Fra Angelico “Heaven on Earth” reunites famous four-piece set

Fra Angelico “Heaven on Earth” reunites famous four-piece set

Written by Catherine Titcomb

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is currently exhibiting “Heaven on Earth,” a unique body of work by Italian painter Fra Angelico. The exhibit features Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin,” acquired by Gardner in 1899, and three other accompanying pieces on loan from the Museo di San Marco in Florence, Italy,  on display together for the first time. The church of Santa Maria Novella commissioned Fra Angelico to create the narrative set to tell the Virgin Mary’s life story. Each piece contains holy relics, such as hair, bones, or skin of sacred individuals. The four pieces being reunited for the first time is a historically significant event, as they were intended by Fra Angelico to be together.

Fra Angelico was a Renaissance monk and painter. His contemporaries gave him his name, which means “angelic friar,” because of his talent and devotion. His frescoes adorned the walls of the Dominican Monastery of San Marco and many other Dominican churches. Pope Eugene IV often commissioned work from him and he rose to become one of Italy’s most popular artists.

The highlight of the exhibit are the reliquaries of Santa Maria Novella, but other pieces detailing and honoring the life of Mary and Jesus are also on display. The four reliquaires, “Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin,” “Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi,” “Madonna della Stella,” and “Coronation of the Virgin,” all tell stories from Mary’s life and Fra Angelico’s serene and simplistic style unites them as a set. Every element is clearly defined with only a hint of shadow, creating an unnatural light or aura. The effect is to remove the scenes from everyday human life and elevate them to a divine character. Fra Angelico did not invite the viewer into the scene, but intended to display them as devotional pieces

Photos by Catherine Titcomb

A great opportunity to see some of Fra Angelico’s best work in one space, the exhibit is on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum until May 20.


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