The solitude of the convent of San Marco (now the Museo di San Marco) which is home to the beautiful frescos of Fra Angelico is a wonderful break from the busyness of many of the art collections in Florence. The calm and quietness of the convent setting makes it the most perfect environment in which to view these stunning works.
The rooms on the ground floor are situated around a central courtyard. A crucifixion amongst other frescos adorn the walls around the courtyard and the rooms running off this. The old refectory houses a large collection of oil paintings and altarpieces by Fra Angelico. It is the largest collection that I have seen hanging together by the artist. Both the clarity and expression of the paintings with their jewel like colour is simply stunning and time absorbing as you find yourself drawn into every one. A peacefulness pervades Fra Angelico’s work yet in his Giudizio Universale there is a last judgement scene of hell on the right-hand panel which has to be one of the most horrific I have ever seen.
And then, you go upstairs…
Even with the greatest of expectations nothing quite prepares you for the beauty you are about to see! At the top of the staircase is a large Annunciation scene, one of the largest and finest of the frescos at San Marco. It was one of the few occasions that I could stand really close to see the brushwork and try to understand more of the process of fresco a little better. It is a technique that I would love to try one day.
From the corridor running around the top of the convent are numerous small rooms or cells, in each one is a fresco for contemplation and meditation. I could have happily sat in a number of these small cells looking at the fresco for hours and hours.
Each image holds our gaze, it’s serenity gives us space to observe, to study, and to think. Fra Angelico’s figures are portrayed with an absolute economy, however complex or simple the composition there is always a purity and delicacy of the image.
I have wanted to see these paintings for years and I am so pleased to have finally had the opportunity to visit them. The museum is worth a trip to Florence alone to see, and is a reminder of how we should look at art; with space, respect and above all, quietness.