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Fra Angelico, The Mocking of Christ (detail), with the Virgin and Saint Dominic, 1439-1443, fresco, Cell 7, Convent of San Marco, Florence (1439-43)

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Fra Angelico | The Mocking of Christ 1437-1446
Just before 1423, Guido di Pietro donned the habit of the Domenican friars in the convent of San Domenico at Fiesole, taking the name Fra Giovanni. The appellation "Fra Angelico" became current only in the nineteenth century; it derives from an abbreviation of the epithet "pictor angelicus," which was first applied to him in early Dominican sources and has been common since Vasari's time.[1]
By the 1430s Fra Angelico was already one of the leading artists in Florence.
In 1438 renovation of the Dominican convent and church of San Marco began, commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici and directed by Michelozzo. The new church was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV on 6 January 1443. Fra Angelico, who had by then moved to the order's headquarters in Florence, was entrusted with the execution of an altarpiece for the high altar (the majestic Sacra Conversazione, now also in the Museo di San Marco) and the decoration of various areas of the convent. [2] From the vast Crucifixion in the chapter house to the small frescoes in the cells, rich narrative is restrained in favor of a sublime spiritual and poetic message, dominated by an analytical vision that owes much to contemporary Flemish models.
The Mocking of Christ was created in 1440 by Fra Angelico in the convent of San Marco in Florence. This fresco, painted in the private space of a monk's cell, was intended to enable the praying monk to envision the scene.

Fra Angelico shows Christ on a raised dais and seated on a red box, a mockery of a throne. A green curtain, usually used to display figures in glory, provides the backdrop of this travesty of the lordship of Christ. Christ is blindfolded, as he was when taunted by the high priest, but through the transparent veil we can see His eyes closed in humiliation. Wearing a crown of thorns, Jesus holds the reed and stone in place of the scepter and orb while disembodied hands buffet and slap His head and a scorner spits in His Face.

On either side of the platform, the Virgin Mary and St. Dominic sit on the ground. Mary looks away, her sadness revealed by her expression, the droop of her head and the hand pressed to her cheek. By contrast, she raises her other hand in a gesture of obedience to the divine will. We viewers are meant to take our cue from Mary; even if our hero and Savior is ridiculed and we are laughed at for following Him, we embrace our own sufferings and humiliation as a way of sharing in his Passion. St. Dominic looks down as he reads the account of the story and meditates on its meaning. Although the event was long ago and far away, it holds no less significance in our daily lives. Jesus' white robe and the cross of the Resurrection in His halo offer the promise that He will finally triumph no matter how abased he may seem at this moment.

St. Catherine of Siena, a third-order Dominican and Doctor of the Church, offered her reflection on the humiliation of Christ and its meaning for mankind. "For our salvation He ran like one in love to the opprobrious death on the most holy Cross. May any man be ashamed to raise his head in pride, seeing you, Highest Lord, humiliated on the side of our humanity" (Oration 19).

Fra Angelico's image reinforces St. Catherine's warning that true emulation of Christ must allow for debasement before others-family, friend and foe alike.

The Mocking of Christ is the fresco on the wall of Cell 7 of the Convento di San Marco in Florence.

Fra Angelico concentrated on the simple devotional images required by his fellow monks for their meditations and prayers. The results, seen in the six cells definitely painted by Fra Angelico, represent Fra Angelico at his strongest and purest. To portray The Mocking of Christ, he painted a regal, blindfolded Christ figure crowned with thorns. The throng of jeering soldiery appear only as a group of disembodied hands and a loutish head, cap raised in sarcasm, spitting upon Christ. By abstracting all but the essential central image, Fra Angelico makes the eye travel through a curve of space to return endlessly to its starting point — the perfect movement theologians ascribe to the contemplative soul.

The contemplative restraint of the San Marco frescoes is nowhere better illustrated than in The Mocking of Christ. Rather than paint Christ's humiliations in their full violence in a complex narrative work, they are reduced to a series of iconographic symbols. In doing this Angelico was drawing on established trecento precedents.
In a plain-walled room Christ sits on a dais in a luminous white robe and tunic. The great slab of white marble beneath Him adds to the air of radiant whiteness surrounding Him. He is blindfolded, with a crown of thorns about his head. Behind Him hanging from a plain frieze is a screen on which are painted the emblems of his indignities: the head of the spitting soldier, the hands of the buffeters, the hand and stick forcing the thorns down on his head. On a low step at the front of the picture sit the Virgin and St Dominic. Neither regard Christ but sit with their backs turned towards him in poses of intense meditation - the depth of meditation that the frescoes were designed to assist each friar to attain.




The third and final triad of cells departs from the established pattern in order co bring the hierarchy co its majestic conclusion. The Passion and the Resurrection of Christ are represented in this final sequence by the Mocking of Christ in cell 7 and Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb in cell 8. The Coronation of the Virgin in cell 9 symbolizes union which God, the goal of every hierarchy, according co Pseudo- Dionysius the Areopagite.

The violence and humiliation that Christ suffered from his jailors before he was crucified is evoked in cell 7 in an atmosphere of unearthly stillness. Angelico's depiction of only fragmentary details of the spitting, slapping tormentors was probably inspired by a famous Man of Sorrows, 1404, by Lorenzo Monaco (Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence).77 The earlier picture could also have suggested to Fra Angelico the triangular arrangement of the two meditative witnesses: the Virgin, left, and Saint Dominic, right.78 In all other respects the comparison with Lorenzo Monaco underscores the striking originality of Fra Angelico's conception. The space in this undefined place is rendered with a Renaissance clarity and coherence that accentuates the strangeness of the mocking symbols suspended in air. Christ's eyes are closed by a blindfold — his expression is untroubled. He sits upright with regal bearing; the orb in his hand symbolizes his dominion over all the world.80 The insults of his captors do not distress him: they are the necessary fulfillment of the prophesies of redemption (Isaiah 50:6). The finely portrayed expressions of the Virgin and of Saint Dominic convey the same understanding. The Virgin averts her face, but she is not tearful as in a Mater Dolorosa. Saint Dominic attentively studies the scriptures. In Isaiah 53:5 Saint Dominic could read, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities . . . and with his stripes we are healed.'
Pictured in cell 8 are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and the Virgin
Mary, who brought spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ. Upon entering, they saw an angel, who said to them, "He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him.' (Mark 16:1-6). The composition of this fresco conforms closely to a fresco by the Giottesque artist, Giusto de' Menabuoi, except in two important respects: the depiction of the risen Savior in a glorious mandorla, center, and of Saint Dominic in contemplation at left. The unconventional insertion of an image of Christ's risen soul provides a critical transition into the final painting of the cycle, in the adjacent cell 9, which does not represent the Incarnation in accordance with the triad pattern established in cells 1 through 6, but achieves instead the fruits of Christ's Redemption: union with God.
Enthroned upon clouds, the Son of God crowns his mother Queen of Heaven. This ritual is a mystical marriage between Christ and his church, which Mary symbolizes. The invisible and indescribable architecture of heaven is depicted as radiant clouds and rings of circles symbolic of unity, perfection, eternity. Below them on celestial clouds the spirits of Saints Thomas Aquinas, Benedict, Dominic, Francis of Assisi, Peter Martyr, and Mark are united in their contemplation with the infinite and eternal God. They are not blinded by me edesrial brilliance. as the Aposdes were at the Transfiguration, because they raise "the immarterial and steady' eyes of their minds to that outpouring of Light.'


The Mocking of Christ is one of 41 panels depicting images from the New Testament executed about 1450 by Fra Angelico. The panels were commissioned by Piero de Medici for the doors of a cupboard (called Armadio degli Argenti) at the San Marco convent in Florence, Italy.
Over the centuries, six panels have been lost, but this one and the others remain at the convent, known now as the Museo de San Marco, where they can still be seen.
The scenes on this panel are Raising of Lazarus, Entry into Jerusalem, Last Supper, Payment of Judas, Washing of the Feet, Institution of the Eucharist, Prayer in the Garden, Judas's Betrayal, Capture of Christ, Christ before Caiafas, Mocking of Christ and Christ at the Column.


Fra Angelico, The Mocking of Christ (Armadio degli Argenti), about 1450, Firenze, Museo di San Marco

Podere Santa Pia situated in panoramic position in the Maremma countryside

Giorgio Vasari | Lives of the Most Eminent Painters Sculptors and Architects, Fra Angelico | Detailed biography of the artist

[1] Fra Angelico somehow managed to combine the life of a Dominican friar with that of an innovative, professional artist. Though his early training was in manuscript illumination, he is best known for his purely colored frescoes, done in everything from monks' cells to a Vatican chapel. Fra Angelico was influenced by Gentile da Fabriano (early on) and Masaccio (in spatial concepts). Fra Angelico was beatified in 1984, and named patron saint of artists by Pope John Paul II.

Called "Angelico" for his inimitable depictions of paradise, this artist (1400? -1455) and Dominican friar succeeded Masaccio as the foremost painter of the early Renaissance in Italy. Fra Angelicos painting has been beloved for centuries since as an emblem of the flowering genius of quattrocento Florence.

In his engaging new appraisal, John Spike reveals the unexpectedly innovative qualities of Angelicos art, including his use of linear and geometric perspective (even before the publication of Leon Battista Albertis famous treatise). Another of Angelicos inventions was the Renaissance altarpiece known as the sacra conversazione (sacred conversation), in which the Virgin and Child and saints, formerly each rigidly enclosed in separate panels, now gesture and relate to each other within a clearly unified space.

Fra Angelico had a lifelong fascination with the written word, and as Spike persuasively demonstrates, the accuracy of his Greek, Latin, and Hebrew inscriptions reveal his participation in the linguistic studies that flourished in Florence and Rome in the first half of the fifteenth century. He created some of the most visionary and learned compositions of his century, from his Deposition for the private chapel of the humanist Palla Strozzi to the extensive commissions in Rome for the erudite Pope Nicholas v. In this volume Spike presents a major discovery: the secret program of the forty frescoes in the cells of the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence. All previous studies of this artist had concluded that the subjects and arrangement of these frescoes, the artists masterworks, were chosen at random, or by the friars themselves. Instead, as the author now shows, Fra Angelico drew upon the mystical writings of the early church fathers to construct a spiritual exercise organized into three ascending levels of enlightenment. The San Marco frescoes can finally be seen as not only the most extensive cycle of works by any single painter of this century, but indeed the most complete pictorial expression of Renaissance theology.
[2] "Cosimo ordered his favorite architect Michelozzo to repair the building, richly endowed it with 400 rare manuscripts and classic statues of Venus and Apollo. To do the frescoes, Cosimo called on the great Dominican painter Fra Angelico.
While the old San Marco buildings were being repaired, the Dominicans lived in huts and damp cells. But as the ground floor was readied, Fra Angelico and his assistants went to work, painting a series of Crucifixions in the cloister, the main refectory and the chapter house. For Cosimo's cell, largest in the monastery, where the Medici prince liked to retire for contemplation, Fra Angelico repeated once again the Coming of the Magi at Cosimo's request, "to have this example of Eastern kings laying down their crowns at the manger of Bethlehem always before his eyes as a reminder for his own guidance as a ruler."
Fra Angelico concentrated on the simple devotional images required by his fellow monks for their meditations and prayers. The results, seen in the six cells definitely painted by Fra Angelico, represent Fra Angelico at his strongest and purest. To portray The Mocking of Christ, he painted a regal, blindfolded Christ figure crowned with thorns; the throng of jeering soldiery appear only as a group of disembodied hands and a loutish head, cap raised in sarcasm, spitting upon Christ. By abstracting all but the essential central image, Fra Angelico makes the eye travel through a curve of space to return endlessly to its starting point—the perfect movement theologians ascribe to the contemplative soul.
In 1443, the Pope visited San Marco to dedicate the finished convent. Two years later, the Pontiff called Fra Angelico to Rome to begin the great work of decorating the Vatican."
The Theater: The Bearers of Gifts

The San Marco Museum is housed in the Dominican monastery of San Marco, built between 1438 and 1444 by will of Cosimo the Elder of the Medici family, on a design by the architect Michelozzo, who created an architectural masterpiece of functionality, harmony and elegance.
The monastery, and the adjoining Library, once housing Greek and Latin books, was one of the most important centres of the Florentine Humanism, but its fame is mainly due to the splendid cycle of frescoes painted within 1450 by the painter-monk Fra Angelico, one of the greatest masters of the Florentine Renaissance.
Head of the monastery at the end of the 15th C. was Girolamo Savonarola, great preacher who inspired the Florentine Republic, then condemned as a heretic and executed on Piazza Signoria in 1498.
The State Museum was opened in 1869.
The rooms of the monastery are located all around the Renaissance cloister by Michelozzo, on the ground and on the upper floor. The biggest collection of panel-paintings by Fra Angelico in the world has been displayed in the Hospice Hall (Sala dell’Ospizio) since the early 20th C. The section by the Large Refectory was arranged much later (1980-90) in order to house paintings by Fra Bartolomeo and the artists of the San Marco School. The Last Supper frescoed in 1480 by Domenico Ghirlandaio decorates the Small Refectory. The big cycle of frescoes by Fra Angelico, remarkable example of contemplative art, starts in the cloister and in the Chapter House, but it is fully displayed on the upper floor, along the corridors and inside the cells of the dormitory. On the same upper floor the harmonious Library by Michelozzo houses a great collection of 15th C. illuminated books. At the far end of the dormitory, the cells once belonged to Savonarola show memories of his life and of his tragic death.
Panel-paintings by Fra Angelico, in the Hospice Hall are : Deposition of Christ, from Santa Trinita, Triptych of St. Peter the Martyr, the Annalena Altarpiece, the San Marco Altarpiece, the Last Judgement and the Linen-Drapers Tabernacle.
Frescoes by Fra Angelico: in the Cloister, St. Dominic at the feet of the Cross; in the Chapter House, Crucifixion; along the corridors of the Dormitory, Annunciation and Madonna of the Shadows; in the cells, Noli Me Tangere, Annunciation, The Mocking of Christ, Transfiguration; in the cell of Cosimo the Elder, Adoration of the Magi, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli, one of Fra Angelico’s assistants.

Fra Angelico | Frescoes in the Convento di San Marco (1438-50)

[3] The Old and New Testaments, which have been understood as a "wheel within a wheel" since at least the sixth century when Saint Gregory the Great presented his Homilies on Ezekiel in (593 AD):

"The wheel within the wheel is, as we said, the New Testament within the Old Testament, because what the Old Testament defined the New Testament showed forth. ... Therefore, the wheel is in the midst of a wheel because the New Testament is encompassed by the Old. And, as we have often said already, what the Old Testament promised the New showed forth, and what the one covertly announced the other openly proclaimed manifest. Therefore, the Old Testament is the prophecy of the New, and the New is the exposition of the Old."

Gregory's explanation of the "wheel within a wheel" is identical to Augustine's poetic dictum "The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed." This understanding is found throughout the writings of the Church Fathers, and was graphically portrayed in the fifteenth century by Fra Angelico in his magnificent set of 32 panels called the Silver Closet (Armadio degli Argenti, 1455 AD). The first nine panels, shown in the image, begin with a representation of Ezekiel's Wheel. Each panel that follows has two banners quoting Scripture; the top banner quotes an Old Testament prophecy and the bottom banner quotes its fulfillment in the New. For example, the second panel shows the Annunciation when Gabriel spoke to the Virgin Mary. The top banner quotes Isaiah 7:14 "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," and the bottom banner quotes its fulfillment in Luke 1:31 "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." This is the purpose of the Silver Closet. The 31 panels that follow the Wheel exemplify how the Two Testaments interweave like a "wheel in the middle of a wheel." They demonstrate the reality of prophecy by telling the whole story of Christ from His Birth to His Ministry, His Death and His Resurrection through interlaced passages from the both Testaments. It is a magnificent piece of theological art. Here now is the first panel showing Ezekiel's Wheel as the Old and New Testaments:

The outer wheel represents the Old Testament by portraying twelve of its primary prophets. Moses sits in the top position, holding the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. He is flanked by King David on his right and King Solomon on his left. Listed clockwise, we have Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, Jonah, Joel, Malachi, Ezra, Daniel, and Isaac, the latter being the only Old Testament figure not known as a writer of Sacred Scripture. Angelico encircled the outer Wheel of the Old Testament with the Latin text of Genesis 1:1-5 from the Vulgate:
"In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram terra autem erat inanis et vacua et tenebrae super faciem abyssi et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux. Et vidit Deus lucem quod esset bona et divisit lucem ac tenebras appellavitque lucem diem."

The inner wheel represents the New Testament. It portrays the Four Evangelists as a cross like the Four Cherubim around God's Throne. The top figure represents John, the bottom Luke, the right Mark, and the left Matthew. These four figures each hold a codex (bound book). In contrast, the other four prophets of the New Testament – Peter, Jude, James, Paul – are interspersed and portrayed with scrolls. Angelico encircled the Wheel of the New Testament with the Latin text of John 1:1-3 from the Vulgate:

"In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum. hoc erat in principio apud Deum. omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est."

Fra Angelico inscribed both wheels with text that begins with In principio (In the beginning) to show the unity of God's Creative Word as revealed in the Two Testaments. The figures at the bottom are the Prophet Ezekiel on the left and Saint Gregory on the right. The banner at the bottom reads "Flumen Cobar" (River Chebar), the place of the vision. The unrolled scroll in the upper left corner quotes the Latin text of Ezekiel that speaks of the Four Cherubim and their wheels. The unrolled scroll in the upper right corner quotes a fragment from one of Gregory's Homilies on Ezekiel.