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Museo del Tesoro di San Francesco

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The museum off the cloister of the Sacro Convento, which is reached from the left transept of the lower church.  Opening hours are published on the website of Musei Ecclesiastici Umbri

The main part of exhibition is housed in the so-called Salone Gotico, which took on its current neo-Gothic appearance in 1756.  These exhibits include items from the Sacro Convento di San Francesco, which acquired precious liturgical objects over the centuries, many of which were stored in the “secret room” at the base of the campanile.  Despite the ravages of time, and particularly the depredations of the French in the 19th century, the friars managed to retain a small part of their precious collection.  After the convent was returned to them in 1929, what remained was exhibited to the public, along with a number of works of art from the basilica and the convent. 

The American art critic collector and dealer, Frederick Mason Perkins, who had lived in Assisi, left much of his art collection to the Sacro Convento when he died in 1955.   These works, which are still referred to as the Perkins Collection, are exhibited in the adjoining Sala Rossa, at the far end of the museum.  (Other works that he left to the diocese are now in Museo Diocesano).

St Francis Dossal (ca. 1253)

This historiated icon of St Francis was first documented in 1570, when it hung above the door to the sacristy in the lower church.  The panel might well have been in place in the lower church when its high altar was consecrated in 1253.  At least by the 16th century, it was believed to have been painted on the board on which the body of St Francis had been washed in preparation for burial, and it thus had the status of a relic.  It might have served as a surrogate for the interred relics of St Francis, and was  perhaps above the choir screen or on one of its altars until this screen was demolished in ca. 1300.

The central iconic figure of St Francis displays the stigmata on his hands and feet and holds a cross and a Bible.  The latter is open to reveal the text of Matthew 19:21: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven; then come and follow me".  This was one of the texts upon which Francis had based his Rule for the Order.  Four scenes of posthumous miracles of St Francis surround the central icon.

Four scenes of posthumous miracles of St Francis surround the central icon. 

  1. The scene on the lower left shows the healing of Bartolomeo da Narni. 

  2. The events depicted on the upper left and on the lower right occurred at the shrine at San Giorgio prior to Francis's canonisation.  these were, respectively:

  3. the healing of a girl whose head was joined to her shoulder (using two images of the mother and daughter to show the scene “before and after”), which occurred on the day of the funeral of St Francis; and

  4. the healing of a cripple, perhaps Nicholas of Foligno.

  5. The scene on upper right depicts the exorcism of a woman near the high altar of the lower church.  This is probably the girl from Norcia who was freed of demons as she “lay prone before the altar of St Francis” at Assisi during Mass on the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.  This was first published in the Tractus de Miraculis , which supports the dating of the panel to the period around 1253, the date at which the altar was consecrated.

Christus Patiens (ca. 1270)

This small double-sided Crucifix with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist was one of a pair from San Francesco that are the autograph works o the so-called Maestro dei Crocifissi Blu.  The painter takes his name from the very beautiful blue pigment that characterises his work.  The back of the Crucifix is almost destroyed.

The other Crucifix was taken to Cologne in 1836. 

Isaiah (ca. 1272)

This panel, which is attributed to the Maestro di San Francesco, belonged to a large double-sided polyptych that was probably on the high altar of San Francesco al Prato, Perugia until 1403, when it was replaced and dismembered.  The panels, which were probably moved initially to the sacristy, were subsequently dispersed.  This panel of Isaiah was discovered at San Francesco in 1919.  (Six other panels from the polyptych are now in the Galleria Nazionale, Perugia.)

God the Creator (ca. 1290)

This chalk preparatory drawing of the face of the Creator, which is attributed to Jacopo Torriti, was found on the plaster beneath a fresco in the nave of the upper church during restoration work in the 1950s. 

This detail is of the corresponding figure in the finished fresco, which depicts the Creation of the World.

Chalice of Pope Nicholas IV (ca. 1290)

The inscription names the donor of this gilded silver chalice as Pope Nicholas IV and the artist as the Sienese Guccio di Mannaia.  A portrait of the Pope is included among the enamels around the base.   This important gift to the friars was included in all of the inventories that survive from San Francesco, the earliest of which dates to 1370.  The inventory of 1430 mentions a related paten with an enamel of the Last Supper, but this has been lost. 

St Elizabeth of Hungary (1403)

This panel in the Perkins Collection came from a double-sided polyptych that is signed by Taddeo di Bartolo and dated by inscription, which was on the high altar of San Francesco al Prato Specifically, it was one of seven panels from the main register of the side that faced the congregation (at the extreme right).

The polyptych was probably dismantled in 1536, the date at which the high altar of San Francesco al Prato was moved backwards into the apse and re-consecrated.   The individual panels, which were subsequently moved to the sacristy, were then transferred to the Accademia di Belle Arti in 1810.   Most of them are now in the Galleria Nazionale, Perugia, but a few, including this one, have been dispersed.

Christ crowned with thorns (ca. 1460)

This small devotional image of the head of Christ is executed in ink and tempera on parchment and mounted on a panel.  It was first documented in 1600 in the sacristy of the lower church.   A similar image (ca. 1450) in the Museo Fattori del Comune di Livorno is attributed to Fra Angelico and it has been suggested that this was the inspiration for the Assisi image.  This observation supports an attribution to Fra Angelico’s pupil  to Benozzo Gozzoli.  The dating here is that suggested in Morello and Kanter (see below).

Tapestries (1470s)

The museum contains the only two survivors from a collection of tapestries that Pope Sixtus IV gave to the friars to adorn the altars and chapels of San Francesco.

  1. The tapestry illustrated above was made in Florence.  In fact, two originally independent  elements are now attached to a single lining:

  2. the gilt  frieze above contains embroidered images of Franciscan saints; and

  3. the altar frontal below, which was originally in three pieces, contains a central field in which Sixtus IV kneels at the centre before St Francis.  The saint displays the stigmata on his right hand and holds a cross in his left hand. 

  4. The second tapestry depicts the Franciscan tree, with St Francis at its centre receiving the stigmata below a figure of the Madonna and Child.  The figures of Franciscan saints appear as fruits on the tree:
  5. SS Clare, Louis of Toulouse and Elzear on the left; and

  6. SS Antony of Padua, Bernardino of Siena and Elizabeth of Hungary on the right. 

  7. The figures standing in the meadow below represent:

  8. three Franciscan popes, Nicholas IV, Sixtus IV and Alexander V; and

  9. at the extremes, two Franciscan theologians; Bonaventure (shown before his canonisation by Sixtus IV in 1482) and Pierre d'Auriole.

Choir stalls (1468-71)

These four choir stalls, which came from the Lower Church, were carved by Apollonio Petrocchi da Ripatransone, Tommaso di Antonio Fiorentino and Andrea da Montefalco.

Stained Glass

Panels from stained glass windows in Perugia and Foligno, which were subsequently used in San Francesco, are now in the Museo del Tesoro:

  1. panels (ca. 1484) from the Cappella di Sant’ Onofrio in the Duomo of Perugia, which are attributed to Neri di Monte; and

  2. the panels (1485-8) from the tribune of the Duomo of Foligno, which are documented as his work.

[This glass was not on exhibition here at April 2010 ???]

Processional Standard (15th century)

This painted wooden standard is decorated with the symbol “IHS”, the holy name of God. 

The miniatures below on each side depict:
  1. the Annunciation; and

  2. the stigmatisation of St Francis.


Crucifixion with saints (ca. 1509)

Ugolino di Cristoforo, a member of the Confraternita di San Francesco, commissioned this altarpiece for the confraternity’s chapel, the Cappella di Sant' Antonio Abate in the lower church.  The altarpiece, The altarpiece, which is attributed to Tiberio d' Assisi, depicts the Crucifixion with SS Leonard, Anthony Abbot, Francis and Clare, with members of the confraternity kneeling below. t depicts the Crucifixion with SS Leonard, Anthony Abbot, Francis and Clare, with members of the confraternity kneeling below.

Madonna and Child with saints (1516-7)

The Minister General of the Franciscan Third Order commissioned this altarpiece from Giovanni di Pietro, lo Spagna for the Cappella di Santa Caterina in the lower church.  It depicts the Madonna and Child with SS Catherine of Alexandria, Francis and Elizabeth of Hungary on the left and the Blessed Giles (?), and SS Clare and Louis IX on the right.

Tabernacle (ca. 1570-80)

Brother Ottaviano Preconio, Archbishop of Palermo, commissioned this gilded copper tabernacle for the high altar of the Lower Church.  It was designed by Galeazzo Alessi (who died in 1572) and subsequently executed by Giulio Danti.  It seems to have been installed at some time in the period 1575-86, and to have been removed in ca. 1700. 

Sacro Convento (1703)

This engraving of the basilica and convent of San Francesco, as seen    from an elevated position to the north, is by Francesco Providoni.

Read more:

G. Morello and L. Kanter (Eds), “Treasury of Saint Francis of Assisi: Masterpieces from the Museo Della Basilica of San Francesco”, Milan (1999).

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Return to the main page on San Francesco.

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