Thursday, August 31, 2023
Jim Davis – Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Artworks spanning more than four centuries – from the Middle Ages to the 18th century – will be on display starting mid-September at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.
“Faith, Beauty and Devotion: Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Paintings” will show 30 pictures from Italian and Flemish masters. The show is set for Sept. 16 to Dec. 10 at the on-campus Saladrigas Art Gallery.
The title was chosen by Federico Vannini and his wife, Daisy Diaz. He linked it with what he sees as very purpose of art.
“Beauty is part of the faith,” said Vannini, who is sharing the pictures from his own family’s collection. “Creation of beauty is the way we get closer to God. We’ve gotten away from it, [but] that’s the real meaning of art.”
The exhibit illustrates several Bible episodes, including the Crucifixion, the Annunciation, the Nativity, David and Goliath, and Susanna and the Elders. Five paintings depict Madonna and Child.
Diaz, who also is
the cultural director at Vannini’s gallery in Italy, said she wants the art to affect people as strongly today as it did for people in previous centuries.
“They didn’t have Instagram or social media,” said Diaz, who is the cultural director at Vannini’s gallery in Italy. “Art was meant to move, communicate, bring people to pray.”
The pictures cover a period from the late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, to the Baroque period. They also embrace various styles, shown by three paintings of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.
For Sylvie San Juan, director of the Saladrigas Art Gallery, a key facet of the exhibit is how it reveals people’s focus: from the divine in the Middle Ages, to more human concerns in the Renaissance, to drama and emotion in the Baroque period.
HISTORY IN PICTURES
“To me, one of the greatest things about art is that it’s a visual representation of history,” said San Juan, who is overseeing curation of the exhibit. “It’s like learning about history through pictures.”
One painting, from the 12th century, falls right on the verge of transition, she said. The arched body and the agonized face show a suffering Christ, different from the triumphant Jesus of earlier art.
Baroque art likewise reflected current events, as the Protestant Reformation began competing with the Catholic view of faith and society. That’s when artists started painting rugged rocks and ragged trees, and spotlighting people.
The collection’s 17th century oil of Christ healing the sick is one of Vannini’s favorites. It literally highlights Jesus and his subjects in a dark room, heightening the drama of the miracle.
Catholic artists countered early Protestant bans on church art with heightened drama in their paintings, San Juan said. The Belen exhibit accordingly includes a 17th century painting of Mary in heaven with God and a Carmelite saint, with infant cherubim whirling in a cosmic dance.
“They wanted to draw people to the Catholic Church,” San Juan said of the artists. “So they conveyed a sense of drama, movement, emotion, emerging from darkness.”
The upcoming art show is a natural not only for the Jesuits but for Belen. The Saladrigas Art Gallery, taking up 3,200 square feet, has hosted works of artists from around the world over its quarter-century. It’s part of the Ignatian Center for the Arts, which also includes classrooms, a music rehearsal hall and a 665-seat theater.
The exhibit has a few non-Christian works as well. There are a few portraits of noblemen and a woman. There are even two canvases from Greek mythology. Father Guillermo Garcia-Tuñon, president of Belen, said they’re valuable for understanding the history of the period.
“Even secular art tries to capture something of the human condition, positive or negative,” he said. “It’s in God’s interest to fix what is broken and uplift what is not.”
The Vanninis have a story as colorful as their pictures. Federico is a fourth-generation art dealer from Florence, Italy, who has worked with museums such as the Getty in Los Angeles and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
Daisy was born in Miami to Cuban exiles. She studied art history at Boston College, then pursued a master’s degree in industrial design in Florence where she met, then married, Federico.
They evacuated to South Florida just before Italy’s COVID lockdown, which took hundreds of thousands of lives there in 2020. They settled on Key Biscayne and attended St. Agnes Church, where Diaz was baptized back in 1980. Since then, three of their four children have been baptized there as well.
They planned to stay maybe a couple of months, Diaz said. But they found a welcoming campus at Belen, and a friendship with Father Garcia-Tuñon. They decided to give back.
“When we found Belen, it was an anchor point,” she said. “It was a home for us.”
Father Garcia-Tuñon said the idea for the exhibit budded less than a year ago over dinner with the Vanninis. Hearing he was an art dealer, the two eagerly discussed Rubens and other European art masters.
“That fascinated me – I’m a frustrated art historian,” Father Garcia-Tuñon said. He offered Vannini the on-campus gallery for a show, and “he agreed 100 percent.”
But the project took on an urgency from the short timeline. Most exhibits take several years to plan and present, with the host galleries handling scheduling, shipping, documentation and other details.
“We moved heaven and earth,” Diaz said cheerfully. But she also praised Sylvie San Juan, the exhibit curator, who coordinated with the Vannini team in Florence.
The Vanninis said it was a bonus to place the exhibit in a school, connecting the goals of beauty and education. Daisy said Belen plans to invite other schools to bring groups of students to see the show.
“They won’t have to go on a field trip to Rome,” she said. “They can go to Belen and see the art there.”
IF YOU GO
- Event: “Faith, Beauty, and Devotion: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque Paintings.”
- Where: Saladrigas Art Gallery at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, 500 S.W. 127 Ave., Miami.
- Featuring: 30 paintings, showing development of art and philosophy over more than four centuries.
- Dates: Sept. 16-Dec. 10, 2023.
- Gallery Hours: By reservation via the exhibition webpage. Belen is also planning a schedule of lectures, panels and dinners. Details will be posted on the exhibit webpage.
- Cost: Free, but donations are welcome.
- Information: [email protected] or 786-621-4624.