Convent of S. Marco, Cell 39

By: Louk Vreeswijk

Apr 10 2016

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Category: Europe, Italy

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Around 1440 the artist and Dominican friar Fra Angelico, aided by his pupils and assistants, painted 45 frescoes in the cells and corridors of the Convent of S. Marco in Florence. In the Encyclopaedia of the Italian Renaissance (Thames and Hudson 1981) we read about him: “He is one of those rarities among artists, monastic or otherwise, of whom we can be reasonably sure that the apparent spirituality of their art reflects intense personal devotion.” And that is what we still see and feel when going round the erstwhile convent from one cell to the next in a state of admiration and contemplation.

In cell 39 which is connected with cell 38, creating a more spacious meditative environment for special guest Cosimo de Medici who liked to come here for retreat, we discover a big fresco of almost 12 metre in width depicting the Adoration of the Magi. It is painted around a small niche with a fresco of the Man of Sorrows. So a scene from the early life of Jesus is foreshadowing already his tragic end 33 years later. The depiction of the Man of Sorrows is interesting. It shows the wounds of nails and spear inflicted on his body, reminding us of his crucifixion and death. But he seems to be standing in his tomb and thus the painting is meant to remind us at the same time of his victorious resurrection. However, there is nothing victorious about his figure; what we see is really a man of sorrows. The unforgettable Air of Handel’s Messiah comes to my mind when the alto sings: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. (…..)” It never fails to move me to the bone.

Photo of the week: 15th cent. fresco by Fra Angelico (and/or his pupil Benozzo Gozzoli) in Cell 39 of the Convent of S. Marco, Florence, Italy 1997

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