Devotion by Design (exhibition)

EXHIBITION: Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500, London, The National Gallery (Sainsbury Wing), 6 July – 2 October 2011. Admission free. Catalogue by Scott Nethersole.

As part of a programme of summer shows focusing on the National Gallery’s collection, Devotion by Design explores the function, the original location, and the development of altarpieces in Italy during the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.

These objects furnished altars in churches and were not originally intended to hang in a gallery as we see them today. Instead, they were created for a specific sacred context, forming the focus of devotion for worshippers.

Using the Gallery’s own collection, this exhibition investigates the development of altarpieces, looking at changes in form, style and type. It examines not only the evolution of their physical structure but also their relationship to their frames and to the monumental architecture that surrounded them.

A small section of Devotion by Design will be dedicated to altarpiece fragments, explaining the role different elements of altarpieces played in the overall ensemble. The exhibition examines the reasons why altarpieces came to be dismembered (often with the dissolution of religious institutions in the 18th and 19th centuries) and the methods that art historians now use to reassemble them.

Devotion by Design showcases altarpieces by well-known artists such as Piero della Francesca, but includes many which are less familiar. It revisits works in the National Gallery Collection in a fresh and innovative light, drawing on the wealth of scholarship undertaken in this field in recent years.

The exhibition has been reviewed by PETER HUMPHREY in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CLIII, n. 1303, October 2011, pp. 684-685.

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