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Le Sette Parole di Cristo in croce nel ciclo di San Marco del Beato Angelico


Gerardo de Simone


The theme of the Seven Last Words of Christ on the cross, reported in the canonical Gospels, has been resonating deeply in the theological and devotional literature since the early Middle Ages until today, and in sacred music from the seventeenth century onwards. Surprisingly, the motif occurs very rarely in the visual arts (theatre and cinema are only incidentally taken into account here). Fra Angelico illustrated the Seven Last Words in the fresco cycle of the convent of San Marco, Florence, in seven cells along the northern corridor, as the iconographic features and the surviving inscriptions attest. Indeed, the subject of the Crucifixion was intentionally reiterated throughout the cycle, in accord with the Observant Dominicans’ focus on Christ’s Passion as a model of meditation and emulation for the friars. Despite the universal fame of Fra Angelico’s frescoes, the particular iconography of the Seven Last Words has gone almost completely unnoticed. This essay offers a better understanding and contextualization of the Seven Last Words within the celebrated cycle, and offers new clues to assert the role of Fra Antonino Pierozzi, who was the prior of San Marco in the years of Fra Angelico’s activity there, as iconographic advisor.