Reno, NV 89501
As anyone who follows world news can tell you, earthquakes suck. The tragic devastation in Haiti and Chile following their recent earthquakes has inspired a compassionate response around the world from people who have donated their time and money to help with the rebuilding of those communities.
In April 2009, a deadly earthquake struck the Abruzzo region of Italy. More than 300 people died, hundreds more were injured and thousands were left homeless in the wake of the destruction. Many in the global community offered assistance to the region. Sierra Nevada College, in Lake Tahoe, offered a unique, ongoing scholarship to students of University of L’Aquila, the university in the capital of the region, which was severely damaged in the quake. The scholarship gave the students an opportunity to continue their education.
The National Museum of Abruzzo, and many of the historical items therein, were damaged in the quake. One of the items that emerged from the quake remarkably unscathed was the Beffi Triptych, a 15th century religious painting, depicting the Madonna with a child, as well as a number of scenes from the lives of Jesus and his mother, Mary.
The large, three-panel painting is named after the small village where it was originally housed. Parts of the painting are gilded in gold. The left panel depicts a large nativity scene—including a portrait of a man who was most like the wealthy patron who commissioned the piece. The center panel depicts a traditional Madonna with child, and the right panel depicts the death of Mary, including an image of an angelic, adult Jesus carrying his infant mother to Heaven. The name of the artist who painted it is unknown and the subject of much scholarly speculation.
After recovering the Beffi Triptych from the damaged museum, the Italian government decided to lend it to American museums as a gesture of gratitude for the assistance provided by the United States government and other American organizations, including academic institutions like SNC. It also serves as a symbol to raise awareness about the ongoing plight of the region.
“The Italian government saw this particular altarpiece as a cultural ambassador to raise awareness about the challenges facing the region,” says Ann Wolfe, curator of exhibition and collections at the Nevada Museum of Art. The triptych went first to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and then to the NMA.
The Beffi Triptych came to the NMA with sponsorship by E. L. Wiegand Foundation’s Arte ITALIA organization—the same partnership that helped arrange for Raphael’s Italian Renaissance masterpiece “La Velata” to come to the NMA. But though there are some similarities, Wolfe points out that the two pieces are very different kinds of paintings.
“The Raphael portrait is more of a singular piece,” she says. “This is more of a religious object, and part of that iconography.”
The NMA recently hosted the more than 30 Italian students currently enrolled at a SNC for a special viewing of the Beffi Triptych.
“What’s really special about this for us here at the museum is that we’re reuniting these students with an important part of their cultural heritage,” says Wolfe.