In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the San Marco Museum, on October 5, Fra Angelico’s restored Last Judgement was unveiled to the public. The unique painting, dating to 1425-28, is one of the early Renaissance master’s most enigmatic, its origins uncertain and its composition unusual.
Though the painting is widely seen as among Fra Angelico’s most renowned works of art, many questions remain surrounding its history and distinctive shape, particularly who commissioned the painting and why its upper register is dominated by a trefoil. Inside the foils, we see Christ in Judgement, dividing the righteous and the sinners, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist at Christ’s feet and 24 saints and prophets encircling him. The painting is lauded for its innovative approach to the traditional iconography, which includes the addition of apostles, saints and figures from the Old Testament, such as Adam, Abraham and Moses, as well as an elegant scene of dancing angels and blessed people on the slopes of New Jerusalem, depicted as a place of divine light and weaving together with a garden, a symbol of Paradise.
The painting was last restored in 1955 for exhibitions in Rome and Florence in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The current restoration was made possible thanks to financial support by the Rotary Club Firenze Certosa and other rotary clubs. Under the direction of Marilena Tamassia, the painting underwent a cleaning to remove years of dirt deposits built up on its surface, while gaps in the wooden structure owing to humidity were closed.
Celebrations for the museum’s anniversary will continue over the next few months, including the installation and presentation of another restored artwork by Fra Angelico, the San Marco Altarpiece, a contemporary art installation in some of the museum’s cells in late October and the exhibition The Annunciation by Robert Campin. An Illustrious Guest from the Prado Museum for the 150th Anniversary of the San Marco Museum, opening on January 6.