In November we squeezed in a few days in Florence. I hadn’t been to the city for many years and although I thought I knew Florence it was a discovery and adventure all over again.
On our first morning we set off for The Convent of San Marco which dates from the 15C. Cosimo de Medici the elder, ruler of Florence, was a very wealthy man, much of his wealth coming from money lending which was disapproved by Christian teaching – you should earn your living by labour, not at the expense of others – and apparently this troubled him. The Pope suggested that a rebuilding of the then derelict convent would find him favour with God. So Cosimo commissioned the architect Michelozzi to rebuild the convent in Renaissance style and Fra Angelico undertook the frescoes.
You enter into the quiet Cloister of St Antoninus which is the oldest part of the convent, built before 1440. Fra Angelico‘s beautiful St Dominic worshipping at the Crucifixion is in one corner, and there are small Fra Angelico paintings above the doors, but the frescoes were mainly by later painters including Sogliani. The small windows high in the walls are the windows of the monks’ cells.
A second, tiny cloister lies between this cloister with the Medici coat of arms on a pillar. There is another, larger Cloister of St Dominic but it is closed to the public.
The Chapter House leads off the Cloister of St Antoninus and is dominated by Fra Angelico’s Crucifixion with Saints which he painted in 1441-42.
The first floor of the building houses the Library and the cells with the glorious paintings by Fra Angelico.
There are 43 cells for the monks, with a larger cell for Cosimo de Medici, and another for Savonarola. The paintings were placed next to the cell windows (a view into this world and the next?) and were ‘icons’ to assist meditation, not decoration. These are just a few of the simple, touching paintings.