Artibus et Historiae no. 66 (XXXIII)2012, ISSN 0391-9064
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CYRIL GERBRON - Fra Angelico, the Medici, the Magi and the Council of Florence. A History of Temporal Intertwining of the Past and Present (pp. 29–48)
The article deals with four paintings commissioned by Cosimo (‘il Vecchio’) de’ Medici and his son Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici (‘the Gouty’) from Fra Angelico. In the main panel of the San Marco altarpiece and the fresco of the Adoration of the Magi in his chapel at the Florentine Dominican friary, Cosimo used an event of the past – the Epiphany – to commemorate a recent occurrence, the council of Florence, in order to assert the prestige and piety of his family and to legitimate his power and wealth. The iconography of these two paintings is directly related to the celebrations of the Feast of the Magi, which used to temporarily transform Florence into a new Holy Land. The paintings also have an astrological significance linked to the idea of astrologically determined destiny of Cosimo ‘il Vecchio’ or to the providential role of the city of Florence in achieving the unity of the Church.
In the case of two panels of the Armadio degli argenti it was Fra Angelico who himself proposed a reflection on the current situation of the Church, referring to the Adoration of the Magi painted for Cosimo. The sufferings endured by Christ prefigure the divisions in the body of the Church as well as the afflictions experienced by the Greek Church in the years preceding the fall of the Byzantine Empire. By intertwining the past with the present in a very complex manner, these paintings bring about the problem of the notion of time, as understood by the people of the fifteenth century, a perception significantly different from ours.