Fra Angelico – “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 2 – Ascension, Pentecost, the Last Judgement

I hope you had a blessed Feast of Pentecost!

Please read Part 1 of “Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth” (posted here on May 16, 2018) in order to receive a proper introduction to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s extraordinary exhibition that, unfortunately, closed this weekend..

As you moved into the gallery that exhibited this once in a lifetime collection of Fra Angelico paintings you first saw the beautiful painting entitled The Ascension of Christ, The Last Judgement, and Pentecost (the Corsini Triptych). It is painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on a wood panel. Fra Angelico painted it during the years 1447-1448, seven years before his death in 1455. It was loaned to the Gardner Museum from the Galleria Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma – Galerie Barberini Corsini, Palazzo Corsini.

My photographic images of that painting are found below:

The Ascension, Last Judgement, and PentecostIMG_1686

The following quotation is taken from the Exhibition’s commentary found on the right side of the painting. Mesmerizing in its detail, Fra Angelico’s painting pictures three biblical events. At left, Christ ascends into heaven over the heads of the Virgin Mary and the  Apostles. At right, a masterfully foreshortened dove – the Holy Spirit – descends to earth. The story culminates in the center. Christ passes judgment over the living and the dead, saving the worthy (left) and condemning the wicked (right). While the damned cower from fearsome devils who attack the poor souls with claws, angels embrace the blessed.

“This small devotional triptych – a painting with three parts – served a cultivated individual, probably a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) in Rome.” Please compare its three episodes to others in my upcoming posts. In the above painting Fra Angelico adopts a vertical presentation. This energizes the connection and communication between heaven and earth. The Gardner Museum’s curator remarked that this technique “enlarges the central scene, and emphasizes” the Catholic Church’s spiritual power.

Fra Angelico, as a Dominican priest, desired to present that Jesus’ act of Redemption (passion, death, and resurrection), and His Ascension back to the Father, made possible the moment of Pentecost. Christ’s actions enabled the eventual opportunity for our free will to choose to accept His Truth and be fed by the Spirit’s power. It is the Father and the Son’s will to have the Holy Spirit nourish us through His grace. This grace is available to us through the proper administration and worthy reception of the Holy Sacraments. Thus, we come to the central panel –  the Last Judgement. Did we freely accept His Sacramental grace or did we ignore, and thereby, reject it? At that moment will we be on the right or the left of Christ?

Allow me to make some personal points on the three close-up photos below. In the first panel of this painting, notice the gold work around the body of Christ. I was allowed to closely examine it. I have never seen a painting’s gold work done with such precision and delicacy. It is not just gold leaf that is applied in a flat manner to the panel. It appears to be actual raised strands, or threads of gold, all applied with great precision. As you slowly move left or right around that part of the painting you notice the light catching the gold and literally radiating and shimmering around the image of Christ. IMG_1745

The Ascension, with Pentecost below.

Second, the image of Pentecost, with the Blessed Mother in the center of the Apostles as the dove hovers and the fire of the Holy Spirit descends upon them and gives them the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:23; 1st Corinthians 12: 4 ff; Galatians 5: 22 ff).

Notice St. Peter, filled with conviction, speaking to the assembly of men below (“Peter’s Discourse” found in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 14 ff.). Also, notice the clothing on one of the men who gather outside of the upper room listening to Peter: the detail of the lace work on the bottom of one of his garments, and the shadows on the man’s red leotard/shoe. If you stand away from the painting at approximately eight to ten feet to take it all in (as you see in the panoramic top photo) you don’t notice all the detail; but the blessed Fra with his extraordinary perception, noticed the need for it, and he painted it in. A master of detail, and as a true maestro, he knew how to successfully accomplish it. Wonderful!     The last two close-up pictures are below.



My photos (through the kindness of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and            my text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Photos taken with an iPhone 6, no flash.


5 thoughts on “Fra Angelico – “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 2 – Ascension, Pentecost, the Last Judgement

  1. Dear Deacon Paul,

    Thank you for the detailed descriptions of the wonderful Fra Angelic works exhibited at the Gardner. After reading your enthusiastic reply I got myself and family up to Boston last Thursday. I am still reeling from the beauty and the opportunity to stand within inches of those great works . As the 17th was my birthday I also enjoyed free admission. I purchased the guide to enjoy. Will look forward to to your photos and descriptions in this and future emails. Thanks always for shepherding your artists in the way of beauty, truth and goodness. Truly enriched and grateful. Best , Kath


    1. Dear Kath,
      So happy that you made it up to Boston, and happy birthday!! Thanks for your kind words. Keep on studying, praying, painting, and making music. You are a Renaissance woman!
      May the Lord and Our Lady bless you and your family.
      Deacon Paul


  2. Hi Deacon Paul, Thank you for the art photos. Do you happen to know of an iconographer near the 02054 region of Massachusetts (Millis)? Thank you.n karen koza >


    1. Hi Karen,
      I am no longer giving public workshops. I am offering free workshops on-line. Just go to the first page that pops up when you type in and you will see the word “Menu” underneath the painting that is displayed of St. Gabriel and Our Blessed Mother. Click on St. Joseph’s Art Workshop and you will see the beginning of the pages dealing with the workshop. All the workshop pages are attached to that page – you scroll down to see the individual Lessons with their directions. I set it up that way so people can scroll up and down the Workshop pages rather that trying to find individual posts on the Home Page. Please tell your friend about it. There are forty people from all over the world that have visited the Workshop pages and are interested in it. I decided to go in this direction because it is easier to reach more people and people can proceed at their own pace. I will not remove any of the lessons, so they will always be there for people to refer to. The first Exercise, with all the Lessons I have posted so far (more to come), is a painting of St. Rose of Lima, it is being done in acrylic. The second lesson will be in egg tempera. I haven’t decided on a subject yet. Remember the Exercises with the Lessons/directions are FREE!
      I am sure your friend will like that, too.
      May God bless you and all the good people of St. Francis of Assisi Church. Say hi to them for Jackie and me.
      Best wishes,
      Deacon Paul


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