Most early Renaissance paintings found in the collections of American museums are the surviving fragments from large altarpieces that had once adorned European churches. Many of these altarpieces were separated into smaller components during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which were subsequently sold. A panel depicting the Burial of the Virgin (early 1400s), by the Florentine master Gherardo Starnina (documented 1387-1413), is one such fragment, and is part of the John G. Johnson Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Originally created for a church in Lucca, Italy, Starnina's altarpiece survives only as a group of fragments (such as Burial of the Virgin) housed in museums and private collections in Italy and the United States, including the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi in Lucca, Italy, and The Fogg Art Museum of the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In collaboration with those distinguished institutions, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present Gherardo Starnina: Reconstructing a Renaissance Masterpiece. The exhibition will be on view from December 17, 1998 through March 7, 1999 in Gallery 151 on the Museum's first floor.
Featuring a full reconstruction of Starnina's design, as well as a panel from the predella (or bottom section), the exhibition will offer North American audiences the rare opportunity to see a nearly complete Renaissance altarpiece. The installation will also include two additional paintings by Starnina on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as panels by the Spanish artist Miquel Alcañiz (documented 1421-1434). Depicting The Nativity and The Burial of the Virgin (both early 1420s), the Alcañiz panels are akin to Starnina's in theme and imagery, evidence of a rich exchange of ideas between Italian and Spanish artists at the time of the Renaissance. Starnina himself worked in Spain and Alcañiz would have known his paintings. Like Starnina's Burial of the Virgin, the Alcañiz paintings belong to the John G. Johnson Collection of more than 1,200 works dating from the Middle Ages through the 19th century, housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Although not well known to contemporary museum visitors, Starnina was preeminent among Florentine artists of the early 15th century, renowned for the brilliant colors and sinuous lines of his art and rumored to possess an unusual, even bizarre, personality.
Gherardo Starnina: Reconstructing a Renaissance Masterpiece is the result of a cultural exchange made possible by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Italy), by the Soprintendenza per i Beni Ambientali, Architettonici, Artistici, e Storici per le Provincie di Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, e Massa Carrara, and by Opera - laboratori fiorentini. The exhibition was on view at the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi from March through September, 1998, and The Fogg Art Museum in October and November, 1998. In Philadelphia, the exhibition has been organized by Carl Brandon Strehlke, Adjunct Curator, John G. Johnson Collection, and Marla K. Shoemaker, Curator of Education, Youth and Family Programs.