Bosco ai Frati Altarpiece by Fra Angelico and the refurbishment of the Pilgrims’ Hospice in the Museo di San Marco, Florence..
Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the museum’s founding, the project includes the restoration of the majestic Bosco ai Frati Altarpiece by Fra Angelico (1395-1456) which had been transported to the conservation laboratory in May at the end of the Covid-19 restrictions.
In addition to the painting originally on the high altar of the Dominican church (where the artist was a friar), the Pilgrim’s Hospice is being completely refurbished. A room where pilgrims and the impoverished were once received, it is home to the world’s greatest collection of panel paintings by the friar painter—a leading artist of the early Florentine Renaissance. The new interventions include supports for the paintings, lighting, a system for filtering natural light, and information panels. The plans developed by Maurizio De Vita and his studio will bring new life to one of the most architecturally fascinating spaces in Florence.
Fra Angelico painted the altarpiece around 1450, after he returned to Florence from Rome. Cosimo de’ Medici had commissioned it for the high altar of the Franciscan convent of San Bonaventura at Bosco ai Frati. The composition is dominated by the Virgin Mary flanked by two angels. In the foreground, to the left are Saints Francis, Louis of Toulouse, and Anthony of Padua. To the right are the Medici saints – Cosmas and Damian – and Saint Peter Martyr. The elegant architectural background references the classical style the artist admired during his stay in Rome and recalls the architectural elements in the frescoes in the Vatican’s Niccoline Chapel that Angelico painted for Pope Nicholas V in 1447-48.
This restoration is particularly timely. The painting, marred by dirt and previous restorations, was last restored for the major exhibition in the Vatican (1955) commemorating the 500th anniversary of Angelico’s death. That work was done by two legends in Italian art restoration: Leonetto Tintori and Alfio del Serra. The paint surface had been partially damaged because of overly aggressive cleaning prior to their intervention.
Close inspection of the figures and marble floor in the foreground reveal a decrease in the thickness of the paint. The plants beyond the marble enclosure in the background are practically illegible due to dirt and over-painting done at various times. Once the restorations are completed, both scholars and art-lovers will be able to admire, study, and enjoy these Renaissance masterpieces.
The restoration is being conducted by Lucia Biondi and coordinated by Angelo Tartuferi, who took over the management of the museum in early May. Again, we are grateful to Stefano Casciu, Regional Director of the Museums of Tuscany, and Marilena Tamassia who supervised the planning stage of the project until her recent retirement. We are grateful for the major gift for this project by the Peter Fogliano and Hal Lester Foundation.