Fra Angelico, San Marco Altarpiece, 1432-35

Fra Angelico. San Marco Altarpiece (center panel). 1438-1440. Tempera on wood. 220 x 227 cm. Museo di San Marco, Florence.

When the Dominican order claimed San Marco, it was badly in need of renovation. Cosimo de Medici sponsored the rebuilding of the church and convent in 1436, hiring the architect, Michelozzo, to design the new structure. The San Marco project was Cosimo de Medici’s first major personal commission as Duke of Tuscany (Kent, 138). As was custom, Cosimo, referred to most often as Cosimo the Elder, had the convent of San Marco rededicated to the Medici family saints Cosmas and Damian in addition to the church’s original patron, Saint Mark, in 1443.

Fra Angelico’s altarpiece for the church depicts the Madonna with Saint Mark (to her immediate right) and Saint Dominic (to her left). Next to Saint Mark is Saint John the Evangelist, who was the patron saint to Cosimo’s father, Giovanni. Opposite Saint John is Saint Francis, patron saint to Piero, Cosimo’s oldest son. Saint Lawrence, patron to Cosimo’s brother, Lorenzo, is farthest from the Madonna on her right. Saints Cosmas and Damian, kneeling in the foreground of the altarpiece, are the Medici patron saints (Hood). Fra Angelico’s altarpiece is thus recognized as “a preeminent public expression of Medici piety, patronage and political power” (Liversidge, 16), painted for the high altar of the church and convent that was funded by the Medici dynasty.


Hood, William. Fra Angelico at San Marco. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Kent, Dale. Cosimo De’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance: The Patron’s Oeuvre. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Liversidge, Michael. “Fra Angelico and the San Marco Altarpiece: Two Newly Discovered Panels.” In Fra Angelico: The San Marco Panels. Dorchester, UK: Duke’s Auctioneers, 1997. Auction catalog.

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