Francesca Alexander - Decorating a Shrine, 1865

Francesca Alexander (Boston, 1837 - 1917, Florence)

Decorating a Shrine, 1865

Oil on canvas, 125.2 x 93 cm (49 5/16 x 36 5/8 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Commissioned by Mrs. John L. Gardner (Catherine Endicott Peabody, 1808-1883), Isabella Stewart Gardner's mother-in-law, of the artist Francesca Alexander (1837-1917), Florence in about November 1863. The money for the commission was donated to charity to aid the peasant population of Florence.
Shipped to Boston by 25 April 1865.
Presumably, bequeathed to Isabella Stewart Gardner's husband, John L. Gardner, Jr. (1837-1898), in 1884.


Inscribed (shrine): IN TE MISERICORDIA IN TE PIETATE IN TE MAGNIFICENZA IN TE S' ADUNA QUANTUNQUE IN CREATURA È DI BONTATE (In thee mercy, in thee pity, in thee great works, in thee in united whatever there is of goodness in creation)

Dimension Notes

Framed: 136.21 x 104.78 x 3.81 cm (53 5/8 x 41 1/4 x 1 1/2 in.)


Lucia Gray Swett. John Ruskin's Letters to Francesca Alexander and Memoirs of the Alexanders (Boston, 1931), p. 258. (excerpting a letter from the artist to her friend Lilly Cleveland, November 1863)
Philip Hendy. Catalogue of Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), pp. 3-4.
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 134.
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), p. 1, ill.

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Esther Frances (“Fanny”) Alexander was born in Boston in 1837 and moved to Florence, Italy with her parents when she was a teenager. Early in her career, Esther created drawings of poor Tuscan farmers for American donors to help support her mother’s charity work in the region. In this painting, commissioned by Isabella’s mother-in-law, the landscape we see below the shrine is a view of the Val d'Arno from the hill of Bellosguardo outside Florence, where Alexander was living with her mother. The shrine is inscribed, “In thee mercy, in thee pity, in thee great works, in thee is united whatever there is of goodness in creation,” reflecting Alexander’s interest in religious subjects.

Alexander met English art critic John Ruskin in 1882 and he became interested in her images of local life and translations of Tuscan songs. Over the following two decades he published many of her works to great success in the United States and Great Britain.  Several of Alexander’s books are in Isabella’s collection.