A NEW THING!
The more interesting churches get a page to themselves
with added art coverage!
A monastery, probably housing Vallambrosan monks, was here before, in 1290, it became a house of Silvestrine monks, who themselves later moved to San Giorgio dello Spirito Santo, having been accused of moral and spiritual decadence. They made way for Observant Dominicans from San Domenico in Fiesole, who took possession of the partially ruined convent and church here on March 15th 1436, the piazza here being perfect for the preaching to the masses for which the order was known. They rebuilt the whole complex at the expense of Cosimo de' Medici, between 1437 and 1452. Michelozzo, the Medici's favourite architect, designed the church, pilgrim's hospice, cloister, library and friars' quarters. Fra Angelico worked here with Michelozzo for eight or nine years, until he was summoned by the Pope to Rome in 1445 to work in the Vatican.
The first prior Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459) became archbishop of Florence in 1446 and canonised as St Antoninus in 1523. An even more famous prior here was Savonarola.
Vasari later 'modernised' the church, presumably by removing a screen, but it acquired its present form in 1588 to a design by Giambologna, with the facade built 1777-78 to designs by the Carmelite friar Gioacchino Pronti. The Dominicans were expelled in 1866 and the first cloister became a museum in 1869 with nearly all of Fra Angelico's surviving panel paintings moved here in 1921.
The church itself is a somewhat square and aisleless, by Michelozzo, with four altars on the right and three and one like a transept arm on the left. Some 14th Century fresco fragments between the altars on the left, and on the right inner facade an Annunciation fresco. Mostly minor 16th Century altarpieces. On the right the first altarpiece is by Santi di Tito. Next is a Madonna and Six Saints of 1509 by Bartolomeo della Porta (Fra' Bartolomeo). The impressive Byzantine mosaic of the Madonna in Prayer is thought to date from the early 8th century and to have been in the old St Peter's in Rome. Its impact is somewhat diluted by being surrounded by frescoes of saints and putti in imitation of mosaic, added in the 17th century. The dome was frescoed by Alessandro Gherardini in 1717. The rather baroque wooden ceiling by Pier Francesco Silvani is from 1679. The church originally, and more modestly, copied the burial church of the order's founder, San Domenico in Bologna, in having a wooden roof over the main nave and vaulting over the more holy space for the friars. Two screens originally divided up the space for men, women and the friars, with the women kept safely furthest from the friars while they performed Mass. The large transept-like chapel is Giambologna's Chapel of Sant'Antoninus, built in 1580 for the Salvin family. The saint is is buried here, at the end on the left, and there is some good mannerist stuff, including an altarpiece of The Descent into Limbo by Allori. Also Il Poppi's Christ Healing the Leper and The Calling of St Matthew on the left and right walls. The murals in the cupola are by Pocetti
The humanists Pico della Mirandola and Angelo Poliziano are interred between the second and third chapels on the left. Their tomb slabs are on the north behind the sculpture of Savonarola (see below right). These tombs were opened in 2007 and their deaths in 1494 from arsenic poisoning were confirmed.
Upon entering you find yourself in Michelozzo's Cloister of St Antoninus, which has quite vivid frescoes in the lunettes by Fra Angelico (the small ones over the doors in the corners) but mostly by an artist called Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, amongst others, painted later and showing scenes from the life of St Antoninus. Facing you along the arm of the cloister as you enter is a large fresco of St Dominic worships the Crucifix (1442) by Fra Angelico, with added flanking figures of The Mourning Virgin and St John by Cecco Bravo in 1628. The first room on the right, The Pilgrim's Hospice displays paintings by Fra Angelico taken from other (mostly closed or demolished) churches and convents. Carrying on anti clockwise takes you to a large refectory with unspecial work along the right hand wall, a quite impressive fresco of The Last Supper of Saint Dominic (with the Crucifixion taking place above) by our friend Sogliani, a former pupil of Lorenzo di Credi, on the end wall, and more by him up the left side. Opposite is a small room more worthy of attention with some sweet Fra Bartolomeo panels and his spooky dark post-mortem profile Portrait of Savonola. Fra Bartolomeo was a fellow Dominican and a great admirer of Savonarola and was imprisoned with him in 1498. Next around the cloister is a The Chapter House, square room with a big and lovely Crucifixion fresco by Fra Angelico, but looking much more worked than his usual.
Next is upstairs. On the first floor are the 44 smalls cells each containing a fresco for private
contemplation by Fra Angelico and his unknown assistants. The Annunciation
at the top of the stairs is justly one of Fra Angelico's most well known and
loved works. Turning left here takes you down the Left Corridor, with the
paintings in the cells to the right all by assistants, to the Far Corridor, at
the end of which is Savonarola's rooms. Turning right at the Annunciation,
into the Entrance Corridor the first cell on your left is that of St Antoninus.
On the right is the entrance to Michelozzo's famous library. Long lauded as a
fine typical Renaissance interior with its white walls and pietra serena
details the walls were recently discovered, under four layers of plaster, to
have been green, a colour symbolic of contemplation often used at the time for
the walls of libraries. Just outside the entrance is a plaque commemorating
Savonarola's arrest here on April 8th 1498. At the end of the corridor are the
cells used by Cosimo il Vecchio, containing an Adoration of the Magi, a
characteristic Medici subject, by Benozzo Gozzoli and Fra Angelico.
Oltrarno :: Fiesole