Revered in his own time as a "monarch" of painting, Piero della Francesca (1411/13–1492) is acknowledged today as a founding figure of the Italian Renaissance. The Frick Collection presented the first monographic exhibition in the United States on the artist, bringing together seven works, including six panels from the Sant’Agostino altarpiece — the largest number from this masterwork ever reassembled for display. These were joined by the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, Piero's only intact altarpiece in this country. Piero della Francesca in America was organized by Nathaniel Silver, Guest Curator and former Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow. The accompanying catalogue includes essays by James Banker, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University; Machtelt Israëls, Guest Researcher, University of Amsterdam; Elena Squillantini, masters candidate, Università degli Studi di Firenze; and Giacomo Guazzini, doctoral candidate, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Shown only at the Frick, where it was on view in the Oval Room, this important exhibition was also accompanied by a rich schedule of lectures, gallery talks, and seminars.
By bringing together seven paintings that Piero made in his hometown of Borgo San Sepolcro, this exhibition considered this pioneering artist in the context of his native city. Among Piero's major works is the Sant’Agostino altarpiece (1454–69), a large polyptych that towered over the high altar of the local Augustinian church and was disassembled around 1555. One of the full-length figures from this work, Saint Augustine from the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, made its debut in America with this presentation. It was reunited for the first time with its companion, the Frick’s Saint John the Evangelist, and with the surviving small-scale panels from the altarpiece: Saint Apollonia from the National Gallery of Art and the Frick’s Saint Leonard (?), Saint Monica, and The Crucifixion.
Completing the group was Piero’s Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. This altarpiece, rarely lent by its home institution, has been presented in New York only once since the Clark opened to the public nearly sixty years ago. Removed from the artist’s native city nearly two hundred years ago, it was returned, with this exhibition, to the context of Piero’s oeuvre.
Support for the exhibition was generously provided by Mrs. Henry Clay Frick II, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Hester Diamond, the Robert H. Smith Family Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Robert Lehman Foundation.
The accompanying catalogue has been underwritten by The Christian Humann Foundation and a gift from an anonymous donor in memory of Charles Ryskamp.
Piero della Francesca (ca. 1411/13–1492), Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, ca. 1460-70. Oil (and tempera?) on poplar panel, transferred to fabric on panel. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute