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Rarely viewed frescoes to highlight Tech exhibit
By KARA ALTENBAUMER Avalanche-Journal

''The Last Judgement,'' one of the only previously known surviving works by Italian artist Pietro Cavallini, will be included in an exhibit from the Vatican Museums on display at the Museum of Texas Tech in 2002.

To see more detail of "The Last Judgement": Click Here

An exhibit featuring 30 frescoes by Italian artist Pietro Cavallini is an ''extraordinary'' opportunity for Lubbock, said the Rev. Thomas Lucas, chairman of the University of San Francisco's fine arts department and an expert in Christian icons.

The frescoes, which will be part of an exhibit traveling from the Vatican Museums to the Museum of Texas Tech in 2002, are from the Church of St. Cecilia of Trastevere in Rome. They were painted during the late 13th century and early 14th century.

''Certainly this is quite a discovery. When I heard ... I thought, how did your curator get that?'' Lucas said last week. ''The Church of St. Cecilia is a very important building in ... the older quarter of Rome. This Cavallini character was the artist in Rome in the beginning of the 14th century. His work is hard to overestimate.''

The frescoes, which will be exhibited for the first time when they come to Lubbock, were recently discovered in the conservatory similar to a wine cellar of the church, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, judicial vicar of the Tribunal Diocese of Lubbock and director of the exhibit.

It is believed, he said, that no one has seen the art in centuries. And because the church was a convent, a few hundred nuns may have been the frescoes' only viewers.

According to Thomas and other art experts and historians interviewed by The Avalanche-Journal, very little of Cavallini's work had survived, with the exception of a famed piece titled ''The Last Judgement.'' That piece will be included in the exhibit, Neyland said.

''From what I read, this must be a new discovery,'' said John Howe, an ecclesiastical and medieval history professor at Tech. ''Everything indicates that only one piece survived from the cycle of St. Cecilia, so this must be new.''



Although a lack of surviving art the WebMuseum site in Paris lists Cavallini as having only two surviving major pieces has kept his name fairly obscure, he ''occupies an important place in the history of Italian painting,'' according to the site.

''He was one of the earliest to depict (human) figures with a solid, three-dimensional form,'' said Karen Gould, a former University of Texas art history professor who is now an independent scholar of medieval art in Austin. ''From that point on, up until the 20th century, the human figure was one of the dominant themes of Western art. Basically, what (Cavallini) did was in the vanguard of what would dominate Western art for centuries.''

Willene Clark, an emeritus art history professor at Malboro College in Vermont, said Cavallini was a predecessor to Giotto, a better known artist who also was a first in three-dimensional painting.

''Cavallini's painting was very soft, an early humanist sort of style,'' she said. ''His figures have a lot of presence. There is a softness in the lines. ... There's a great deal of interaction with the figures. He's a wonderful painter.''

A release from the exhibit office here in Lubbock indicates that three of the paintings in the exhibit are of St. Cecilia, who is considered the patron saint of church music.

According to several Internet accounts of the legend of Cecilia, she was martyred in the fourth century for helping bury the remains of Christians who were killed for their beliefs. Legend has it that she was condemned to be suffocated in the steam of her own bathroom, but survived. She was later to be beheaded but lived for three days after the fatal blow.

''There was a whole circle of girl martyrs. She was the hometown hero of Rome,'' Lucas said. ''The cult of St. Cecilia is very old in Rome. It was an important church in the city, where pilgrimages would go.''

Before her death, she gave her home to be used as church, a common practice during times of Christian persecution in Rome, Neyland said. Through the years, the church was rebuilt several times on the original location with columns and other additions added in later years, he said.

''What happens is that you have different levels of churches in Trastevere,'' Howe said. ''When Christians built churches during the persecutions, they didn't want steeples. They wanted regular houses.''

In addition to the images of St. Cecilia in the exhibit, there also will be 11 frescoes that represent the wedding of the Virgin Mary to St. Joseph.

Such an image ''is not tremendously rare, but rare enough,'' Lucas said. ''There was a real interest in the medieval period in filling in the gaps left by the gospels. The gospel says very little about Mary and even less about Joseph. To have him in those images is significant.''

The use of sacred art by Cavallini and others to tell the story of Christianity was considered ''the Bible of the illiterate,'' Gould said.

''There were no newspapers, no printing presses,'' Neyland said. ''How did you communicate what needed to be told? You painted it. ... In Christendom, no one knew how to read or write, so the painting tells the story. The history of who we are today is based on this mode of communication.''

The exhibit, titled ''Traditions and Renewal,'' will be on display from June 2002 to August 2002 and will also include other art from the Vatican Museums as well as sacred art from the same time period in the Americas.

For more information on artist Pietro Cavallini:

For more detailed accounts of the legend of St. Cecilia:

For previous stories on the Vatican exhibit:
http://www.lubbockonline.com/stories/060400/ent_060400031.shtml http://www.lubbockonline.com/stories/022400/loc_022400083.shtml http://www.lubbockonline.com/stories/010500/ent_010500012.shtml

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