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up to and including 15 January 2017

Fra Bartolommeo The Divine Renaissance

From 15 October 2016 to 15 January 2017, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen showed the masterpieces of Fra Bartolommeo (1473-1517), an artist-monk from Florence. Together with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, Fra Bartolommeo was one of the four most important artists of the Italian High Renaissance. This is the first time that paintings by Fra Bartolommeo were to be seen in the Netherlands. In this exhibition, which could only be seen in Rotterdam, eleven of his paintings reunited with 140 preparatory drawings after a gap of 500 years.

Fra Bartolommeo painted mostly religious subjects. After joining the Dominican order, he worked in the famous convent of San Marco in Florence. His paintings are characterised by their clear and harmonious compositions. Fra Bartolommeo is best known for more than a thousand drawings he made as studies for his paintings. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen owns the world’s largest and finest collection of his drawings. Discover the extraordinary talent of this relatively unknown painter. Be amazed by his masterful studies and eleven of the glorious paintings that resulted from them, varying from a small devotional panel to imposing 4-metre-tall altarpieces. This exhibition showed exclusively in Rotterdam. Around Fra Bartolommeo was on show in the Printing Room until 22 January 2017.

Art treasures in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

A large proportion of Fra Bartolommeo’s drawings are contained in two albums in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The drawings have an interesting provenance. Following the artist’s death in 1517, the drawings, together with the inventory of his workshop, came into the possession of his successor, Fra Paolino da Pistoia. They then passed to Suor Plautilla Nelli, a painter-nun and prioress of the convent of Santa Caterina da Siena, opposite the convent of San Marco. Following her death, the drawings were stored in the convent and forgotten. A century and a half later, the collector Niccolò Gabburri discovered that the drawings were there and bought the lot. He compiled the drawings into two large albums. Following Gabburri’s death in 1742, the albums were sold. Over the centuries, they passed through many collections, including that of King William II. In 1923 they were purchased by the Haarlem-based collector Franz Koenigs. In 1935 they were given on long-term loan to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen as part of the Koenigs Collection. In 1940 the shipping magnate Daniël George van Beuningen acquired the Koenigs Collection and donated it to the museum.

The artist’s studio then and now

In preparation for his paintings, Fra Bartolommeo made studies of figures in various poses, paying particular attention to the drapery of their robes. He also drew detailed studies of limbs and heads, including several portraits. For his figure studies, Fra Bartolommeo made use of a life-size mannequin: a wooden doll with removable parts and movable joints. We know this because two mannequins are mentioned in the inventory of Fra Bartolommeo’s workshop, made in 1517. He also employed wax and clay models of children (for the Christ child or cherubs) and individual limbs. He draped fabric over the mannequins to study as closely as possible the play of light on the drapery.

In this studio the Rotterdam-based artist Iwan Smit (b. 1989) worked on a large- scale painting in conjunction with the public. The project is based on Fra Bartolommeo’s renowned ‘Pala del Gran Consiglio’, an altarpiece he produced in 1510-1513 for a commission from the city government. In the same way Fra Bartolommeo’s painting was intended as a tribute to Florence as a free and democratic republic, Iwan Smit’s painting is meant to glorify the multicultural port city of Rotterdam.

Fra Bartolommeo worked on large-scale commissions in his workshop with a team of apprentices and assistants. In this modern-day artist’s studio, visitors were invited to contribute to the painting, imitating Fra Bartolommeo’s working methods. All the steps in the process were included: from composition and figure studies to transfer to the panel and the final overpainting in colour. The end result is displayed here, together with a selection of the best drawings.

Timelapse Iwan Smit – voorstudie Portunus

Around Fra Bartolommeo

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen owns a world-class collection of drawings from the Italian Renaissance. Highlights include rare fifteenth- and sixteenth-century drawings by Donatello, Fra Angelico, Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. The core of the collection is from the first quarter of the sixteenth century and features the world’s only surviving drawing by Giorgione, the only drawing by Leonardo da Vinci in the Netherlands and the world’s largest collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo.

To coincide with the exhibition The Divine Renaissance – Fra Bartolommeo, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s Print Room is showing a selection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century prints and drawings by Fra Bartolommeo’s predecessors and contemporaries and works related to the main exhibition, including Fra Bartolommeo’s two portraits of Michelangelo.

In Depth: Drawings by Italian Masters

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection of works on paper contains at least 82,000 objects – some 65,000 drawings and 17,000 prints. These works span a period of around six hundred years, from the late Middle Ages to the present day.

There are works in the collection from different schools, from Spanish to French and from German to Italian. The group of drawings from the Italian school consists of around 1,200 sheets and includes famous drawings by artists such as PisanelloGiorgioneLeonardo da VinciMichelangeloRaphaelVeroneseTintoretto and Tiepolo.

Did you know

Did you know

that the collection of drawings by Old Masters was originally smaller and of average quality? Frans Jacob Otto Boijmans, who gave his name to the museum, had an extensive collection of drawings, but only part of it was good enough and found its way to the museum in 1847. Unfortunately around seven hundred of them went up in flames during a major fire.

The largest collection of drawings by one artist the museum owns are the five hundred by the Italian Renaissance artist Fra Bartolommeo (1473-1517). He and his famous contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael were among Florence’s most important artists. One hundred and twenty sheets from this collection of drawings (around ten percent of the museum’s collection of Italian drawings) can now be seen in Fra Bartolommeo: The Divine Renaissance. They are being exhibited beside ten paintings for which they were preparatory studies, making it possible to trace the artist’s creative process from drawing to painting.

Did you know
that the prints and drawings are housed in a special repository for works on paper? The temperature and humidity are ideal there and the drawings are kept in boxes.



The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in Dutch and English editions, including all the exhibited works, divided across the five phases of the artist’s development. It charts his creative process from his preparatory drawings to his paintings. Four introductory essays discuss Fra Bartolommeo’s life and work, his workshop practice, the iconography of his paintings and the provenance of the unique collection of drawings that are now in the collection of Museum Boijmans.

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