Tuesday, June 24, 2008

24th June
Just down the road from where I live is the monastery of San Marco.
One of the amazing things about it is that the cell walls are decorated by astonishing and beautiful frescoes by Fra Angelico.
he was, everyone agreed, a saintly painter himself, who prayed each day before he started work (we have that in common) and who wept, hugely, each time he had to paint a crucifixion. Which he did very often. I can't help but wonder how he chose the subjects for the pictures... did he take requests? He certainly painted many many crucifixions, often with members of his order painted into the pictures, often with bare chests, often flagellating themselves...
There's an extraordinary picture of the Crucified Christ with St. John in the cloister... Christ himself bears no sign of suffering in his face at all. He looks serene and blissful.. the one who is suffering is poor St John, embracing the foot of the cross with the profoundest anguish on his face.
And the sky is painted the most intense, the most cerulean, the most peaceful blue that it's possible to imagine.
One of the cells is where Fra Savanarola lived while he was head of the monastery.. which he used as a base for his reign of terror in Florence. He said he based his words on the Crucified Christ and wanted to turn Florence from its apparently wicked ways and create there a heaven on earth.
Predictably, perhaps, he created a hell.
For a while, Boticelli became one of his followers and burnt some of his own paintings, being under the impression that they were sensual and wicked.
the friar's cells - he had three of them, booting out the novices on the grounds he needed more space to himself - are one of the few which have no paintings on them at all.
If only he'd had the beautiful one of the rushing River Jordan, with Christ being baptised, or one of the very tender ones of the women with the dead body of Christ, or the Virgin Mary calmly and tenderly submitting her will to the Angel who has come to see her...
Perhaps he wouldn't have ended up responsible for the deaths of so many of his fellow citizens.
Or finally dying tortured to death.. slowly roasting over an open flame in great town square.


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