For the first time, sixty masterpieces reveal the secrets of the most important artist to have worked in Central Italy after Giunta Pisano and before Cimabue.
The exhibition is being held in the framework of the celebrations marking the eighth centennial of the appearance of the stigmata on Saint Francis of Assisi.
Curated by Andrea De Marchi, Veruska Picchiarelli and Emanuele Zappasodi
Following the record-breaking exhibition dedicated to Perugino in 2023, from 10 March to 9 June 2024 the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia will host another prestigious undertaking, introducing the general public to the figure of the Master of Saint Francis, one of the most important artists of the thirteenth century after Giunta Pisano and before Cimabue.
Curated da Andrea De Marchi, Veruska Picchiarelli and Emanuele Zappasodi as part of the celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of the appearance of the stigmata on the body of Saint Francis of Assisi, this exhibition brings together for the first time 60 masterpieces from some of the world’s most prestigious museums, from the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
From the National Gallery of Umbria, which holds the most substantial nucleus of the works on panel by the Master of Saint Francis, the exhibition extends ideally to feature the cycle of Stories from the Life of Christ and Stories of Saint Francis painted by the artist in the Lower Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, one of the consequences of the agreement of valorisation concluded between the Franciscan friary of the Sacro Convento and the museum in Perugia.
The thirteenth was a century of enormous social, economic and cultural upheavals. Umbria was to prove itself the region that was best capable of absorbing and developing on the religious and cultural revolution generated by the birth of the mendicant orders, in particular the Franciscans, transforming it into positive energy. Umbria and Assisi, where some of the most singular works of the art of the age were created, became the new fulcrum in the system of European arts, where the mysterious figure emerged of the Master of Saint Francis, to whom scholars are still incapable of giving a name. Indeed, this is why he is known after the panel with the effigy of Saint Francis painted on the same board on which tradition tells us that the saint passed away, now preserved in the Museum of the Porziuncola at the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Assisi, and exceptionally on show in the exhibition in Perugia.
It was to him that the friars minor turned, first to work on the stained glass in the Upper Basilica, flanking the master craftsmen from Germany and France, then to decorate the entire Lower Basilica. Creating myriad different friezes, in imitation of enamels and the fine work of goldsmiths, the Master set the first cycle of Stories of the Life of Saint Francis in the basilica’s single nave, telling them in parallel with those of the Life of Christ, as specified by Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, then the General of the Order: for the first time, the saint was identified as Alter Christus, a man whose similarity to Christ himself also extended to his body, with the gift of the stigmata.
Employing relief scans made using 3D lasers for the occasion, the exhibition will include an immersive room using new technologies to reconstruct the mural paintings by the Master in the Lower Basilica in Assisi, some of which suffered as a result of subsequent work executed at the end of the thirteenth century, in particular after the arrival of Giotto.
The exhibition will hinge around the Crucifix, dated 1272 and coming from the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, one of the most important pieces of all the works housed in the Gallery, providing a focus for the majority of the painter’s works, which are returning to Umbria from various museums all over the world. A climate-controlled showcase will house the surviving section of the double-sided reredos that used rise above the high altar in the church of San Francesco al Prato, visually completing the great Crucifix, of which the National Gallery of Umbria now houses the largest number of fragments.
The exhibition will also attempt to furnish an articulated and as systematic as possible documentation of all painting produced in Umbria in the period when the Master of Saint Francis was active, from the middle of the century to the inauguration of the project to adorn the Upper Basilica of Assisi under Pope Nicholas IV. The symbolic starting point will in any case be the work in Umbria of Giunta Pisano, attributing the new, later dating of approximately 1230 to the reredos with Saint Francis of Assisi and the Four Post-Mortem Miracles from the Museum of the Treasury of the Pontifical Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, one of the century’s masterpieces, and comparing it with the other version now in the Vatican Museums and with the signed Crucifix of the Porziuncola. Of no less significance is the possibility to appreciate the works probably by Gilio di Pietro from Pisa, who was active in Siena and Orte in the middle of the century.
Alongside the Master of Saint Francis, reconstructions will also be ventured of some of his contemporaries, such as the Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes and the Master of Santa Chiara, the latter case made possible by the exceptional loan of the hagiographic altarpiece from the Basilica of Saint Clare, dated 1283, and of the monumental painted crucifix from the Rocca Flea Civic Museum in Gualdo Tadino. The production of the Master of the Marzolini Triptych, which has some singular affinities with Armenian miniature painting, will provide eloquent evidence of the extraordinary polyphony of works and of artists in Umbria in the second half of the thirteenth century, grown to maturity in the shadow of the international construction project in Assisi.
The region unquestionably constitutes a privileged observatory for understanding the nature of the intense exchanges that criss-crossed the Mediterranean trading routes in that period, between the Holy Land and central Italy, the cradle of the Franciscan movement, and of the epoch-making artistic revolutions that would have been inconceivable in the absence of the climate created in the Basilica of Saint Francis.
The exhibition is the result of a partnership between the National Gallery of Umbria, the Ministry of Culture, the Pontifical Basilica and Franciscan Friary of the Sacro Convento of Saint Francis in Assisi and the “San Francesco d’Assisi” Seraphic Province of the Friars Minor of Umbria, with the support of the Perugia Foundation and in synergy with the Region of Umbria.
The Enigma of the Master of Saint Francis. The Stil Novo in Thirteenth-Century Umbria
Perugia, National Gallery of Umbria (Corso Pietro Vannucci, 19)
10 March – 9 June 2024
Tuesday to Sunday: from 8:30 to 19:30. Monday closed
The ticket office closes at 18:30
Information: T +39 075.58668436; firstname.lastname@example.org
Ticket: full price € 10
Concessions € 2 (Citizens of the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein aged between 18 and 25.)
Concessions € 5 Members of the Touring Club Italiano. You will have to show your TCI membership card.
Free for Minors of 18 years of age and another category here