Only a week after debuting the restored Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, the San Marco museum is celebrating the return of the San Marco altarpiece, painted between 1438 and 1443 for the high altar in the adjacent church. Featuring the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Eight Angels and Eight Saints, the painting was also recently restored as part of the commemorations surrounding the museum’s 150th anniversary this year.
The history of the altarpiece dates to 1438, when Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici became patrons of the church’s main chapel, hiring Michelozzo to restore it and commissioning Fra Angelico to paint the majestic altarpiece for the new high altar, dedicated to saints Mark, Cosmas and Damian. To facilitate its installation, a triptych by Lorenzo di Niccolò was moved to the Convent of San Domenico in Cortona, where it is still located today. The altarpiece was completed ahead of January 6 – Epiphany – of 1443, when the church and high altar were consecrated in the presence of Pope Eugene IV and the College of Cardinals. Originally at least 26 panels, 18 remain today, which are located in nine different museums.
San Marco Altarpiece by Fra Angelico
“With the return of the San Marco altarpiece,” commented Stefano Casciu, director of Tuscany’s museum system, Polo Museale, “the San Marco Museum is once again home to a unique collection of panel paintings by Fra Angelico that, together with his frescoes in the Dominican convent, particularly his renowned paintings in the cells, make this museum one of the most fascinating and popular in Florence. The San Marco altarpiece laid the foundations of Florentine Renaissance painting.”
The project was carried out by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, restoring the painting’s depth and colours as well as its extraordinary gold leaf surfaces, all of which had been damaged over the centuries.
Celebrations for the museum’s anniversary will continue through the end of October with an innovative contemporary art installation in some of the museum’s most important cells.