Inspired by San Marco

Writing The Annunciation

Ron Teachworth
October 2, 2014

My first visit to Florence in 2000 was a family trip during which, like most Americans traveling abroad, I clutched my Lonely Planet guide book with both hands, knowing we were in the city for just two days. With three children in tow, including one in diapers, it was hectic. The Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio, the Accademia and piazzale Michelangelo: thinking back, my introduction to Florence was a colorful artistic blur—just enough to know I needed to return. And I did, eventually getting to know Florence well enough that I set a novel here.

 

My next ‘visit’ to Florence was seeing Florentine artist Fra Angelico’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A painter myself, I was impressed by the reverent treatment of his subjects and the technical sophistication in his paintings. During several subsequent visits to Florence, I visited the San Marco museum, home of many his frescoes. Each time I was overwhelmed anew, particularly by The Annunciation, Fra Angelico’s most famous and enduring image. Indeed, it seemed to compel me to write a novel.    

 

In the process of doing research for the novel, I learned about the Piagnoni, a group of religious zealots from the 1400s who were followers of Girolamo Savonarola. I also learned about the 1438 renovation of San Marco commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. During that time, Fra Angelico was entrusted with the execution of an altarpiece and the decoration of various areas of the convent, from the vast Crucifixion in San Marco’s chapter house to the small frescoes in the cells. To achieve that body of work, he lived at the convent for 30 years, always motivated by his love of God, not financial gain.

 

By late 2012, I had woven together several plot lines into a story that respects the Catholic faith while at the same time engages the audience in a modern-day thriller: the Piagnoni reconstituting itself and plotting to assassinate Pope John Paul II for what it considers to be radical changes in Catholicism due to Vatican II resolutions; a lost Leonardo da Vinci mural; an ancient box found in the demolition rubble; and a gentle love story between two students, a Felician sister and a seminarian, that tests their commitment to the Catholic faith.

 

But how could I make what is so vivid and compelling to me come alive for readers might never have seen what I have? The answer was the setting. The strands of plot involving history, art and Catholicism crystallize in the magnificent city of Florence.

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