Tuesday, September 2, 2008
The cells at San Marco in Florence
Fra Angelico was a Dominican at San Marco in Florence. The artwork he painted on the walls is a must see while visiting Bella Firenze. A short walk from Michelangelo's David you'll enjoy a view into the life of a Dominican Friar, understand how they lived their lives, and enjoy some of the world's most beautiful frescoes.
The work isn't created in a consistant narrative, but rather, a view into the belief system of the friars. Each room or cell has a fresco that the friar would study while in his bed chamber. The fresco delivers a message on the value system of the Dominicans. Each fresco contains a scene from the life or passion of Christ. Many of these frescoes place Saint Dominic in the scene.
Saint Dominic was the founder of the order and placed three critical components to the life and values to each friar. 1 - live in poverty, 2 - education, 3 - be good to everyone.
The Dominicans didn't beg. They chose to spend their time in study. Those that were less intellectual spent time in the trades. Fra Angelico dedicated his life to art. He only painted religious scenes, would weep as he painted a crucifixion scene, and lived his life in poverty dedicated to the order.
San Marco has cells meant for only the brothers to see. They did paint scenes in the common areas where guests would be able to see the artwork. One of my favorite, non-cell, paintings is of the Annunciation at the top of the stairs as you enter the cells. This is a public image, but it is unlikely non-brothers would see it since it was placed in the hallway of the sleeping quarters.
The Altarpiece is one of the common area paintings and contains the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Saint Dominic, Saint Francis, Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian. Cosmas and Damian were the family Saints of the Medici and since the Medici family funded the rebuilding of San Marco their patron Saints were included in the Altarpiece.
Be sure to spend at least 2-3 hours here to fully enjoy the artwork, get a feel of the life of the Dominicans, and enjoy a brief step back into life in Renaissance Florence.