an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Now At The Frick: A Show, At Last, For Piero

For a founder of the Italian Renaissance, it’s amazing that the exhibition opening tomorrow at the Frick Collection is “the first monographic exhibition in the United States on the artist.”

StAugustineThe artist is Piero della Francesca, born circa 1411 and dead the year Columbus set sail for America. Even more amazing perhaps is that the exhibit fits comfortably in the Frick’s small oval gallery — it’s just 7 works, and if memory serves four are from the Frick itself. Yet it’s an occasion, worth a visit by any serious art lover.  

Along one wall are four panels from the Sant’Agostino altarpiece; on the opposite wall is the Frick’s St. John the Evangelist and — surprise — a panel of St. Augustine borrowed from Lisbon’s Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga that has never been seen in the U.S. before.

It’s stunning. I’m posting a photo I took with my iPhone, but it doesn’t do the work justice. His staff, for example, is made of clear crystal, to perfect effect.

Clark_2000The Clark Art Institute then graciously lent its Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, Piero’s only intact altarpiece in this country. It’s a good thing that the Frick’s semi-circular marble step beneath the work keeps people from getting too close — for they surely would. I’ve posted it here, too, at right — a much better image taken from the Frick itself.

I was at the opening reception for this exhibition tonight, and it was thrilling to see it. More details here, in the press release.  

As I’d remarked to a few others there, several years ago I was at a conference at the Clark when the late Anne D’Harnoncourt started talking about the altarpiece nearby. She referred to the artist as “Piero” and then stopped herself, in mid-sentence, and said she hoped we could call him just “Piero” now — he was THE Piero. Everyone agreed, and for the rest of the meeting that’s what everyone said.

My hope for this exhibition is that it makes the public know who is meant when they hear the name Piero, the artist.

Photo credits: Courtesy of the Frick (bottom)



  1. Yes indeed Judith, this show took my breath away.

    The St. Augustine is a masterpiece of masterpieces — thanks for the loan Lisbon. Be sure to examine the saint’s cloak with the scenes of the life of Jesus. The fabric has amazing texture and the hairs on the fur trimmed edges appear to move. Called in his own time a “monarch” of painting, Piero THE Piero, is ready for his close-up New York.

    Don’t miss this show!!

  2. Is wonderful to read your news. I wish I could be there. I had visit the Museum some times ago, and I was so impressed about the fine collection and the magnificent place. Thank you. Carla

  3. ‘Saint Augustine’ may be the exhibition’s masterpiece, but my favorite is ‘Saint John the Evangelist’ for the sheer intensity of his concentration in the act of reading. And those hands! . At the press preview yesterday, Nathaniel Silver (the exhibition’s young guest curator) noted that although Saint John is stationary, movement is suggested by pages of the book having been turned just moments before. Such details are striking in person, but the Frick’s interactive feature, at the exhibition and online tomorrow, permits up-close examination. Meanwhile (courtesy the Frick) here’s the direct link: .
    — Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

    • Yes, I heard about the interactive at the opening, but promptly forgot to look at it. Actually, the Madonna is the show’s masterpiece, if I had to pick one. But I love St. John, too. The colors and the details are stunning. Just look at the hem of his garment.

      • The Madonna, of course. I agree. Interesting that the Frick features the two angels at the right on the catalogue’s cover and elsewhere. I love the one in red. Doesn’t everyone?!

  4. Here’s another mystery to me, btw — why is Saint Apollonia, at the NGA, is such bad condition compared with the others from the same altarpiece, especially the smaller works? Did that come up at the press preview?

    • The condition of St. Apollonia (which is thought to have been positioned on the left side panel of the base of the altarpiece) wasn’t mentioned, but that of the Crucifixion (from the likely central portion of the predella) was. Its relatively poor condition was cited as one of the reasons why both Mr. Frick and Helen Clay Frick declined to purchase the panel–which was later accepted by the museum, somewhat reluctantly, as a gift from Trustee John D. Rockefeller, Jr. — Michelle Kamhi, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  5. According to the Frick’s Members’ Magazine, the altarpiece, which originally may have had as many as 26 panels, was broken up only 100 years after it was put in place in the Church of Sant’Agostino in Borgo San Sepolcro. It was removed after 100 years. The magazine goes on, “Displaced from its position in the apse, the altarpiece was sawn into pieces and its gilt frame discarded. Local collectors . . . preserved many panels. Today, however, only eight are know to survive. . . .” This is heartbreaking in itself, but the greatest loss seems to be the large central panel, which was either a Virgin and Child Enthroned or a Coronation of the Virgin. It is hard (and painful) to believe that such a major work could be destroyed. The loan of the Virgin and Child Enthroned, from the Clark, gives us an idea of what has been lost.

an ArtsJournal blog