‘Fra Angelico. The Mocking of Christ with the Virgin and St Dominic (1442)’ by Mark Sadler
Frieze Masters Magazine No.3 October 2014
In cell No.7 of the Convent of San Marco in Florence, a blindfolded Christ sits crowned with thorns on a red box. Behind him, against a green rectangle, a disembodied head and four hands hover round his face in a menacing swarm that compresses the events of his mockery into one ignominious moment. Soon to be stripped bare and executed, he sits, unable to meet our gaze, anchored to his platform by a complex architecture of folds. On the edge of the dais is his weeping mother, Mary, and, beside her, St Dominic is lost in scripture. If Dominic looked up, he might balk at not finding a robed and tonsured Dominican friar before him, since the painting was originally intended only for ascetic eyes, not our secular and possibly ambivalent contemporary gaze.
Angelico’s TheMocking of Christis a diagram for meditation on the humiliating and violent form of public love at the heart of Christianity; a love that can only be proven by human sacrifice. The very strangeness of the picture, however, strips back the biblical narrative to a set of human questions that transcend its theological envelope and reach both into the past and the future. I see René Magritte and Kazimir Malevich in its architectonics, colours and design; Marcel Duchamp in its mechanics; and I sense Aristotle underpinning Thomas Aquinas in its evacuated and diagrammatical cosmology. When I looked at this painting for the first time in 1986 — the summer before art school — the religious faith of my Catholic upbringing had all but left me. I gave up praying to paint; but then art may well be, as Terry Eagleton states, a transposed theological concept, which frames the mystery of what it means to be in the world.
First published in Issue 3