.
Whether or not you go, The Art of Devotion: Panel Painting in Early Renaissance Italy is a companion pubication to a 2009 exhibition that illustrates works in ten different collections, exploring how these objects were made and what they reveal to us about those who produced and owned them. Featuring artists such as Giovanni del Biondo, Giovanni dal Ponte, Gentile da Fabriano, and Lippo d’Andrea, the catalogue essays and entries explore the ways in which these works—often described as “conservative,” or “late Gothic,” offer a more authentic view of the early Renaissance, one that balances our notion of a time and place characterized solely by departures from tradition. At heart a collaborative venture, the creation of early fifteenth-century panel paintings in Italy depended upon a tight network of connections between patrons, painters, woodworkers, and gilders. The product of these interactions was an object that served both as a focus for devotion, and as an emphatic statement about wealth and status.
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