Silver Treasury of Santissima Annunziata Fra Angelico Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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In 1450, Giovanni da Fiesole, Fra Angelico, who was a Dominican monk, began work on the Armadio degli Argenti (Silver Treasury of Santissima Annunziata). Piero de Medici commissioned the artwork in 1448, but the Italian friar did not start working on it until he returned to Rome.

This piece consists of small paintings to make a series that depicts the life of Christ. The Silver Treasury of Santissima Annunziata was for the Armadio degli Argenti, the Silver Chest at the church of the Santissima Annunziata. The church which St. Filippo Benizzi founded, was the motherhouse of the Servites. A legend about the fresco of the Annunciation at the church made it a famous site with thousands of worshippers flocking it and donating silver. Piero commissioned a wooden cabinet to store the silver and a painting to decorate the shutters of the chest.

Telling The Life of Christ

Fra Angelico did not manage to complete the project, but he did 32 small paintings with the help of his assistants. The paintings were on three large panels. This panel has nine scenes that outline the early years of Jesus Christ. The first one is the Mystic Wheel, which presents the vision of Ezekiel. It has an outer ring that shows the 12 Hebrew patriarchs and prophets with an inscription from Genesis around the arc. An inner wheel has the 8 writers of the New Testament - Saints Peter, James, Jude, Paul and the 4 evangelists. An inscription from the Gospel of John covers the inner ring.

The second scene is Annunciation, where the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel are in front of an open courtyard. Fra Angelico used the architecture of the church as a background. Nativity is third where a host of angels hover the manger as Mary and Joseph look down on baby Jesus lying on the floor. Circumcision shows baby Jesus undergoing the ceremony with three figures looking on in the background. Next scene is Adoration of the Magi where the three wise men went to pay their respects. Presentation at the Temple is the sixth scene, followed by Flight into Egypt, which shows the Holy Family escaping to from Bethlehem. Massacre of the Innocents depicts the infanticide ordered by Herod, and the final scene is Christ among the Doctors where Jesus begins his mission.

Explaining through Allegory

In every scene, inscriptions at the top and bottom seem to unfurl from a scroll. These writings present parallels between the Old and New Testaments. They tell of the life of Jesus by different prophets. One function of the Silver Treasury of Santissima Annunziata was that of an illustrated Bible. During the time, not many people had bibles. Therefore, this artwork provided relevant texts for different scenes as an educational tool.