Imagine waking up each morning and seeing Jesus in your room.
How would that impact your morning?
How would it influence the rest of your day?
I admit that I am an art nerd. To placate me, my wife and I visited the Convent-Museum (originally a monastery) of San Marco in Florence, Italy, a few years ago. In it are some of the greatest classical frescoes ever painted. Most were painted by a monk called Fra Angelico almost six hundred years ago.
Fra Angelico was an Italian Catholic friar and painter who moved to the newly built Friary of San Marco in Florence in 1436. Historians note that Angelico was one of the most devout monks in the Friary. Here Dominican adherents were required to keep mostly silent, wake every morning at three o’clock for prayer, fast for weeks, and inhabit tiny rooms—known as “cells”—which had only a chair, a narrow bed, and a prayer desk.
Florence was the center of both economics and artistic activity in the region. One of Florence’s wealthiest leaders, Cosimo de’ Medici, had just built this monastery. Medici, a man of prayer, reserved a cell for himself in order that he might retreat from the world when necessary. At his urging, he set Fra Angelico about the task of decorating the new monastery. This included many now-famous frescos scattered around the building.
The art seems to gather you in. Angelico was known to always pray before taking up his brushes. According to a contemporary, whenever he painted Christ in pain Angelico wept. Although six hundred years distant, the paintings are so vibrant that they wisk you away, as if you are being pulled into their world, a world where only faith matters.
At the top of the flight of stairs leading to the sleeping quarters of San Marco is arguably the most-famous, and most-copied work ever of Fra Angelico. This large Annunciation fresco shows the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she is soon to be pregnant with the Son of God. Part of what I love is that Angelico paints this event happening on the porch at San Marco, as you can still see from the photo of restored walkway below. The painting is a “here and now” reminder to the monks of God’s continuing story and still-present messengers. In almost all of them, a monk in Italian dress joins in or prays.
For Angelico, Jesus was always present-tense.
Angelico believed that God was available to people everywhere. We just have to look up. He painted smaller devotional frescoes depicting aspects of the life of Christ on the walls of thirty two cells. When every monk awoke, the first thing he saw was a painting of Jesus. And throughout his day, in his reading or work, Jesus was present. As you walk around every corner, a scene from the life of Jesus enfolds you at San Marco. Angelico reinforced the words of Christ with his vibrant colors and light,
“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
For he himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
It is a wonderful reminder to us. God is here! God is here now! The Lord is with us. God is moving in our world today! Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus!
Sometimes, the drugery of life can make us feel like we are alone.
Like God is ignoring us. Or has forgotten us.
As you scroll past the pictures below, take a minute to wander into Jesus’ life with Angelico. What does Jesus bring to you in each scene? I hope as you view these paintings, you will feel God’s life moving in you and speaking to you. His Spirit offers a gentle, present-tense truth:
Jesus is here with each of us.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“The Crucified Christ”
thanks, Brad. an art lover, not a nerd. I have visited Florence as well, and the Uffizi Gallery, the Pallazo Pitti and a monastery on the hill overlooking Florence where they had a temporary installation of large outside sculptures of Henry Moore ( 1972 ). thank you for sharing your thoughts and these many frescoes to admire. Most I have not seen, and if there was a reason someone questioned Fra Angelico’s credentials, they speak a clear message of consummate ART. refreshing in their simplicity of background that allows the figures to stand out against. thank you for sharing our LOVE for this painter, this Dominican brother, this man of God, who worked , in his day, to do what God had given him to do to glorify his Maker.
Blessings,Richard. Art reveals the imago Dei, I think. Brad
Very powerful images – thanks Brad for reminding us that God is with us all the time – that Jesus will never leave, nor forsake us.