Fra Angelico at San Marco, Florence, Italy

I loved each and every museum we visited in Florence, but I especially loved San Marco.

Maybe it was because I was just trying to check seeing Fra Angelico’s frescos off my list, but I wasn’t expecting as much from this experience as I was from the other places on my agenda.

Maybe it was feel of the cold, wet weather combined with the austere convent setting that spoke to the melancholy in me.

Perhaps it was the long tables in the convent library reminding me that studying and reading and painting are all forms of worship.

Whatever it was that drew me in that day, the connection between the place and the paintings cut me to the heart, made me want to stay there and soak in the peace that it offered.

December 7, 2004

San Marco, Florence, Italy

Yesterday we went to San Marco–this was definitely one of my favorite places we’ve seen so far.

The museum part of the church is the monastery where Fra Angelico lived and painted.  His frescos are beyond amazing, so beautiful! And I loved reading more about him.  He painted out of true devotion. I read somewhere that he could not crucified Christ without weeping.

I actually felt this in his work.  There was a long series of small paintings that told the Gospel story chronologically.  Walking through this series was so moving.  I would love to walk each of my children through that room to tell them the story again of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.

My favorite 2 Fra Angelico frescos were both Pietas, both with Mary Magdalene at the foot of the her crucified Lord.


I think it would be good to visit often the Pietas in Florence.  To live in that moment just after Jesus’ death, to meditate on how it felt to those closest to him.  To mourn with others in the scene.  To be thankful for the story.

After the frescos downstairs, we went upstairs and saw the monks’ cells.  The setting was so lovely–simple and efficient.  Calming.  In each cell, Fra Angelico painted a fresco, something for each monk to meditate on.  I wanted to crawl into one and stay for a while.

The last cell was Savonarola’s, who was executed for denouncing the Medici’s abuse of power.  Oh how I love a fanatic!  I enjoyed seeing his small rooms and thinking about this troubled soul sitting at his plain desk, writing his messages of doom.

His Bible is still there, under a glass case.  Tiny hand-written lettering testifies to the diligence of some scribe.

There is a portrait of Savanarola.  He looks crazed, tortured even in the picture.  A chill came over me as I thought about living in a time and place where speaking your heart would mean being ostracized and possibly killed.


pieta, fra angelico

Another smaller museum that I wrote lots about in my journal and really enjoyed is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.  It is not inside the Duomo but east of it, so we might have missed it if I had not been trying to find Donatello’s Magdalen.  This museum is full of treasures I am glad we didn’t miss!  Besides the Magdalen, I also loved seeing a pietà by Michelangelo that was intended for his tomb.  We had just been to the church that housed his tomb, so it was appropriate that we stumbled next upon this sculpture.

Florence is so full of treasures that it would take a lifetime to see them all.  I was not at all sad that we chose to spend the bulk of our week in Italy there in 2004.  Every moment was precious.

We also ate the most wonderful food in Florence, pounds of homemade pasta and house wines served in ceramic flasks.  We had thick soups like ribollita and tender pork dishes with mushroom sauces.  We usually arrived at the dinner hour exhausted from walking, cold and damp to our bones, so we enjoyed all the more filling our tummies with the rich, comforting cuisine of Florence!  I’m anxious to see what it’s like it September!

1 Comment

  1. […] I love the way Mary is cradling Jesus in death as in birth.  I have been obsessed with Pietàs in art ever since I became a mother.  Mary’s sacrifice is not talked about much in the […]

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