A Journey of Faith Beauty and Devotion

Lisa Morales | Special Contributor
Thousands of visitors from the Belen Jesuit community and beyond attended Faith, Beauty, and Devotion: Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Paintings. The exhibition commenced on September 14th with a private event at the Olga M. & Carlos A. Saladrigas Art Gallery. From the public opening through Miami Art Week (Art Basel) to the closing reception on December 16th, the gallery hosted various cultural programs, including a VIP Dinner with Chef Bouza, Whiskey and Cigar, Family, and Poetry Nights, and an Italian Wine Tasting.
The exhibition welcomed students from numerous Archdiocese of Miami schools and students and alumni from Boston College and South Florida universities.
Visitors were enthralled by an exhibition of this scale and significance in South Florida. Belen displayed thirty paintings dating back to the same century as St. Francis of Assisi’s canonization, culminating in the Baroque period—a time marked by conflicting religions. This thoughtfully curated timeline of rare masterworks, most of which had never traveled to the U.S., included paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Tintoretto, the Circle of Caravaggio, and a Saint Sebastian painting recently attributed to the master Titian.
The Beginnings
A connection and conversation led to a magical and whirlwind adventure back to the Renaissance. Fr. Guillermo M. García-Tuñón, S.J. ‘87 (Fr. Willie), President of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School—who considers himself a frustrated art historian—initiated the idea of bringing paintings by European art masters to Belen during a dinner with Federico Gandolfi Vannini and his wife, Daisy Díaz. The couple, owners of Frascione Arte in Florence, Italy, and parents of two Belen students, eagerly embraced the idea of creating a special exhibition.
The preparation time proved challenging, primarily due to the documentation process required for shipping such rare paintings from Italy. However, in collaboration with Sylvie Daubar-San Juan, Humanities Department Chairperson and Director of the Olga M. & Carlos A. Saladrigas Art Gallery, their joint effort was a success!
Mrs. San Juan remarked, “The influences on artists in the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods were illuminated, along with the patronage, symbolism, and provenance of the compositions. Through the exhibition and programming, we aimed to provide a unique experience for our visitors, enabling them to engage with these paintings and explore the mysteries concealed within them.”
And a unique experience it was in the Magic City, where museums, Art Basel, satellite fairs, and local galleries primarily focus on contemporary art. Perhaps “Faith, Beauty, and Devotion” represented the largest display of paintings from these historical periods and a private collection ever to arrive in the State.
Living History Lesson
Within a few months, Mrs. San Juan and the Gandolfis realized their mission: to create an exhibition serving as a “living history” lesson for Belen students, illuminating their faith. For a broader audience, there was much to glean from an art historical context. Fr. Willie confirmed, “From an educator’s perspective, this presents an exciting opportunity for our students to witness these works of art firsthand. From an art aficionado’s viewpoint, I’m incredibly eager to witness not only the religious art but also secular paintings included in this exhibition.”
A Virtual Trip
For those unable to travel, viewers of Faith, Beauty, and Devotion appreciated the opportunity to witness the same caliber of art found in world-class museums like the Uffizi in Florence, the National Gallery in London, or the Prado in Madrid. Additionally, many of these works were altarpieces or prized possessions typically housed in the private residences of European elites.
Another captivating feature inside the gallery was The Florence Experience. Through the enchantment of a floor-to-ceiling LED display, guests were mesmerized by a virtual flight over Florence, the ‘Birthplace of the Renaissance.’
Private Devotion
Appropriately, Faith, Beauty, and Devotion closed just before the Christmas school break. In an era dominated by social media, the potency of images over words resonates deeply. During the time these paintings were conceived, art served as a form of “silent speech.” Symbolism held the utmost significance in the composition, intended to communicate messages of love, forgiveness, sacrifice, devotion, sorrow, and salvation to a humble, often illiterate audience.
“The beauty of the piece functions to convey the divine message to worshippers,” remarked Mr. Gandolfi Vannini about the religious paintings.
As we enter the Christmas season and the year’s end, we hope that “Faith, Beauty, and Devotion” served as a poignant reminder of the visual narrative’s power to enrich our faith. Even in the 21st century, these symbols of our Christianity can continue to serve as moments of private devotion or as instructional tools that we can share with others.
Thank You
In conclusion, it is crucial to express gratitude to everyone who contributed to this exhibition, starting with Mrs. San Juan, Fr. Willie, Federico Gandolfi Vannini, Daisy Diaz, and the Frascione Arte team. Our heartfelt appreciation extends to our sponsors: My Father Cigars (Ambassador), Professional Art Services Group/Lydia Sudick Fine Art (Patron), Procre Tech (Patron), Rich and Nicole Aldrich (Patron), Gazitúa Family (Patron), Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald (Media Partner); Live in Italy Magazine (Media Partner); Federdoc (In-Kind); El Carajo (In-Kind); Beam Suntory (In-Kind); Mionetto (In-Kind).
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.