Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia

Altarpiece for MIT Chapel, 1955

Brazed steel


240 in. (609.6 cm)

Commissioned for Eero Saarinen Chapel, MIT

Bertoia’s altarpiece screen, or reredos, was commissioned for Eero Saarinen’s early modernist, non-denominational MIT Chapel in 1955.

Suspended over the main altar, his cascading, open fret screen of slim metal rods and crossplates scatters light throughout the chapel. Described as one of Bertoia’s most striking works, it is an integral part of the altar. Here, Bertoia has liberated sculpture from its base to usher in the contemporary era of spatial sculpture.

Building Number: W15

Accession Number: 1955.001

Audio Transcript

One of the leading industrial designers of his day, Harry Bertoia was commissioned to create a sculpture for the interior of Eero Saarinen's non-denominational chapel. The result is his 1955 brazed steel Altarpiece for MIT Chapel.

Professor of Art History at MIT, Caroline Jones--

Bertoia responded with this completely abstract screen. And this screen suspends these small pieces made of steel. They've been patinated with bronze. And they catch the light in a very specific way because Saarinen designed the chapel for no direct light to come in. The entire screen has this glimmering, abstract presence that is truly fitting for the monotheistic religious beliefs that God would be an awesome presence, a presence that cannot really be described and figured, but can only be felt. So whether it's God coming down as light from the heavens above, or our own yearnings flying up on these beautiful metal plates, I think Bertoia had all of that in mind when he made this piece.

Please refer to the nearby signage to access additional commentary about the chapel and spire, as well as Kresge Auditorium.