Check It Out: “Piero della Francesca in America”

Just across the park from MOBIA, located right on Fifth Avenue, is the famous Frick Collection. Now on view is an exhibition dedicated to seven works done by Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca (1411/13-1492).  Piero della Francesca in America brings together six panels from the altarpiece of Sant’Agostino, a church in Sansepolcro, Italy, the most extensive reassembling of the polyptych ever exhibited since its dismantling.  The exhibition also features Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, the artist’s only intact altarpiece in the United States.

Piero della Francesca (c. 1411/13–1492),
“Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels”, c. 1460-70
Oil (and tempera?) on poplar panel, transferred to fabric on panel
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

See Piero’s rendition of saints like Apollonia, patron saint of dentists, and Augustine, whom the artist portrayed as wearing a cloak depicting scenes from the life of Christ.  You may also recognize Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, the focus of a spotlight post on this blog few months ago [link] (did you know that it became a rule of the Augustinian Order that there had to be a likeness of Monica in every Augustinian church?).

Piero della Francesca in America is on view until May 19.  The Frick Collection is located at 10 East 71st Street.

Spotlight: St. Monica

St. Monica (331-387) was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a Church Father whose writings were formative to early Christian doctrine and who described his mother’s  saintliness in his works.  The wife of an abusive, alcoholic pagan named Patricius, Monica fervently prayed for the conversion of her husband (which occurred on his deathbed) and her son, who at the time was leading a wild and promiscuous life.  Her devotion on behalf of her family made Monica the patron saint of housewives and mothers, an example of perseverance as well as great sorrow.

St. Augustine of Hippo (center)
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Joseph Lauber, designer
Fathers of the Church, ca. 1892
Exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois
Glass and plaster
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

How to Know Her: Monica is often pictured with her son, Augustine of Hippo. She is usually portrayed as an elderly, modestly dressed woman.  When shown on her own, Monica may be recognized by her symbolic attribute, tears.

Saints Monica and Augustine (on the left)
Giovanni di Paolo
Madonna and Child with Saints, 1454
Tempera on wood, gold ground
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931

Saint in the City: Though works depicting  St. Monica are rare in New York City, she does have her own church!  St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, exhibits the special devotion to the saint by the founders of the parish back in 1879 (check back in a few weeks to catch our spotlight on the church).

At MOBIA: St. Monica holds a unique place at MOBIA.  She is found in a sketch for a window depicting  her on her deathbed on view now in  Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion.  On loan from the Jeffrey Rush Higgins Collection at the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass, this work illustrates the thought behind a large, multi-figured window.  Designed by Frederick Wilson, this preparatory sketch for an eight-lancet window surmounted by a large rose and a pair of octagonal lobed lights shows Monica receiving the sacrament of Last Rites in the lower register of four lancets. The sketch, painted in grisaille, is particularly significant for all the marginal notes and comments Wilson appends to it. In addition to citing biblical references like “Rom. XII, 13-14” and possible inscriptions for the window, the designer also defines the type and use of liturgical garments and implements he depicts. For example, Wilson notes that an “ambule a vessel for consecrated wine or water or holy chrism, if latter add spoon.” For chasuble, he notes “with cappa a sort of hood similar to the hood of a cope…(casula processoria) …cassock purple stole.”  This marginalia indicates that Wilson approached his subject with a deep respect for liturgical context and a commitment to understanding and correctness.

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
Design drawing for Death of Monica at Ostia: A.D. 387, Signed and dated “United States, New York, Tiffany Studios, 1896″
Watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper
Jeffrey Rush Higgins collection, the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (126597)