Sacred art restoration gives museum holy facet to holiday exhibits

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

NEW YORK (CNS) — Frank
Chambers was looking for a peaceful moment as he strolled through the noisy
holiday exhibits at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library on a
recent December afternoon.

“I love the antique trains that are
running through the first floor of the museum and the bells and whistles of
Christmas, but I think I was getting a little overstimulated,” Chambers told
Catholic News Service.

as I reached the second floor, I noticed this dark and quiet exhibit room that
looked like it had some religious art in it,” the native New Yorker said. “I
thought, ‘Perfect,’ and I went in and stumbled onto this totally cool piece of
sacred art and found out that it had been restored recently. It really helped
me bring my faith into the holidays.”

museum patron is referring to the exhibit of Italian painter Taddeo Gaddi’s early Renaissance triptych
“Madonna and Child Enthroned with Ten Saints: Maesta.”

means Madonna and majesty.

being shown for the first time with two double-sided wings, said Roberta J.M.
Olson, curator of the exhibit, during a recent interview with CNS at the New
York museum, across from Central Park.

central panel of the 14th-century Florentine triptych — the “Maesta”
has been on display in the past.

the exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library is the
first time it has been shown with two double-sided wings, in which Olson’s
research strongly suggests belonged to Gaddi’s devotional triptych, painted
1330-34, which is why the exhibit is entitled “Maesta: Gaddi’s Triptych

wings had been in storage in a private collection and Olson, along with researchers
from the J. Paul Getty Museum, were able to connect them to the Gaddi “Maesta”
through physical features, iconography and other details.

‘Maesta’s central panel has wonderful punch marks,” Olson told CNS. “It has two different
types. One Gaddi used on a lot of paintings and one he only used on our ‘Maesta,’
the two shutters that are now shown with it for the first time and one other
painting in the world. Which was sort of the final nail in the proof.”

13-by-9-inch triptych would have been used in a private home by a Florentine
family for their devotional practices and the side panels would have been
folded up when it was transported to a country home or on other travels, she

worked during the early part of the Renaissance, a time in which there was a
more secular approach to religion, Olson said, “when St. Francis and St.
Dominic and Dominican orders were reaching out to the people and there were not
private chapels in palaces. Instead they had diptychs and triptychs ‘ that
would be set up usually in the bedroom and would make sort of a mini-chapel.”

exhibit of this newly reunited work is set up to simulate a private devotional
space in a Florentine home.

triptych is painted in tempera, gesso and gold leaf featuring Mary and Jesus
flanked by 10 figures, including St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Agnes and St. John the
Baptist, patron saint of Florence.

shutters feature scenes of the Annunciation, Nativity and Crucifixion.

are so pleased that our Renaissance jewel is home after conservation, with the
added thrill that we can now imagine it as the artist originally intended,”
said Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “As
New York’s first museum, we are proud stewards of works gifted by pioneering
connoisseurs like Thomas Jefferson Bryan, whose foresight allowed such
masterworks to be seen in New York.”

was a renowned 19th-century art collector and left much of his
collection to the New-York Historical Society upon his death in 1870.

works from the Bryan collection are featured in the “Maesta: Gaddi’s Triptych
Reunited” exhibit, which will be displayed at the museum until March 20. The museum’s website

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Follow Chaz Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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A video to accompany this story can be found at

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