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Art is always fascinating. It invites you to go beyond your usual existence and beckons with its secrets. The famous 15th century fresco by the Dominican monk Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, nicknamed the "Angelic Monk", still adorns the walls of the San Marco Monastery in Florence today. She depicts the scene when the Virgin Mary learned from the archangel Gabriel that she was to become the mother of the Messiah. The canvas attracts the eyes to the symbol that is often repeated on it. What exactly the artist wanted to say in this masterpiece and why he is considered mystical, further in the review.
What the fresco depicts
You can admire the spinning rod of the weather vane, distracting from the American Gothic of Grant Wood, suffering from claustrophobia in a stuffy office. The twisted and squealing light bulb on the canvas "Scream" by Edvard Munch can capture the eye for a long time. But later, you still have to slide off the stage along the icy railing, sloping towards the electric horizon …
Fra Angelico's Annunciation catches the eye on this undeniable masterpiece of the early Renaissance, on which one symbol is repeated. This symbol personifies the loss of paradise by people and the purity of the Virgin Mary.
The canvas tells the story of the Good News. This is the moment when the archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and informed her that soon she would conceive from the Holy Spirit and give birth to the baby Jesus, the Savior of the world. All the mystery and magic of this mystical scene was depicted by the master in such a way that the soul, when contemplated, simply floats through it. Fra Angelico was not content to be content with a simple portrayal of this biblical meeting. He described it as an endlessly graceful collision of spirit and flesh, shedding a certain lyrical light on the story, giving the fresco an unprecedented magnetism.
The "Angelic Monk" was already over 40 and was at his creative peak when he received this order in 1437. The talented artist was commissioned to decorate the walls of the newly renovated Convent of San Marco with frescoes. The customer was Cosimo de Medici, the legendary Italian banker. This story from the Gospel was familiar to almost everyone. The task was not easy. How to embody it so as not to destroy the piety of the moment, to put in awe before it and at the same time not to repeat itself and not bring dissonance to its arrangement in relation to other frescoes.
Fra Angelico had painted the scene of the Annunciation several times before. These exquisite altarpieces are housed in the Prado Museum (Madrid) and the Cortona Museum (Tuscany) and are pearls in their treasuries. The artist's masterly works amaze the viewer with the superficial richness of gilded halos around the head of each figure. The Virgin Mary with her brightness and magic cloak, which the artist skillfully turned into the illusion of flowing fabric, using ultramarine, does not let go of her gaze. Mary is majestic on her makeshift throne and fragile at the same time. Above the heads of Gabriel and Mary, the sky strewn with stars mystically shines. In their message, these paintings are on a par with countless medieval images of the Annunciation to Angelico.These are masterpieces whose spiritual bounty can be enjoyed forever.
Having received the order of the Medici "Angelic Monk" was already a mature artist. His talent was recognized and his reputation was impeccable. Fra Angelico approached the performance very seriously. The artist decided to abandon the luxury with which he decorated this story in his early works. He completely renounced all shades of gold, imposing lectern and glitter in clothing. The only thing that the master has preserved is the irresistible angelic plumage of Gabriel. It sparkled and shimmered with all possible colors.
Penetration into the incomprehensible
All the splendor of luxury, designed to seduce the viewer, was replaced by a certain special intimacy of the silent dialogue with the glances exchanged between the characters of the fresco. The master managed to masterfully reflect the meaning of the meeting, grasp the very essence, fill the image with the magnetism of a silent narrative. A sophisticated optical illusion, the maximum effect of which is given by its location. It is located on the wall near the stairs, along which the monks climb to the bedrooms. The artist has ingeniously applied kinetic, magnifying perspective.
"Angelic Monk" not only skillfully applied the principles of geometric perspective, he skillfully combined religion and life in his painting. Fra Angelico simply skillfully forced the audience to contemplate this subconscious insight into the incomprehensibility of the mystery. The receding orthogonal lines of each scene converge at a distant, fading point. The persuasiveness of this illusion of depth in the real world depends on its effect on the careful alignment of these orthogonal lines with the eyes of those who look at the work. In his Annunciation, Angelico skillfully manipulated the principles of the brilliant Italian architect Brunelleschi, who invented this technique. He made the perspective lines too steep. This created an optical effect, when all spectators are watching them, except for those who slowly climb the stairs to his fresco. This trick turned the artist's work into an amazingly elastic piece.
To amplify the effect of falsifying job prospects, Angelico went even further. The artist placed the point where the fresco converges into a place that is just behind the barred window at the back of the painting. When someone climbs the stairs and looks at the image, this semi-permeable border teases the eye. It separates the real world from the world beyond reality. It was a subtle art to make you look without taking your eyes off the fresco. Thus, literally passing not just through the picture, but plunging into its world completely.
Angelico's contemporaries would have unmistakably identified the secret meaning of the window behind the bars. During this era, this symbol, as a version of the hortus summaryus, was often repeated in Christian art and literature. The window, behind the lattice barrier of which stretches a magical and inaccessible garden, symbolizing the lost paradise. It is also a secret metaphor for the virginity of the Virgin Mary. The lattice meant the inviolable purity of the Mother of God. To push the viewer to this thought, "Angelic Monk" indulged in religiously risky and daring choreography, forcing him to contemplate, even subconsciously, penetration into the impenetrable.
If all this were not there, the influence of Angelico's fresco would not have been so great. Remove that barred window that floats in the field of view of the two main characters of the fresco (further increasing its importance) and the mysticism will disappear. Paint the window with heavy curtains or heavy shutters and the magic will go away, all optical magic will be destroyed. In fact, the trick is that Fra Angelico calculated very accurately how many glimpses of paradise it takes to keep walking and looking. And nothing more.
If you are interested in art, read our article secret meanings of encrypted messages and realistic sculptures in the tomb of San Severo di Sangro.
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