Friday, July 15, 2011

Sant Apollonia, Cloister at the Confraternity of the Scalzo, and the San Marco Museum

June 23rd

Today was our first lecture and tour with Professor Turrill, who is a walking encyclopedia of Renaissance art and Florentine history and hence the first half of the day was filled with amazing sights and information.

We began in Sant Apollonia, the refectory (dining hall) of the Convent of the Benedictine Sisters founded in 1339. It is a very small museum, but it has some amazing medieval and Renaissance works.

Here is the work that it is most famous for. The Last Supper by the lesser known Renaissance artist Costagno:

After our lecture in the refectory we were told that Refugio, one of the staff and aid to the professors for our trip, discovered that a special place that our professor had wanted us to see nearby was open. It is a little cloister that is free to the public and has amazing frescoes by Andrea del Sarto.

We quickly headed over and I must say that this place was a quiet little gem only a stones throw away from the touristy San Marco and very near our hostel. I fell in love with it. The monochromatic frescoes that are meant to mimic marble relief sculpture were stunning and extremely well preserved.

View from the entrance to the cloister. You can see what looks like relief sculptures along the walls.

I'm not sure if the power of this place translates at all in these photographs, but at least you can see the beauty of the artwork and the composition, if not the overall effect. The frescoes make up a cycle depicting the life of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of the city of Florence.

Closer image of the back wall

There were representations of the Virtues in this cloister and this one, Charity, was my favorite. The sculptural qualities of the composition make it pop when you are standing at a distance and can fool the eye to make it seem 3-D.

Up close, she is a beautifully rendered painting. I love the chubby babies!

Detail of the fresco's marble relief. Does it look painted or real to you? :)

 The Baptism of Christ

Another wall where you can perhaps make out the marble relief.

After visiting the Scalzo we headed to the main venue for the day, the San Marco museum, which houses fresco painting by Fra Angelico, who is sometimes referred to as Beatified Angelico (beatified being a stage in the attainment of sainthood). 

Pictures were not allowed, but sneaky-sneak that I am, I snapped some anyhow. 

Professor Turrill lecturing in front of Fra Angelico's Crucifixion

What makes San Marco so very special in terms of art, is mainly upstairs. On the second story of the monastery there are the historic living quarters of a very devout order of Dominican monks. Wanting their camel to pass through the eye of a needle (i.e. ensure their salvation) the Medici, beginning with Cosimo the Elder, patronized this Dominican order and built the monks this monastery. In the upper stories there are halls of monk cells and within each is a fresco by Fra Angelico. I had to really sneak to take pictures because there were guards on the floor, but peeking into each tiny room to snap a photo made it a little bit easier. Here are some of the frescoes in the cells.

Crucifixion. Saint Dominic (represented by the two dark robed figures kneeling and standing to the right) is praying to the Crucifixion on his knees and also standing up with his arms mimicking Christ's position on the Cross. The reason for Saint Dominic's poses? These positions of kneeling and mimicking the cross were meant to serve as a guide for meditation and prayer for whichever monk lived in this cell.

The Crucifixion with Saint Dominic praying to Christ (figure on the right).

 Crucifixion with Saint Dominic praying prostrate on the floor.


 Crucifixion. This time Saint Dominic stands in prayer to the left.

 The Nativity with Saint Dominic praying to the Baby Jesus on the right.

Other imagery:

The Arrest of Christ

The Last Supper

Crucifixion. The skull beneath is meant to symbolize the skull of Adam. It was said that Christ's cross was on top of Adam's grave.

The Dead Christ.

Christ risen from the dead

 The Annunciation. I particularly love this painting as it wasn't possible to photograph Fra Angelico's other Annunciation, which is the first fresco you see when you first walk up the stairs to the upper story. The angel wings in this fresco are the same colors as those in the larger one. But while this one is beautiful, the other is majestic.

Finally there was a cell, unlike any other:

This cell was very interesting. I wish I had gotten a picture of the whole thing, but as you can see it's significantly fancier. It also has two stories. This fresco was in the upper floor. The reason for it being fancy?... It was actually a special cell reserved for Cosimo de Medici (Cosimo Vecchio - the elder) who was the patron of this church and was said to be quite devout.

I wasn't able to get pictures of it, but this was the convent where the radical priest Savonorola lived. The same Savonorola who ended the Renaissance that Lorenzo de Medici had helped to blossom. At San Marco there are rooms in which he lived and where one can actually see his living quarters and work area and even some of his private objects. The man who inspired fear and disparaged Lorenzo and his followers for their "pagan" debauchery lived and worked here!The very man for whom Botticelli supposedly threw his paintings into the fire. The man who reviled pagan subjects in the arts. The very same supposedly tyrannical zealot who was executed at the Piazza della Signoria before the Palazzo Vecchio.

On our way out of the church and museum we had the lovely privilege of seeing a young classical choir performing in the room where Fra Angelico's Crucifixion hangs. It was a lovely way to experience this space.

After the tour and before heading to lecture I popped by the Farmer's Market at the Mercato Centrale (this is a tented area outside that only sells produce) and bought some fresh fruit that I had been craving. It was all delicious and most importantly cheap! 2 EU for a kilogram of Albicoca?! And a few Euros for a giant green fig, peaches, pears and kiwi?! :-)

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