|Among the many pieces of art that will be on exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts will be “St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata,” left, and, below, “St. Clare Rescuing a Child Mauled by a Wolf” by Giovanni di Paolo. The two pieces are part of the exhibit “Sanctity Pictured: The Art of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders in Renaissance Italy.” The exhibit, the first major presentation of Italian Renaissance art in Nashville since 1934, opens Oct. 31. The exhibit includes pieces on loan from a variety of museums and libraries, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the Vatican Library and the Vatican Museum.
On Oct. 31, The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will premiere “Sanctity Pictured: The Art of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders in Renaissance Italy.” This groundbreaking exhibition of Italian art made between 1250 and 1550 explores the significant role of the Dominicans and Franciscans in the revival of the arts that began in Italy in the 13th century.
This will be the first major presentation of Italian Renaissance art in Nashville since 1934, and represents a dream come true for Frist Center Curator and Renaissance art historian Trinita Kennedy, who is also a parishioner at St. Philip Church in Franklin. “This exhibition was work that I had mentioned doing when I was interviewing for the job seven years ago,” said Kennedy. “So this one has been a long time in the making.”
Her original idea was to focus on the art of the Franciscans. As she delved deeper into the subject, she was unable to find much research concerning the art of the Dominicans and the Franciscans during this period.
According to Kennedy, both of these orders created art – frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, prints and sculptures – as a vehicle for communicating their respective theologies to the general public. But there were significant differences too.
“And when you have something to compare and contrast then you can see better what is unique about each one,” said Kennedy. “Adding the Dominicans to the exhibit also allowed me to increase the number of potential loans for the exhibit.”
As it turned out, 28 American museums and libraries, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, and Pierpont Morgan Library lent work to the exhibition. And, for the first time in its history, the Frist Center is borrowing works from the Vatican Library and Vatican Museum.
“It’s a very big deal for us to be borrowing from the Vatican, and we’re thrilled that they said yes,” Kennedy said. “This is a very rare opportunity to see some works of art from the Vatican that have never traveled to the United States before. Even if somebody hopped on a plane today and went to the Vatican, they’d have a very difficult time gaining entry to the library. You have to prove that you’re a scholar and that you have serious research to do, and that you’re qualified to be there.”
Displayed throughout five galleries, “Sanctity Pictured” encompasses more than 60 items, including paintings, manuscript illuminations, bronze medals and printed books. Among the highlights are the Vatican Museums’ “Saint Francis with Four Post-Mortem Miracles”; the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Abbey Bible and a painting of “Saint Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata”; and the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s “Madonna and Child with Saint Francis.”
To enhance the impact of the illuminated choir books, the Frist Center invited two Nashville choirs, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and the male a capella group Schola Pacis – which got its start at Christ the King Church – to record 13th century chants for the exhibition’s audio guide. The Dominican sisters were recorded in their chapel at the Motherhouse in Nashville; Schola Pacis at Music Row’s Ocean Way Recording Studios.
“We loved making a musical connection with the art, especially with Nashville being Music City,” said Kennedy. “Quite a few of the manuscripts in the exhibition are choir books, or pages from choir books. There are even some really wonderful representations of Dominicans and Franciscans singing.”
“Sanctity Pictured” will be accompanied by a 244-page fully illustrated, hardback catalogue, which consists of essays and in-depth entries for each of the featured works. Contributors include Kennedy; Donal Cooper of the University of Cambridge; Holly Flora of Tulane University; Amy Neff of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Janet Robson, an independent scholar.
To extend the exhibit’s experience and subject matter, the Frist is offering additional activities. An all-day symposium on Jan. 10 will feature several of the experts whose writings appear in the catalogue. A storytelling and art making program will take place on the weekends aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds, featuring an original story about St. Francis and the animals. There will also be a showing of the 1950 “The Flowers of St. Francis” film by Roberto Rosellini, which starred actual Franciscan friars.
The Frist is reaching out to Catholic churches in the nearest five states to let them know this unique event is happening. But Kennedy is hoping that Catholics and non-Catholics alike will find a reason to witness this once in a lifetime exhibition.
“Everybody loves Francis, and he’s definitely one of the superstars of our show!” said Kennedy. “He has this universal appeal with being the Patron Saint of Animals, and of the environment. As I drive around town I see a lot of little garden statues of St. Francis. Right across from the Frist Center is a church that hosts the Blessing of the Animals every year, and it’s not even a Catholic church.
“We do hope that Francis brings people in, but we’ve also tried really hard to bring in beautiful examples of Renaissance art,” continued Kennedy. “So hopefully on that level people can appreciate it.”