Narrative Art at the Museum of the Basilica
I had a very emotional afternoon on November 30th: finally one of my dreams came true, the dream that brought me here thirteen years ago. Some of you may know that I graduated from the Courtauld University in central London in 2003 with a degree in History of Art. My studies were largely around the period of the Italian Renaissance, a passion, which lead me to changing country in 2006, with the intention of becoming a tour guide in Florence. Destiny had other things in mind for me though, and I happily became an English language teacher with little spare time to indulge in my passion for Art.
Thanks to the Culture club at English world, for students of a high level, I was about to delve once again into the world of art. I did an evening on how to speak about landscape and still life paintings. There wasn’t time to talk about Narrative Art, so I planned a Saturday afternoon to present the subject, in collaboration with the Museum of the Basilica in San Giovanni Valdarno. We had never before suggested a Saturday afternoon for our Culture Club and as such I was delighted to greet five of our students who came along. We began speaking about narrative art based on the ancient Greek myth Venus and Adonis, painted by Titian in the sixteenth century. Then with some indications about how to describe and recognize that which a painting is trying to convey, we looked at four beautiful paintings from different countries and time periods but which all shared the same subject matter, the biblical story of the Annunciation of the Virgin, or the so called moment of the incarnation of God, predicted by Isaiah in the Old Testament and spoken of by Luke in the New Testament.
I encouraged the group to consider the location that the artist had chosen to set the scene in, how the main characters were positioned and posed and why, what were their expressions and what can we under from this, how were they dressed, what other elements appear in the paintings and what do they add to the story, do they have particular symbolism for example. During this pleasant exchange of opinions and information, we were spoiled with chocolate, rooibos and vanilla tea and a vegan cake with chocolate drops, kindly donated by Gian Luigi from the bottega biologica in Piazza della Libertà in San Giovanni Valdarno.
Nourished with cake and information, we walked over to the museum in Piazza Masaccio together. It always fills me with a good impression entering the museum, for how beautiful, modern and full of treasures it is. We went immediately to the room which houses the Annunciation of Montecarlo from around 1430, painted by the Dominican monk Fra Angelo, who preached the message of God through his paintbrush and by means of his special talent for expressing emotion and warmth in his paintings.
We looked together at how the frame, even if not origin, is in itself part of the painting, dividing the heavenly space from the earthy and positioning us outside but looking in on the event, which for believers, changed the world.
One of the most interesting iconographic motifs invented by Fra Angelico, is the inclusion of the image of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden on the same canvas as the image of the Annunciation of Mary, linking the old and new testaments together. The expulsion is the reason that it was necessary for God to send his son to save us. The painting is rich with symbolism and I strongly recommend that you go to see it.
A heartfelt thank you to those people who passed an afternoon with me, who put their trust in me and who have reminded me why I cam to live here in the first place. I am already considering other similar visits for next year.