Shen Wei and Piermatteo: Contemporary Inspiration from the Italian Renaissance

A painting from the Italian Renaissance by Piermatteo d’Amelia influenced contemporary Chinese artist Shen Wei.

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As part of the Gardner Museum’s exhibition Shen Wei: Painting in Motion, on view through June 20, 2021, contemporary artist Shen Wei produced a film titled Passion Spirit. It opens with a detail of one of the most beautiful paintings in the museum’s collection, The Annunciation by Piermatteo D’Amelia

Located at the center of the painting, beyond the Virgin Mary’s magnificent palace, a small garden opens onto an expansive landscape. You can see two tall trees in the foreground, one dying while the other flourishes. A castle sits on the precipice of a deep valley through which a meandering river runs. Mountains at either side recede into the distance, fading into an ethereal, blue mist.

A close up of the Annunciation

Piermatteo d'Amelia (Italian, about 1450–1508), The Annunciation, about 1487, detail showing the landscape

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. See it in the Raphael Room

While the Virgin’s view of an earthly paradise does not reproduce any actual location, it does evoke the mountainous landscape of this painting’s original location. Piermatteo created The Annunciation as the high altarpiece for San Francesco, a tiny church attached to a convent in the forest of Michignano, in the hills outside of Amelia, Italy. 

A convent in Italy
Convent of San Francesco, Michignano

Enlarged in 1487, this church served a small community of Franciscan friars called “clareni” —named after the charismatic preacher Francesco Clareno. They believed in a stricter interpretation of St. Francis’ practices. The group flourished under the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV, famous for his construction of the Sistine Chapel. Little known fact: Piermatteo painted the Sistine ceiling before Michelangelo!

A blue and gold panel

Piermatteo d’Amelia (Italian, about 1450–1508), Design for the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 15th century

Gabinetto di Disegni e delle Stampi, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (711A)

The Annunciation attracted the interest of Shen Wei when he was an Artist-in-Residence at the Gardner. See his film Passion Spirit which portrays a woman’s journey from the past to the present in Western culture in the special exhibition Shen Wei: Moving Image and learn more in the book, Shen Wei Painting in Motion.


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Shen Wei: Moving Image

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Shen Wei Painting in Motion

Explore the museum

Raphael Room