Written By Douglas Markowitz
September 8, 2023 at 3:12 PM

Masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance arrived in Miami on September 5th at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. Photo credit Lisa Morales.

A treasure trove of classical European art has come to Miami, and it’s being shown in a very unlikely place: A Jesuit preparatory school.

On Tuesday afternoon teachers and faculty at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Tamiami looked on as workers uncrated centuries-old paintings and other artifacts that had been shipped from Italy. The artworks will be displayed as part of an exhibition in the school’s gallery, titled “Faith, Beauty, and Devotion: Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Paintings.”

“We’re really lucky,” said Sylvie Daubar-San Juan, humanities department chair and director of the Olga M. & Carlos A. Saladrigas Art Gallery at Belen Jesuit. “It’s something that’s especially unique for South Florida.”

Experiencing the newly arrived Masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance, part of an upcoming exhibition, Faith, Beauty, and Devotion, at the Saladrigas Gallery in Miami. Photo credit Lisa Morales.

The 30 artworks in the show, running from Thursday, September 14 to Sunday, December 10, range from the medieval period in Europe through the Renaissance and into the Baroque era. The oldest work, a painted cross by an unidentified master artist from the Italian region of Umbria, dates from around 1295. Some famous names in the exhibition include the Venetian renaissance painter Tintoretto, Flemish baroque master Peter Paul Rubens, and the circle of Caravaggio.

Although a few of the works come from more secular genres such as portraiture, a good deal of the show is focused on religious artwork. Especially during the Medieval periods, “Artists weren’t concerned with realism, they were concerned with spirituality” says Daubar-San Juan. “It was a way for people to understand the religion and visualize it.”

An Italian Renaissance Masterpiece from the 13th or 14th Century is carefully uncrated by a professional art handler. Photo credit Lisa Morales.

The artworks are on loan from Federico Gandolfini Vannini, a fourth generation art dealer from Florence, Italy whose business Frascione Arte specializes in old masters. Vannini’s two sons attend Belen Jesuit, and his wife, Daisy Diaz, is a South Florida native. Daubar-San Juan says he approached the school about the possibility of doing an exhibition of old master paintings. They met the school’s president, Father Guillermo “Willy” García-Tuñón, who agreed to the show.

Vannini and Daubar-San Juan both agree that a show focused on classical European art is a rarity in South Florida; although a few institutions like the Bass Museum of Art and the University of Miami’s Lowe Museum have a few works from the era, in general contemporary art is king in South Florida.

According to Father García-Tuñón, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain. The school boasts notable alumni including NBCUniversal chairman Cesar Conde and Broadway actor Raul Esparza, but their most famous students were the ones that led to its expulsion from Cuba, Fidel and Raul Castro. The school reestablished itself in Miami in 1961 after the revolutionary government nationalized all religious property and the majority of clergy left to the United States. In 2003, the school, which is all-male, set up its art gallery, which hosts four exhibitions per year.

Only a few pieces had already been hung by art handlers during the uncrating event. Many were still in various states of unpackaging or resting on the floor on top of blankets, cardboard pallets, and other protective devices. Vannini at one point held up an Italian “desco da parto,” or birth tray, still in its wrapping. One school staffer exclaimed “It’s like Christmas, open it!”

WHAT: Faith, Beauty, and Devotion: Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Paintings

WHERE: Olga M. & Carlos A. Saladrigas Art Gallery at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, 500 SW 127th Ave., Miami

WHEN: Public Opening Event Saturday, September 16; Visits available through Sunday, December 16, 2023 by appointment

COST: No charge

INFO: or 786-621-4079 is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at

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