Christ Rising from his Tomb (fresco, c.1438-45) by Angelico, Fra (Guido di Pietro) (c.1387-1455)
Fra Angelico’s spiritual and artistic legacy continues to draw admirers to his works, particularly those in Florence. The former Dominican friary of San Marco contains many of the master’s most treasured works, which transform the friars’ living quarters into spiritual sanctuaries. Amongst the most famous of his frescoes are the series painted for each of the cells occupied by individual friars. Within these rooms, whether in study, prayer, or sleep, the friar spent a good deal of his time. Inside each sparsely appointed cell, Fra Angelico’s fresco dominated the tiny interior space. In cell 26 the compelling scene of Christ Rising from His Tomb overwhelms the viewer. Life-size figures of Christ accompanied by the Virgin and St Thomas Aquinas appear to have materialised before the viewer. The starkly realistic depiction of Christ as the Man of Sorrows invokes a revered visual tradition. Here, Christ’s wounds recall His passion and death. However, by portraying Christ standing unsupported in the tomb, Fra Angelico visually conflates Christ’s death and His resurrection. In contrast to narrative images of the Crucifixion, Fra Angelico explores the timeless, devotional meaning of Christ’s suffering. Episodes from the passion narrative leap out against the impenetrable black background. Devoid of a narrative context, the seemingly random scenes stir the viewer’s compassionate gaze. Each discrete “fragment” recalls imagery familiar from late medieval devotions and prayers. As in them, moments like Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial, or the soldier’s torment heightened the reader’s compassionate response to Christ’s suffering. Fra Angelico’s profound visual meditation on Christ’s humanity invites modern-day pilgrims to gaze contemplatively before the miracle of the Incarnation.
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