Friday, 30 March 2018

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

I can't possibly go to a foreign city to explore its museums and galleries and not blog about them. Because I needed to see the Fra Angelico exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston then that was the first place I visited.

After seeing the Fra Angelico exhibition in the new wing of the museum I walked through the glass tunnel to 'the Palace', the name now given to Isabella's house and art mansion. At first, I thought it was a bit like Leighton House in Kensington, a period residence full of art, but this is so much more and so much bigger. One of the prides of the collection is a portrait of Isabella by John Singer Sargent that is on display in one of the corner rooms upstairs. I quickly came to the conclusion that this museum should definitely be on anyone's top ten list of places to visit in Boston and, for an art lover, I'd say top five.

Once you're through the tunnel you come to the courtyard garden. My first reaction was to wonder where all the snow was? There was a foot or so of snow outside, so where was it? Looking up, I saw a glass ceiling protecting the garden and enabling the plants to grow and flower. You can't go into the garden but can walk all the way round it. There's a central mosaic and loads of statues dotted around the planting. Given the whiteness of the snow outside, it was odd to see all the greenery in the courtyard. I bet it's lovely in spring and high summer.

The mansion is very big and three stories high and that makes exploring it really interesting, never knowing what you might come across next. To a layman, the layout of the place makes little sense with X painting next to Y period desk and chairs and Z painting opposite with a gothic altarpiece just to the right... it's a right hodge-podge of stuff thrown together for reasons I can't fathom. Like having a Botticelli Virgin & Child in the alcove of a corridor that people will most likely miss and  turn left along the corridor rather than right to see the painting. Most museums would have a Botticelli front and centre with big lighting and signage. Not here.

In a talk in the Fra Angelico exhibition I learned that everything in the museum was put where Isabella Stewart Gardner wanted it and it's part of the bequest that the location can't be changed. Fair enough, it's her art and she can place it where she wants. Like placing the Fra Angelico reliquary on the side of a fireplace that makes it easy to miss unless you look but it's beside a north-facing window so it gets consistent sunlight rather than the vagaries of morning/afternoon sunlight.

I actually quite liked this approach, wandering round the place finding one 'wow' painting after another. I didn't really bother with the map you're given on entry but just followed my nose. My 'wow' factor almost went audible when I found a small panel by Giotto standing on top of a small red velvet-covered desk, close enough to touch. A lovey little Giotto in this collection, close enough to touch and positioned under her gaze. I suspect many world-cess museums would be happy to have this small panel in their own collections. I wanted to pull the seat out from under the desk and sit down and just look at it. I wonder how many people have actually touched this gem over the years?

In one room you actually enter under a wooden pulpit. I was too busy looking round the room to look for another gem but I suspect the pulpit was Italian and her guests probably played with it, making speeches or wotnot from the platform.

I really liked the 'you never know what you'll find next' experience of wandering around that big old house. All built around that lovely courtyard garden with lots of windows looking out over it so it really is central to the place. So much art in there: paintings, tapestries, furniture, sculpture and the house itself. What must it have been like to live surrounded by all that art? Not all of it is great art, but it's definitely interesting art.

So if you're in Boston and you like art then you could do a lot worse that spend a couple of hours in the Gardner Museum. It's just a few minutes walk from the Museum of Fine Art and you get a discount on the MFA ticket if you show your Gardner Museum ticket (the MFA ticket desk saw my Gardner Museum bag and helpfully mentioned it). The Gardner Museum also has a great little restaurant and gift shop. It also has best toilets in Boston - just look at all that green!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

'The Humans' at the Shubert Theater, Boston

My final play in Boston was 'The Humans' at the Shubert Theatre. 'The Humans' is on tour following an award-wining run on Broadway and I caught it on its visit to Boston. I wasn't really sure what to expect so I was in for some surprises.

It's a simple tale of a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner but, for the first time, this isn't in the family home but rather at the daughter's new apartment in Manhattan, so new, very little is unpacked yet. It's a small cast of characters with Erik and Deirdre as the parents, Aimee and Brigid as the two daughters, Richard as Brigid's partner and 'Momo', the grandmother with dementia. The apartment block is old and decrepit but quite spacious and Aimee says they're lucky to get in in New York these days.There are creaks and light bulb problems and the old lady upstairs makes a lot of noise.

Home truths soon start leaking as the family talks and gathers round the table, up and downstairs to the bathroom and living room and people talk endlessly, including over each other far too often for my liking. There are a lot of words in this play. Brigid is a bit resentful that her parents haven't helped her financially with getting a place to live, the daughters laugh together about random articles their mother emails to them, Dad makes bad jokes and Brigid tells her sister about her partner's need to make lists and tell her his dreams. Little frictions and niggles build and get glossed over and Erik is goaded into telling his family about the dreams of a weird, faceless woman that have been disturbing his sleep.

This goes on for some time, keeping the tension building amongst the jokes and laughs, the problems of the new apartment and the Catholic mother's little comments about her daughter not being married and in a stable relationship. Something's going to happen any minute, I kept thinking, the play is moving us towards something, but I couldn't guess what. And then the father comes clean and tells his daughters that he's cheated on their mother. With a prostitute. And has lost his job and pension after 28 years working with a private school with a morality clause in the contract. And they can't afford to move to the new house now and can't afford the bills for his mother with dementia and need to move into a small apartment themselves. The daughters are devastated by this bombshell, delivered while their mother is upstairs seeing to the needs of their grandmother. Throughout all this, I just thought 'what a brave man' for admitting all this so candidly and calmly.

Then the visit is over and they rush to get ready for the cab to take them home since Dad has been drinking and the light bulb blows, leaving him alone downstairs, with the odd sounds of the apartment building around him. He bumbles round and sits down in the dark, with the only light coming from the basement door that he's wedged open and we see a woman walk slowly across the corridor outside, but he doesn't. Tension is really mounting by this stage and, suddenly, the lights all go out and we start clapping. The end. Phew!

At first I didn't think I was going to like the play but it slowly wound me in until by the end I was hooked. It's very well constructed to build up the tension almost without us noticing until we get the bombshell. It included some lovely moments as well, with Dad consoling daughter Aimee over recently splitting with her girlfriend without making a thing out of it and also the almost throwaway moments of Momo's dementia and the touching letter to her granddaughters she wrote four years ago which Dad reads out. It's nothing special, just life carrying on as it does. The flow and tension was helped by it playing as one act with no interval.

I liked Richard Thomas as Dad Erik and Therese Plaehn as daughter Aimee but was less keen on Daisey Eagan as Brigid who's voice was too high and light and frequently got lost. I wasn't too keen on the 'let's all talk over one another' sections, particularly in the first half - do Americans really talk like that at home? It was also the rudest audience I've been with for a long time, talking, repeating lines,, shuffling round swapping seats and especially those arriving 15 minutes late for an 8pm start. They'd settled down towards the end but good grief people!

I'm not sure whether the play would work over here in London since it is so very American, but who knows? If it does transfer then I'd definitely like to see it again. It was written by Stephen Karam who I know nothing about but will certainly be interested in seeing anything else he does.

Fra Angelico in Boston

The people of Boston are very lucky in that they have three works by Fra Angelico on public display in the city. It is my duty and delight to report my sightings of new Fra Angelico paintings when I find them - sometimes I know they're there and visit places specifically to see them but, now and then, I have a surprise and find one that I wasn't expecting (which is another joy all together).

The most glorious of the Boston Fra Angelico works is the small panel bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner and is on show in her museum, 'The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin'. It's currently on display as part of the 'Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth' exhibition in the new wing at the Gardner Museum along with the three other reliquaries that the Fra painted for Santa Maria Novella in Florence as well as other works on loan to the exhibition.

It's part of Gardner's will that endows the Museum that the works can't be moved from where she placed them around her house other than for a short time for internal exhibitions. That will be why the other three reliquaries had to come to Boston from Florence rather than sending the Gardner reliquary to Florence.

The panel is normally hung on the side of a wooden fireplace in Gardner's mansion house beside a north-facing window in a corner room on the second floor (the first floor to British people). Apparently it was placed there deliberately so it receives constant light during the day rather than the vagaries of morning and afternoon light. This emerged during a very interesting talk from one of the museum experts in the Fra Angelico exhibition while I was there.

The second Boston Fra was an accidental find in the Museum of Fine Art (I really ought to do my homework properly). It's a small octagonal panel, about 10" x 10", hung a bit too high up on the wall in a corridor gallery in Room 219 on the second (i.e. the first) floor. It's a bit of a hodgepodge of art works in that corridor and it would be easy to miss the painting if the colours didn't attract my eye and, on a closer inspection, it's clearly by Fra Angelico. The painting is titled, 'Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Peter, Paul and George (?), Four Angels and a Donor'. The label mentioned that a head of Christ used to be on the other side of the panel but doesn't mention where it is now.

The scene takes place in a garden - just look at all those tiny flowers - which makes the figure pf St George look even more awkward in his bulky armour. I can't think of any other painting by Fra Angelico that includes St George which may be why there is a question mark in the title after his name. The saint I recognised immediately was St Peter, not simply because he holds the keys or that he's dressed in his traditional blue and orange, but look at his face. I've seen that face before, such as in the Corsini triptych in which St Peter looks the same. I wonder if the Fra had a consistent approach to faces so that different saints always had the same face so that viewers could recognise them by their features and not just by their symbols? I shall have to do some research into this.

The third Boston Fra Angelico work is in the Harvard Art Museums, 'Christ on the Cross, the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist and Cardinal Torquemada'. It's a very late work (estimated at 1453-54 and the Fra died in 1455) and is thought to have been commissioned by the cardinal with whom the Fra stayed with in Rome while working for the Pope. It's the central panel of a triptych, a tabernacle altarpiece that would travel round with the cardinal as a personal devotional piece. I don't know where the other two wings of the tabernacle are now.

It's an interesting, if rather stern, piece, with Adam's skull at the bottom of the Cross and the Cross turns into the tree of life at the top with a nesting pelican wounding itself to feed it's young, a symbol of Christ's sacrifice. Christ's blood flows down to the cardinal's red hat as he kneels there praying to his lord. Saint John looks particularly upset, with his hand pressed to his face and it looks like he's been crying.

I don't know if it was the snow, the time of day or the season, but the museum wasn't very busy at all which meant I could spend some time undisturbed in front of the altarpiece. It's hung on the wall in a glass case with a few paintings by Botticelli and his school on the adjoining wall.

So, there you are, the three Fra Angelico's of Boston. All are lovely and all are interesting in different ways. It's always rewarding looking at the detail in Fra paintings and these paintings have given me a new quest, to compare faces in different works by the Fra to see comparisons and differences in the same characters. Watch this space!

'Romeo and Juliet' at the Boston Opera House

I have history with the 'Romeo and Juliet' ballet. It was the first full-length ballet that I'd ever seen and it's the one that made me fall in love with the art form. I saw the Macmillan version danced by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House - Steven McRae was Romeo and Iana Salenko was Juliet and they'll be the benchmark for every performance I see. So when I saw that the Boston Ballet was dancing the John Cranko version during my trip to Boston I had to get a ticket. And I'm so pleased that I did. The story is the same but the telling is different.

The Boston Opera House is rather unimpressive from the outside, with a narrow entrance corridor to get into the theatre proper. Then the glass and the gold and the lights start gleaming and you realise you're somewhere posh. I went upstairs to the balcony to find the Mezzanine seating and the very friendly ushers showed me to my seat with a perfect view of the very wide stage, perfect for leaping and jumping.

The lights dimmed and the curtain rose as the gorgeous score started and there was an empty stage with the marketplace scenery in place but where was the market? This was the first of the changes I noticed between the Macmillan and the Cranko versions of the ballet. In Cranko, the market is gradually populated rather than being ready and working when we join it. There are lots of little changes in the telling of the story but I was pleased that the three Happy Strumpets were still central to the market scenes (including throwing fruit in defence of Romeo).

Romeo loves a lady but dallies with the Happy Strumpets when we're introduced to the rivalry between the noble houses of Capulet and Montague. Our hero defies convention with his chums by going to the rival house's ball where he sees Juliet for the first time and is entranced by her. They fall in love. But Juliet's brother isn't happy and seeks a fight with Romeo and challenges him to a duel which he declines since he can't possibly fight his future brother-in-law. Mercutio saves their honour by taking up the glove but is sadly killed so Romeo must seek revenge and kills Tybalt. Disaster. The lovers marry in secret and spend one night together and dance their love. The next day Juliet just marry the man chosen for her but she gets a potion from her priest that will render her dead for a time but Romeo finds her dead and kills himself. Juliet comes to and sees her lover dead and commits suicide herself.

The dancing was excellent, the costumes and ensemble moments were great and it was fun watching out for the Cranko moments. One of the things I noticed early on was a dance move by the men where they held their knees together and moved their feet rather than their bodies - clearly one of his signature moves since it cropped up a few times. The ensemble moves were good too, with all those dancers moving in unison in their astonishing costumes.

Paulo Arrais was our Romeo and Misa Kuranaga was our Juliet and both gave top notch performances. I particularly liked the 'one of the lads' moments when lord Romeo joshed with his mates - that was really effective. I'd also single out Derek Dunn as Mercutio who brought his personality and acting to the role as well as some astonishing dancing. He ought to look to the Royal Ballet for his next career move.

I really enjoyed this production with excellent staging, costumes and, of course, dancing. While I'm delighted to have seen this production I think the Macmillan version is better and Steven and Iana remain my Romeo and Juliet.

'Virginia Woolf's Orlando' at the Lyric Stage Theatre, Boston

My first theatre trip in Boston last week was to see a play based on 'Orlando', the novel by Virginia Woolf, at the Lyric Stage Theatre, the first time I've been in a theatre on the first floor of a hotel. The story is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be - I think of it as the tale of an Elizabethan boy  who turns into a woman and seems to become immortal as she lives through the ages up to the present day. This immediately gives theatricals the opportunity to delve into the dressing-up box but I'm pleased that this production was restrained and only Orlando changes clothes to reflect the changing times. I also liked the restrained staging that leaves the rather small stage to the actors rather than cluttering it up with props and scenery. There wasn't the space to spare in this theatre.

We first meet Orlando as a care-free boy playing outside in his noble family's grounds when he remembers that the queen is visiting and he needs to be there to welcome her. She takes a fancy to him and whisks him off to court where, as he grows up, he learns of his attractions to the fairer sex and exploits them. We then have the Great Frost and the Frost Fair on the Thames and he meets the beautiful Russian princess and falls for her. When the ice finally melts his princess seals away on a Russian boat and he's left bereft. Poor Orlando is then pursued by a mysterious lady so he seeks to be sent as an emissary to the court at Constantinople and his wish is granted.

After a particularly lavish party Orlando wakes up as a woman and, taking this in her stride he heads back to her country seat in England. Unfortunately, the strange woman still pursues her and then reveals he is, actually, a man. And so continues Orlando's eduction in what it means to be a woman, discovering the importance of modesty, a ring on the finger and a man in her life as a provider and protector. She can no longer carry her sword and do as she pleases and her life is different. Such is the lot of women.

Orlando's life goes on and on and we meet her again in her motorcar on the way to a department store to buy something or other when the years seem to pile in on her and she loses her way momentarily. Orlando can only go forward and soon regains herself and continues ever onwards. I wonder where she is now?

I really enjoyed the play with some genuinely laugh out loud moments (even for me!) as Orlando serenely sails through time. The only major costume changes were for Orlando with the Chorus all dressed neutrally, just signalling changes in character by adding a hat or a coat or something. I liked the stripped-back nature of the production - it would be so easy to go over the top with subject matter like this and I appreciated the restrained nature of the production that allowed the characters to emerge and the actors to shine.

In a cast of only six people it's unfair to pick out any particular performances, particularly since all of them were on stage for virtually the whole production but I did like Caroline Lawton as Orlando, bringing just the right amount of humour and puzzlement to the part. I also liked Elise Arsenault as the Russian princess and musical director (among other roles) and Michael Hisamoto in his various roles. The play was by Sarah Ruhl and directed by A. Nora Long.

It was a very enjoyable evening and great fun to see Orlando brought to life.Would this play work in London? Yes, I think it probably would, possibly in somewhere like Southwark Playhouse or maybe the Charing Cross Theatre?

Sunday, 18 March 2018

'Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth' at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

An exhibition of works by Fra Angelico is rare enough to take note, but that the exhibition is bringing together four linked works for the first time in centuries is definitely worth a trip to see them. The current exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum brings together four reliquaries by Fra Angelico that were commissioned for Santa Maria Novella in Florence. I packed my bag and jumped on a plane for Boston just after an unexpected snowstorm had hit the city and everywhere was coated in a deep layer of snow.

Reliquaries are containers for holy relics. In the case of the painted panels by Fra Angelico, the relics would've been contained in small drawers or alcoves built into the frame so the paintings themselves are decorative as well as providing a focal point for veneration. The reliquaries would have been brought out from safekeeping on feast and holy days so weren't generally seen even back when they were painted. The current frames for the panels are not the originals but rather replacements made in the early 1800s. Brief background lesson over, let's look at the exhibition.

The first painting you see on entering the exhibition is the Corsini Triptych from the Italian national collection in Rome. I've seen it twice before, as part of the Fra Angelico exhibition at Musee Jacquemart-Andree in Paris in 2011 and again, last year, in Rome. It was cleaned a while ago and the colours and gold leaf shine out like new. In the Corsini Gallery the work is hung in a glass case without a frame but here it is in a simple wooden frame that seems to enhance its brilliance. There's a similar, earlier work by the Fra using a similar composition in the Gemaldegallerie in Berlin (that needs to be cleaned). The panels show the Ascension, the Last Judgement and Pentecost

The next painting along is one of the large panels from the Armadio degli Argenti, the silver chest, which is on display at San Marco in Florence. The panel shows ten scenes from the life of Christ and the final panel shows his family tree to remind viewers of his royal heritage. This panel deals with the last days of the Christ from the road to Golgotha, crucifixion, ascension, Pentecost, Last Judgement and the crowning of the Virgin in heaven. These paintings are easy to read and follow to anyone who knows the Christian tradition so it's the detail that makes them more interesting and shows how the Fra decided to tell the stories. I didn't measure them but each scene is about one foot square so that's a lot of detail in each scene.

Next is a panel I've not seen before, 'The Entombment of Christ'. Christ has been taken down from the cross (see the three crosses on the hill in the distance?) and has been carried to his tomb where he is mourned and cleaned before being entombed. The scene takes place in a Tuscan landscape (I love the prominent tree) and the symbols of torture are laid out on show.

Although this is a relatively simple composition, it's actually really important in the development of artistic trends at the time. The Fra sets this scene in a landscape whereas some of his contemporaries would've still used a golden background reminiscent of Gothic and Byzantine paintings. The style hadn't totally changed when this painting was completed but the Fra is clearly stating which side he's on - he's humanising the divine while saying this is the here and now, we live in holy times so be careful of your behaviour since the Christ is returning just as he rose from the dead all those years ago.

The final work in this first room is a predella - a series of small paintings that sit underneath a main altarpiece - depicting scenes from the lives of Saint Cosimas and Saint Demian, two brother physicians who were the patron saints of the Medici family. This predella is attributed to both Fra Angelico and to Zanobi Strozzi, thought to be one of the Fra's pupils.

The Fra painted the two brothers numerous times, presumably to keep the Medici's happy, including in the San Domenico predella in the National Gallery in London. We see scenes of the brothers escaping death such as being saved from drowning by an angel, surviving being shot with arrows and, when it was decided to get rid of them by burning them alive, the flames turned on their oppressors and left the brothers safe and whole. Finally, chopping off their heads worked and the brothers were martyred for their beliefs.

The main room contains a special semi-circular framing device to hold the reliquaries but before looking at them there are three more paintings to look at. The first is the 'Marriage of the Virgin' which includes the tale of how Joseph won her hand when his bough sprouted into new life, one of the many tales from 'The Golden Legend'. Many of the tales in this manuscript were popular at the time despite not being in the Bible but you don't really need to know that, just enjoy the painting.

This is a lovely little panel full of colour and story-telling. I like the bloke in red at the far left trying to break his tree bough to find a fresh place to encourage it to grow while two others hold their boughs like sticks. Then there are the two blokes patting Joseph on the back, almost as if in congratulations until you see that their hands are clenched into fists. This isn't congratulations, this is jealousy. And there is poor old Joseph with his bough sprouting new leaves as he weds Mary the Virgin. If you were familiar with the 'Legend', and many people were back in the day, from stories told and repeated, then you'd easily read this painting and understand God's plan.

Next is a much larger painting on loan from the Uffizi in Florence, called 'The Coronation of the Virgin' there but called 'Paradise' here. The holy pair are surrounded by angels and then by saints holding their symbols so we can recognise them. I particularly like Mary Magdalene kneeling to the left of the group of women saints on the right of the painting. Her flowing hair and clothes of red/pink highlight her as she looks out of the painting back at us. Her mouth is open and her gaze is direct, other than the other women. If she can be saved then so can can we.

I love the gold leaf in the background of this painting, scored in lines radiating out from the holy pair so that, wherever you stand, the light catches it in a different way. I'd love to see this painting lit only by candles and see what it looks like in flickering candlelight.

The final painting on that wall is a small 'Dormition of the Virgin' that also features Jesus Christ at his mother's 'funeral' (although that's not quite right). The Jesus figure is holding a boy so, perhaps, he's meant to represent God the Father and the Son?  I'm also not sure why Mary's body seems elongated, perhaps in preparation for her ascent into heaven. I'll need to check this out and it may be explained in the catalogue.

The reliquaries are presented in glass cases in a semi-cicircular area of arches, almost like cloisters or arches in a sacristy, so we see the reliquaries and also the back of each panel. The frames were built around the panels and we don't, now, know what the original frames looked like but I liked what I saw. From left to right, there are two reliquaries, a drawing of Saint Jerome, another panel showing the 'Dormition of the Virgin' and then the further two reliquaries.

The first reliquary shows two scenes, the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi. Underneath is a sort of 'predella' with the Virgin and child surrounded by female saints and, underneath that, is a small strip in gold and green with some of the words from 'Ave Maria'. This reliquary glows.

At the very top of the reliquary we see God the Father surrounded by angels all in blue sending his spirit to the Virgin as Gabriel explains what's happening. The Virgin and Angels are on a carpet with pelican designs, a symbol of the death of Christ to come, so, even at this early stage, Christ's fate is sealed. Between them is a vase with lillies, the symbol of purity often seen in paintings showing this scene. Underneath this we see what happens nine months later as the Magi come to worship the new king.

This 'Adoration of the Magi' is my new favourite depiction of the scene. Mary holds out the child to the oldest of the Magi who removes his crown as he crouches down to kiss the foot of the new king while the other two Magi stand and bow. I like their retinue who don't seem to understand what is happening in front of them and, instead, chat to each other, or, perhaps, tell each other to be quiet. Who knows? The man at the back seems to be having trouble with his camel. Only one of the men seems to be looking towards the scene in front of him, the others all looking elsewhere, missing the significance of what's happening. Gorgeous colours and composition and don't forget the story.

The next reliquary is the 'Coronation of the Virgin' with the familiar scene, just on a smaller scale with it's gorgeous range of colours. The 'predella' shows Mary and Joseph adoring the Child surrounded by angels all dressed in blue. This is quite striking and really stands out with the angels all dressed in the same way.

At the front of the scene we once again have Mary Magdalene with her unruly hair streaming down her back, but most noticeable is the figure of St Thomas Aquinas looking out at the viewer. He's holding his Bible and looking at us. Another character looking out at us is St Peter in the front row of saints to the left hand side. Why are these two looking at us? I have no idea but presume there is a link between them somewhere. Maybe it's a kind of 'read your Bible if you want to get into Heaven' kind of message?

Next to this reliquary is a small drawing in ink of St Jerome. It's only a few inches tall and is quite faded but the Fra still manages to bring some expression to the face and his voluminous robes.

Next to this is another panel showing the 'Dormition of the Virgin', about a decade earlier than the other Dormition panel and a lot busier with people gathered round trying to help as we do at times of stress, and not always for the best. Above we see the angels gathering to welcome the Virgin into Heaven, with Christ in the centre. I like how most of the men are shown as being old - this is not the young Virgin who gave birth to their Lord, the years have passed and they're all older now but their devotion remains.

The next work is the reliquary bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner and was the first painting by Fra Angelico to come to America. It's usually hung in the Palace (as her house is now called, attached to the exhibition centre) in a rather odd place on the side of a fireplace so it would be easy to miss unless you know it's there. I found the place it normally hangs because I'm nosy. Apparently it's part of her will endowing the museum that none of the paintings can be removed other than for short exhibitions in her own museum and where they're hung can't even be changed. She decided where everything would be seen to best effect amongst her astonishing collection. This panel shows two scenes, the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin as she ascends to Heaven.

We see Christ at the very top of the panel, identified as Christ since he has the cross of the resurrection in his halo, waiting to welcome his mother into Heaven. A rather ethereal Mary is ascending towards Heaven surrounded by angels and leaving her earthly body behind in the bottom scene. Once again, the Dormition scene includes the risen Christ carrying a young boy, presumably himself before he grew into his godhood. This is the painting that inspired other American museums to start trying to acquire paintings by Fra Angelico so is quite important in that respect.

Since it's the Gardner Museum's own painting then the gift shop has lots of products for sale based on it - prints, glasses cases, bookmarks, fridge magnets and more. It's also the face of the exhibition and I saw an advert for the exhibition using this image on the side of a Green Line underground train.

The final reliquary is a simple Virgin and Child and the good Fra had painted many Virgin and Child's by the time he produced this one. Called 'Madonna della Stella' (Virgin of the Star) it really catches the eye with it's deep, deep blue robe and simple composition. The very simplicity of the piece is what makes it so gorgeous, the simple colour palette and the gleaming gold-leaf background highlighting the figure of the Virgin with her child. And just look at those angels on either side the Virgin, they're marvellous and fully rendered. I think my favourite is the top left angel in the pale lilac robe.

And just look at how that baby is nuzzling into his mother's cheek, a lovely scene of maternal affection. I also like the way the gold leaf has been tooled to produce rays of light emanating from the holy pair. This is another work I'd love to see by candle-light.

The reliquaries are all presented in glass boxes so you can also see the back of the works and see how the frames were built around the paintings. The back of the panel for the Dormition and Ascension was the most interesting with the pattern on the back and the shape being obvious. I like seeing the back of paintings, you never know what you might see. And, of course, remember that none of these frames are the originals.

This is a fascinating exhibition and if you're in Boston in the next couple of months then I'd certainly recommend a visit. There are a series of events and talks associated with the exhibition and I was lucky enough to catch a talk from one of the Museum experts on my second visit (yes, I went twice).

After seeing the exhibition - which was why I was there - I went to wander round the Palace, the name now used for Gardner's house and museum, and found a range of fascinating stuff, including a Giotto sitting on the top of  a desk. But that's a blog for another day.

Thank you Gardner Museum for such a great exhibition about Fra Angelico, I thoroughly enjoyed my visits.