Frist Center Exhibition Highlights the Contributions of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders to the Italian Renaissance

Sanctity Pictured, Organized by the Frist Center, Comprises Rare Works from the Vatican and American Museums and Libraries

October 31, 2014-January 25, 2015

Sep 03, 2014, 11:37 ET from Frist Center for the Visual Arts

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Sept. 3, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents Sanctity Pictured: The Art of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders in Renaissance Italy, a groundbreaking exhibition of Italian art made between 1250 and 1550. Conceived and organized by Frist Center Curator and Renaissance art historian Trinita Kennedy, it explores the significant role of the Dominicans and Franciscans in the revival of the arts that began in Italy in the thirteenth century and shows how these orders fueled the creation of some of the most splendid works of Italian Renaissance art and architecture.

Sanctity Pictured is the first major exhibition to examine the art of the two great orders together during the period in which they were at the height of their power in Italy and had its leading artists in their service. Their construction of large churches all across Italy, such as San Francesco in Assisi, San Domenico in Bologna and Santa Croce in Florence, created a tremendous demand for art to fill them, and commissions for altarpieces, crucifixes, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts and marble tombs followed. The exhibition tells a wonderfully accessible yet surprisingly underreported story of the rivalry between the Dominicans and Franciscans that is most plainly evident in the iconography of their art and the competing sizes of churches, which served as outward signs of their popularity and power. 

"Unlike the medieval monastic orders, such as the Benedictines, which cloistered themselves in the countryside and lived off the income from their property, the Dominicans and Franciscans were city-dwelling mendicant orders—those that depend directly on charity for their livelihood—and interacted with laity," says Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy. "Art became central to their missions and it was through frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, prints and sculptures that the two orders communicated to a broad public their respective theologies and encouraged the veneration of their saints."

Organized thematically in five galleries, Sanctity Pictured brings together more than sixty works of art, in media ranging from painting and manuscript illumination to bronze medals and printed books, by artists active in Bologna, Florence, Milan, Naples, Siena, Venice and other Italian cities. Among the highlights are the Vatican Museums' Saint Francis with Four Post-Mortem Miracles, one of only eight Saint Francis vita panels to survive from the thirteenth century; the J. Paul Getty Museum's Abbey Bible, among the earliest works of art made for the Dominicans; the Allen Memorial Art Museum's little-known and recently conserved thirteenth-century painting Madonna and Child with Saint Francis sometimes attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna; and the Getty's dramatic painting Saint Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata by Domenico Beccafumi.

"The exhibition explores the incredible legacy of Assisi, the ancient hill town in central Italy where Saint Francis lived and where many people consider the Italian Renaissance to have begun with the innovative art and architecture of the Basilica of San Francesco," says Frist Center Executive Director and CEO Dr. Susan H. Edwards. "With Francis, the patron saint of Italy and animals, as one of the stars, this exhibition will appeal to the general public as well as scholars. It is serendipitous that while we were organizing this show the new pope took the name Francis and renewed interest in this already popular saint."

Historical Background on the Franciscan and Dominican Orders

The Franciscan order was founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1226; canonized 1228). After his death, his followers used images to promote their belief that he was both a unique Christ-like figure and a second Adam at one with nature and animals. They made the extraordinary claims that Francis received the stigmata (the five wounds of Christ's crucifixion) and that birds miraculously understood him when he preached. The order had a particularly close relationship with the popes, and the exhibition includes a late thirteenth-century choir book likely made for the papal basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome ornamented with delightful scenes of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata and preaching to the birds. The manuscript has never before traveled to the United States.

The Dominican order was founded in 1216 by Dominic of Caleruega (1170–1221; canonized 1234). Its contribution to the arts in Italy includes manuscripts, such as the Abbey Bible, exquisitely illuminated in Italy's bookmaking capital of Bologna, and the introduction of innovative tomb design with the Arca of Saint Dominic, carved by Nicola Pisano in about 1264 to 1267. Like Francis, the Dominican saint Catherine of Siena (1347–1380; canonized 1461) was believed to have received the stigmata, and it is indicative of the competition between the two orders that the Franciscans convinced Pope Sixtus IV to prohibit representations of her experiencing the miracle. Beccafumi's painting of the subject on view in the exhibition is one of the few examples made in the Renaissance.


The exhibition is accompanied by a 244-page fully illustrated, hardback catalogue published by the Frist Center with Philip Wilson Publishers (London). It is the first major comparative study of the art of the Dominicans and Franciscans in Renaissance Italy. The text consists of six essays and in-depth entries for each work of art in the exhibition. The international team of contributors include Trinita Kennedy, curator, Frist Center for the Visual Arts; Donal Cooper, university lecturer in Italian Renaissance art and fellow of Jesus College, University of Cambridge; Holly Flora, associate professor, History of Art, Tulane University; Amy Neff, professor, School of Art, University of Tennessee; and Janet Robson, an independent scholar and the co-author with Donal Cooper of the new, highly acclaimed book The Making of Assisi: The Pope, the Franciscans and the Painting of the Basilica (Yale University Press, 2013). The catalogue will be available for purchase in the Frist Center Gift Shop and through booksellers in October 2014.


Although much of the art from this period remains in situ in Italy or is in European collections, many significant examples have been entering American museums and libraries since the late nineteenth century. Twenty-eight 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, are lending works to the exhibition. For the first time in its history, the Frist Center is borrowing works from the Vatican Library and Vatican Museums.


The Frist Center will hold an all-day public symposium on Saturday, January 10, 2015, in the Frist Center Auditorium. The speakers, in addition to Frist Center Curator Trinita Kennedy, will be Donal Cooper, University of Cambridge; Holly Flora, Tulane University; Janet Robson, Independent Scholar; and Christine Sciacca, The J. Paul Getty Museum.


Sanctity Pictured: The Art of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders in Renaissance Italy is organized by Trinita Kennedy, curator, Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

This exhibition has been made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Robert Lehman Foundation, and support from the Friends of Italian Art.  

Supporting Sponsors: Lynn and Ken Melkus

Hospitality Sponsor: Union Station Hotel

The exhibition catalogue is published with the assistance of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Center offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Center galleries, Café and Gift Shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.9 p.m. and Sundays, 15:30 p.m., with the Frist Center Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our website at

SOURCE Frist Center for the Visual Arts