Museum of Fine Arts Boston Returns 14th-Century Embroidery to the Museo Diocesano Tridentino

. December 21, 2010 . 0 Comments

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has announced that it has returned to the Museo Diocesano Tridentino (Diocesan Museum of Trent, Italy) an embroidered panel, the Entombment of Saint Vigilius, from around 1390–1391.


Entombment of Saint Vigilius

Commissioned by George of Liechtenstein on the occasion of his appointment as bishop prince of Trent in 1390, the embroidery depicts the entombment of Saint Vigilius (b. about 353–d. 405), the third bishop and patron saint of Trent, and the delivery of the news of his martyrdom to the pope and Emperor Theodosius. The process of returning the panel to the Museo Diocesano began when the MFA learned that the work was part of the Saint Vigilius series of embroidered panels owned by the Museo Diocesano Tridentino. In celebration of its return, the Museo Diocesano will unveil the embroidery at a holiday celebration in Trent on Monday evening, December 20, when the work will be included in the exhibition Guided by a Star: The Long Journey of the Magi.

“The MFA is pleased, especially in this season of gift giving, to be able to return this exquisite embroidered panel to its rightful owner,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum. “This work is of great cultural significance to the people of Trent, and after a separation of almost 70 years, it is finally going home.”

The MFA purchased the embroidery in 1946 from an Italian art dealer in New York without knowledge of its subject matter or provenance. Prior to the acquisition, curatorial staff inquired about its history and were told only that its previous owner had inherited it along with a large collection of other antique objects. The Museum had no additional information about its provenance until 2008, when Dr. Evelin Wetter of the Abegg-Stiftung (Riggisberg, Switzerland) contacted the MFA, indicating that the panel was once part of the Saint Vigilius series from the Museo Diocesano Tridentino. Curatorial research by the MFA confirmed that the embroidery belonged to that series. In June 2008, the MFA contacted the Museo Diocesano to initiate discussions about its return, which concluded in April 2010 with the signing of an agreement by the MFA, the Archdiocese of Trent, and the Museo Diocesano. The transfer of the work from Boston to Trent in November 2010 has allowed for the reconstruction of the narrative cycle of the life of Saint Vigilius. This set of embroideries is particularly important to the Trent region for its historic subject matter and its artistic rarity. The resolution came about thanks to the excellent relationship between the two museums, which are both dedicated to preserving, caring for, and educating the public about the works of art in their collections.

Measuring approximately 14″ x 20″, the embroidery features colorful silk and metal-wrapped threads on linen. Depicting the entombment of Saint Vigilius, it is part of a cycle of at least six embroidered panels illustrating episodes from the saint’s life, which were created in a Bohemian workshop and sewn onto two blue velvet deacons’ dalmatics, along with a chasuble, that were part of the sumptuous consecration vestments of George of Liechtenstein. Since their creation in the 14th century, some of the panels have been lost. By 1903, only five remained.

The MFA has been a leader within the museum community in sharing objects in its collection, and their provenance, worldwide on its website, www.mfa.org In 1998, the Museum began the systematic review of the provenance of its collection, with the goal of identifying objects that may have been improperly sold or traded during the Nazi era and World War II (1933–1945). In 2000, the MFA launched on its website information and images pertaining to several works of art whose Nazi-era provenance was unclear, with the intention of identifying objects that may have been lost between 1933 and 1945 and never returned to their rightful owners. The Museum updates this website regularly with new provenance research discoveries. Currently, information about more than 345,000 objects is available at: www.mfa.org/collections.

Category: Fine Art

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