Favorite Art Fact File

Who? Anne Leader, IASblog editor

What is one of your favorite artworks? While it is impossible to choose one hundred favorites, let alone one, Fra Angelico’s Mocking of Christ always comes to mind. I was transfixed the first time I saw it on a classroom screen at Emory University and have loved it ever since. I still remember Professor John Howett lovingly describing this and other frescoes painted by Fra Angelico at San Marco, where one can step back in time to life in a mendicant convent. It is one of my favorite museums in Florence – a must see.

… . and your favorite detail? Christ’s closed eyes visible through his blindfold.

Why? The closed eyes are so poignant as they gently yet damningly draw attention to Jesus’s humble acceptance of such brutality.

IASBlog (Anne) explains …

Florentine artist Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, known as Fra Angelico (ca. 1400-55), painted this moving scene as one of fifty frescoes he designed for the Dominican friary of San Marco in Florence. Each friar’s cell has its own devotional image to inspire prayer and contemplation. Here, we see a stripped-down portrayal of the mocking of Christ, quite different from traditional images that focus on the abuse and the abusers. Instead of a crowd of angry, taunting soldiers, we see only hints of the humiliations Jesus suffered before his crucifixion. Though the violence has been tempered, the impact is no less powerful. Jesus wears a white robe – a garment reserved for those deemed lunatic by Roman officials – and is made to wear a crown of thorns, a painful reference to his indictment as King of the Jews. Jesus’ white robes could also, however, remind viewers of his innocence and impending resurrection, just as the marble slab under his seat could lead us to contemplate the tomb from which he will rise. Disembodied hands surround Jesus’ head in reference to the many slaps he received during his trial, and another man, shown only as a head, spits in his face.Though blindfolded, we can see Jesus’ closed eyes through the fabric, which together with his slightly downcast gaze inspire great empathy. In the foreground sit two saints – Mary, the mother of Jesus – and Saint Dominic – the patron saint of the Dominican order. They are shown in deep contemplation, modeling for us how we should comport ourselves as we reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice.

Fra Angelico, Mocking of Christ, 1440-2, fresco, 6 x 5 ft. Florence: Convent of San Marco, cell #7, full view and detail

Cloister, San Marco, Florence

San Marco, Rustici Codex, ca. 1450

Cloister, San Marco, Florence

Giotto di Bondone, Scenes from the Life of Christ: Mocking of Christ, 1304-06.
Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Lippo Memmi, Mocking of Christ, c. 1340. Fresco, Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta, San Gimignano

Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite artwork? And your favorite detail of it? Why? Send us your answers by clicking the “Submit” button, and we will feature your favorite in a post.

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