Florence’s San Marco Museum has received a makeover! The convent complex is famous for its many in-situ frescoes by Fra Angelico, a friar and resident artist, from the middle of the 15th century. If you’ve visited any time this century, before heading into the frescoed common areas, you’ll have entered a room to the right of the entrance containing panel paintings by Fra Angelico (whom the Italians refer to as Beato Angelico). This room, improperly denominated “Ospizio dei Pellegrini” (Pilgrims’ Hospice) has now been officially baptized “Sala del Beato Angelico” and its new display, sponsored by Friends of Florence, is a far cry from the previous one developed in 1980.

View of the new Sala del Beato Angelico inaugurated today and created with funds from Friends of Florence.

Visitors used to the previous layout will be stunned when they see the new one: I myself hardly recognized it! The room has been given a calming chromatic unification through the use of grey supports that are set out from the walls. We’re no longer distracted by the irregularity of the vaulted room but rather attention is focused on the paintings. The alternation of paintings hung directly on this support and those inserted into perfectly clear glass boxes provides a pleasant sense of movement. In addition, new LED lighting makes an epochal difference in the colour of the room and our experience of the paintings. Light is further controlled by the addition of opaque curtains on the large windows, ensuring a consistent experience at different times of day.

Before

After

This system has numerous practical functions. The use of an inclined pedestal naturally keeps the viewer at a safe distance, while also supporting the labels that are placed on semi-transparent panels. A modern air control system is hidden in this structure. I have to imagine that, from a conservation point of view, it is much easier to control the temperature and humidity of the entire painting in this way. Anyone who has ever lived in an old Italian apartment knows how cold to the touch an exterior wall can be and the challenge of controlling humidity and mold growth on them.

The room is a unique monographic tribute to Fra Angelico, containing sixteen works on wood panel that have been arranged in chronological order. These range from monumental altarpieces like the Deposition of Christ made for the Strozzi Chapel in the Church of Santa Trinita or the famous San Marco Altarpiece (perhaps his most famous work, present in most art history textbooks), to a series of smaller pieces including parts of polyptichs where we can get up close and study the details. Two more works are currently under restoration and will soon be returned to this room.

The restoration was made possible thanks to generous private donations through Friends of Florence by:

  • David Canepari
  • Janet and Jim Dicke II
  • Angela LoRe
  • The Jay Pritzker Foundation
  • Stacy and Bruce Simon
  • Terri and Rollie Sturm
  • Alison and Bonifacio Zaino

Photo credits: The photos in this article (aside from the “before” photo of the room which is from Wikipedia) are provided for press use and are by Antonio Quattrone.

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