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Art and Devotion in the San Marco Monastery

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 12 months ago

== Fra Angelico at San Marco ==

 

'The San Marco monastery and Fra Angelico'

 

The [San Marco] monastery in Florence, Italy housed devotional art that aided in [Dominican] prayer and meditation. The building was originally a Sylvestrine monastery that was then taken over and expanded in 1438 by [Cosimo de’Medici]. He commissioned [Fra Angelico], a devout Domincan [friar] and innovative Florentine painter, to adorn the monastery. With the help of his fellow Dominican assistants, he painted forty-three [frescoes] that acted as a spiritual guide to life in their community. These men were more inspired disciples than titled artists, yet created a sanctuary with great artistry, skillful composition and jewel-tone colors that formed peacefulness and shed an incredible luminescence. “Angelico, Fra.” WebMuseum, Paris. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.ibiblio.org>.Vasari. "Life of Fra Angelico." Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists. Rpt. of "Fra Angelico (circa 1400-1455)." Vasari's Lives of the Artists. Simon and Schuster, 1946. Ed. Adrienne DeAngelis. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.efn.org~acd/vite/VasariFraA.html>.“Fra Angelico Years at the monastery of San Marco.” The Encyclopedia Britannica. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.britannica.com>.

 

'Inspiration from the architecture'

 

The new spaciousness of the building, planned and sculpted by Michelozzo di Bortolommeo allowed Fra Angelico’s paintings to portray the sacredness of [Christ]. The building has two floors; the first was open to the public, and the second was secluded for monastic vows, so most of the artwork was done solely for the study of the monks. The artwork depicted scenes from the [New Testament] with additional Dominican saints and reformers for examination and exposure to reinforce the strong order. “Fra Angelico.” the Artchive. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.artchive.com>.“Fra Angelico - Painter of the Early Renaissance.” Intelligent Life on the Web. 28 Jan. 2007 <http://www.buzzle.com>.Spike, John T. Fra Angelico. New York, NY: Abbeville Press, 1997. Fra Angelico painted frescoes in the cloisters and every room, surrounding even the sacrisity, chapter room and library. Each inhabitant had his own room for prayer and meditation with his own fresco. Dominicans were the first and only to use images to this extent for these purposes. A hall of seven adjacent cells was for the novices; these were the most uniform, all with white ground and a depiction of St. Dominic worshipping the cross. The only difference was in the Saint’s gestures, which were changed based on different theological texts. In another hall there were twenty frescoes painted for the clerics. These were more interesting, possibly more distracting, paintings of Christ or Mary with historical references and various saints. Two were specifically for Cosimo de’Medici’s separated quarter, which also served as the special guest room. [Medici] and his family played a predominant and pious role in these two. Aside from the categorical, was the altarpiece; Fra Angelico created the first high altar of the renaissance at San Marco to invoke a sense of cult and reverence. Kanter, Laurence, Pia Palladino, and Magnolia Scudieri. Fra Angelico. New York, NY: Yale University Press, 2005.Lloyd, Christopher. Fra Angelico. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton, 1979.McAuliffe, Michelle M, and Marsha W Black. Art & Artists through the Centuries. Westminster, CA: Teacher Created Materials, 2001.William Hood: "Angelico, Fra Fra Giovanni da Fiesole; Guido di Piero da Mugello" Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, January 28, 2006, <http://www.groveart.com>.

 

[[Image:Floor_Plan_of_San_Marco.jpg]]

 

 

'The big picture'

 

As the high altar continues tradition, the other pieces are innovative, acting as both mirrors and windows to students and educators alike. Fra Angelico transformed San Marco monastery to have a sense of devotion through art by projecting new ideas of artistic naturalism at a monumental scale. William Hood: "Angelico, Fra Fra Giovanni da Fiesole; Guido di Piero da Mugello" Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, January 28, 2006, <http://www.groveart.com>.Gardner von Teuffel, Christa. 1999. “Clerics and contracts: Fra Angelico, Nerroccio, Ghirlandaio and others: legal procedures and the renaissance high altarpiece in central Italy.” Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte 62, no. 2: 190-208. Art Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed January 29, 2007).

 

== Iconography and Devotion in the Art ==

 

'The San Marco Altarpiece'

 

In the San Marco Altarpiece, Angelico painted the scene of the [Virgin Mary] and Christ centered amongst different Saints.Ciaranfi, A.M. Francini, et al. The Work of Fra Angelico In the Museum of San Marco . N.p.: Firencze-Arnaud, 1971. Two Saints create a perspective through their gazes.Nygren, Barnaby. “Fra Angelico’s San Marco Altarpiece and the Metaphors of Perspective.” Source 22.1 (Fall 2002): 25-32. On the right, [Saint Dominic] looks to Angelico’s Heaven towards the painting’s vanishing point drawing the viewer into the divine scene. Cosmos, on the left, holds a mirror-like gaze separating the painting and the viewer. Through the lines of perspective from Saint Dominic, the viewer is drawn into the heavenly scene, while Cosmos establishes the separation of the viewer and the Divine.

 

Image:altarpiecesanmarco.jpg| The San Marco Altarpiece

 

Angelico mirrored the architecture of each particular cell within the painting. In doing this, he made the holy painting part of the cell, allowing the ideal depiction of the Divine to be as close as possible to the Dominican Order. Within the painting, Angelico makes reference to practices of the Dominican Mass.Nygren, Barnaby. “Fra Angelico’s San Marco Altarpiece and the Metaphors of Perspective.” Source 22.1 (Fall 2002): 25-32.Like the sub deacon and deacon who knelt while helping the Dominican priest during Mass, the Saints kneel in the altarpiece. The same way the priest stands in the center of the altar during Mass to reenact the sacrifice of Christ; a centered etching of the crucified Christ leads the viewer’s eyes to Mary holding Jesus. The saints who surround the Virgin and child may represent the Dominican Congregation.

 

Scholars think that Angelico delved even deeper to incorporate the art and devotion of the San Marco Monastery through certain choices he made within the composition of the renowned Altarpiece. To create the mirror effect, he focused on the surface of the work by painting fictitious curtains in the upper corners of the altarpiece.Ciaranfi, A.M. Francini, et al. The Work of Fra Angelico In the Museum of San Marco . N.p.: Firencze-Arnaud, 1971. He created the mirror of the real world within the painting but also allowed the viewer a window into the Heavenly ideal. Through glaze, pax, and rich colors, particularly reds and greens, Angelico was able to portray God's Indescribable majesty. Thus, faith was tangible but still a higher power to attain.

 

'Saint Dominic Before the Crucifix'

 

Most of the cells’ frescoes contain at least one identifiable person from monastic history, either Saint Dominic, [Saint Thomas Aquinas], or [Peter Martyr]. Together they represent the central values that distinguished the Dominicans. Saint Dominic stood for a holy life dedicated to poverty, preaching, and monastic contemplation; Saint Thomas Aquinas represented the single-minded dedication to the primacy of study; Peter Martyr stood for the willingness to suffer martyrdom for the sake of orthodoxy. The gestures of the models indicate that Fra Angelico intended the paintings to remind the friars to transform morally through the rigorous though prayerful study of Scripture was to follow the process of interior transformation experienced by the Founder. This transformation was to result, therefore, in the readiness to preach.Hood, William. "Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco." Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206. p. 198.

 

In Saint Dominic Before the Crucifix, Angelico presented a more naturalistic image of Jesus, a higher power closer to the image of the worldly man.Nygren, Barnaby. “Fra Angelico’s San Marco Altarpiece and the Metaphors of Perspective.” Source 22.1 (Fall 2002): 25-32. While this piece is the largest fresco in the cloister on the first floor, it is simple much like the lives of the devout Dominican monks. The priest is shown in profile with little emotion in austere garb, but his rich relationship to Christ is explicitly clear through his devout gesture and posture.Hood, William. "Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco." Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206.

 

The Saints’ presence in the biblical and apocryphal scenes in the San Marco frescoes were the starting point for a [mnemonic] process whereby the friar’s meditation helped him to study sacred texts in preparation for preaching. The Dominican Saints’ gestures in the frescoes constituted a didactic pictorial language in which they would be the “verbs” of the paintings, telling the viewer how to imitate the model.Hood, William. "Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco." Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206. p. 196. This was made possible by a fully illustrated Dominican prayer manual, entitled De modo orandi, which linked the purpose of each gesture to a specific Dominican manner or mode of prayer.Hood, William. "Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco." Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206. p. 198.

 

The De modo orandi rested on the belief that specific states of [mystical consciousness] can be stimulated by deliberately assuming bodily postures. In order to achieve the various states of spirit through which Saint Dominic prepared himself to preach, the friar was encouraged to imitate the saint’s gestures as he was praying. The artist thus depicted gestures or actions used by Saint Dominic to provoke nine inner states:Hood, William. "Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco." Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206. p. 198.

 

{| class="wikitable"

|-

Attitude

Gesture

|-

| 1) Reverence

| Deep bow from waist

|-

| 2) Humility

| Prostration

|-

| 3) Penitence

| Flagellation

|-

| 4) Compassion

| Repeated genuflexion

|-

| 5) Meditation

| Standing upright, hands before chest

|-

| 6) Imploring divine

| Standing, arms outstretched

|-

| 7) Ecstasy

| Standing, arms held directly overhead

|-

| 8) Recollection

| Reading

|-

| 9) Enthusiasm for preaching

| Conversation

|}

 

Image:st. dominic4.jpg|2) Humility - Prostration

Image:02x5794v_l.7.jpg|3) Penitence - Flagellation

Image:st. dominic3.jpg|4) Compassion - Repeated genuflexion

Image:st. dominic1.jpg|6) Imploring divine - Arms outstretched

Image:02x5794v_l.9.jpg|8) Recollection - Reading

 

 

A common [typology] of Fra Angelico’s frescoes within the novices’ cells depicted Saint Dominic before the Crucifix (cells 15-22). In these frescoes, Saint Dominic is the main subject matter rather than Christ. These frescoes are only tangentially connected with a biblical event because they do not show the [Crucifixion] but the [Crucifix], therefore, Saint Dominic does not witness an action so much as respond to an object. Whatever narrative content there may be must have Saint Dominic and not Christ as the agent. This emphasizes Fra Angelico’s association of this major image with those cell frescoes intended to strengthen the formation of young men in Dominican consciousness through private [meditation]. This strict conformity from cell to cell suggests that Fra Angelico decided that variety would have to come in details and not in broader matters of composition and pose. In Saint Dominic Before the Crucifix (Cell 20), Dominic is bare to the waist and flagellating himself as described in the third mode. In Cell 15, Saint Dominic looks up at the Crucifix and raises his hands towards it, palms joined – a gesture intended to lead to ecstasy.Hood, William. "Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco." Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206. p. 200.

 

'The Annunciation'

 

One of the most famous frescoes by Fra Angelico, the Annunciation, which still greets the visitor at the top of the staircase leading to the dormitories, depicts a subject frequently painted by the artist with few variations. The architecture of the [loggia] reflects the creations that Michelozzo was constructing on the floor below. The aim is to represent only the bare image of Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, giving weight to movement and to the spiritual concentration of the figures. The reality of The Annunciation, the imaginative space it occupies, is precisely on the threshold that separates what is empirical from what may be ascertained only subjectively. The former is the domain of the scenes, the latter of the mind. Angelico used the sense of sight to gain access to the beholder’s imagination, so that the image might mediate the beholders’ inner and outer selves.Hood, William. Fra Angelico at San Marco. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. p. 262.

 

Image:Fra Angelico 043.jpg|Annunciation

 

Fra Angelico’s use of light and perspective in the Annunciation to carve out architectural space, combines with the relationship of the painting to the surrounding architecture to give it its sense of “reality.” For this reason, one may overlook the ways Angelico denied reality. The scale of the figures is immense compared to that of the architecture. Moreover, the Virgin Mary interrupts the light by casting a shadow, yet the Archangel Gabriel, who is a disembodied spirit, casts no shadow.Hood, William. Fra Angelico at San Marco. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. p.263.

 

In the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary is shown in an attitude indicating submission. Much like in the cells depicting Saint Dominic watching the Crucifix, the Annunciation not only illustrates what is in biblical text, but what is in the preacher’s imagination as well. The De modo orandi indicates that the gestures of their hands crossed before their chests suggest the friars’ meditation of Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary.Hood, William. Fra Angelico at San Marco. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. p. 265.

 

== Devotion: Principles And Convictions of the Dominican Order ==

 

As followers of Saint Dominic, the Dominicans of the San Marco monastery lived by the maxims of Veritas (Truth), Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare (to praise, to bless, and to preach), and Contemplare et Contemplata Allis Tradere(to contemplate and pass on the fruits of contemplation). They dedicated their lives to praising God and preaching His virtues. Through prayer, adoration, meditation, and contemplation, the Dominicans devoted themselves to blessing God."What is a Third Order Dominican." Immaculate Conception Chapter Third Order of Preachers. To Praise-To Bless-To Preach. 3 Feb.2007 <http://www.opthird.com/oplaity.htm>.

 

Saint Dominic advised the Dominicans to preach with the intention of defending the faith and enlightening minds with God’s words. In preaching, the monks aimed to carry out the responsibility that Christ bestowed upon his apostles. They strived to imitate the first apostles who left behind all their possessions and property in order to offer themselves entirely to prayer and professing the word of God. Dominicans of the San Marco monastery committed themselves to being learned, disciplined and poor."St. Dominic de Guzman and the Order of the Friars Preachers( Dominicans)." Aquinas. Catholic Student Center at Dartmouth College. 3 Feb. 2007 <http://www.dartmouth.edu/~aquinas/dominicans.html>. Fra Angelico, who embodied these Dominican principles, had no possessions or property of his own, and turned over all of his artistic profits to his order.O'Connor, John B, and Martin Wallace. "St. Dominic." Catholic Encyclopedia. Ed. Nihil Obstat. Vol.V. The Catholic Encyclopedia . New York : Robert Appleton Company, 1909. New Advent. 2006. New Advent. 3 Feb. 2007 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05106a.htm>.

 

Still today, throughout the world, disciples of the Dominican Order dedicate themselves to declaring the word of God for the salvation of souls."St. Dominic de Guzman and the Order of the Friars Preachers( Dominicans)." Aquinas.

Catholic Student Center at Dartmouth College. 3 Feb. 2007 <http://www.dartmouth.edu/~aquinas/dominicans.html>. The San Marco monastery still serves as an educational edifice, now standing as a public museum to Florence.

 

== Notes ==

 

 

== External Links ==

'Glossary of Art Terminology': http://web.ubc.ca/okanagan/creative/links/glossary.html

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