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The Frick’s Chief Curator Advances Art History With ‘Dream’ Reunion Of Two Renaissance Masterpieces After Four-Century Separation


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Giorgione’s Three Philosophers traveled some 4,220 miles from Vienna to be reunited with Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert in New York after more than four centuries on different continents.

Frick Madison, the temporary home of The Frick Collection, has installed the Giorgione on extraordinary loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, opposite its treasured Bellini for an unparalleled dialogue between two exquisite Renaissance masterpieces. The works were owned by Venetian collector, merchant, and noble Taddeo Contarini (circa 1466–1540), and were displayed together in his palazzo for at least 31 years until 1589, when the Bellini moved to Palazzo Giustinian through the marriage of Contarini’s great-granddaughter Elisabetta. They changed hands through the centuries before finding their permanent homes at the Kunsthistorisches and the Frick, where they are among those collections’ most important paintings.

“When we first opened, the idea was to have … a secular chapel for the Bellini. The Bellini by itself in comparison, in conjunction with the great Breuer window and a bench for people to sit and contemplate. And the question that really threw me off from the very first days was people asking me, ‘what would you put on the opposite wall if you could put anything there?’ And I have to say, there was always one answer and the answer was Giorgione’s Three Philosophers. But I always thought this was going to be impossible. I wouldn’t dream of even asking for it. But as a colleague of mine at another museum said to me recently, ‘if you don’t ask for things, you’re not going to get them.’ So I thought, let’s start the conversation. And of course, the Kunsthistorisches was generous and embraced the project from the very beginning,” Xavier F. Salomon, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of The Frick Collection, told a well-heeled crowd last week feting the Venetian-themed homecoming, replete with Bellini cocktails and abundant antipasti.

Bellini and Giorgione in the House of Taddeo Contarini explore the shared history of the two paintings. Scholars have suggested that Giorgione devised The Three Philosophers, which was most likely commissioned by Contarini, as a companion to St. Francis in the Desert. Their current display at Frick Madison in the room within the Marcel Breuer–designed building is part of Salomon’s ongoing and clever celebration of the coveted landscape-portrait.

During the pandemic, St. Francis in the Desert offered cultural comfort with a spirited twist, or specifically a Maraschino cherry. Salomon launched the inaugural Cocktails with a Curator in April 2020 offering insights into Bellini’s masterpiece while toasting quarantined art lovers with his bespoke Manhattan cocktail.

Salomon’s brave ask and the Kunsthistorisches’ collegial generosity has opened a new chapter in art history.

“Here we are, a couple years later with this dream, really a reality,” Salomon said.

Learn more by reading the eponymous book written by Salomon and published by The Frick Collection in association with D Giles Ltd., London, or attending the museum’s final free community evening.

The 120-page hardcover book with 35 color illustrations brings this unique story to life, as Salomon showcases new research into the journeys of the paintings and re-contextualizes their roles in Contarini’s collection. You may pre-order a copy, which will be available this fall ($34.95, member price $27.96), at the Frick’s Museum Shop or by reaching out to [email protected] or (212) 547-6849.

Parktake in Gray-Krehbiel Open Night gratis programming, inspired by Bellini and Giorgione in the House of Taddeo Contarini,on Friday, Feb. 2, from 5-9 p.m. Take advantage of the after-hours opportunity to tour the galleries and the Frick Art Reference Library reading room. Advance registration is recommended. ASL interpretation and Assistive Listening Devices will be available.



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