“Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth,” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is being billed as a reunion. The master painted four reliquaries for Santa Maria Novella in Florence during the second quarter of the Quattrocento. Heroic research executed in conjunction with this exhibition establishes with great conviction that Giorgio Vasari referred to these works in particular in his writings. Napoleonic haranguing of Italian Christendom obliged a de-acquisition in the early 1800s. By 1816, one of them, The Dormition and the Assumption of the Virgin (1424–34), was in the hands of an English rector.

Bernard Berenson, discovering its availability in 1898, unabashedly pleaded with Isabella to buy it: “If you let this one go, you must I fear give up every thought of ever owning a Fra Angelico. So, I beg you for your collection’s sake to take...

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