Convento

Il Convento

The convent of Saint Dominic, halfway between Florence and Fiesole, was founded in 1405-1406 at the initiative of John of Dominic (d. 1413) and the Bishop of Fiesole, Jacopo Altoviti (d. 1403), both friars of the convent of Santa Maria Novella as a centre of reformation of the Dominican Order. In the “little convent”, which has been inhabited since the last months of 1406, the future Archbishop of Florence, Saint Antonino Pierozzi (d. 1459) and the great painter Fra John of Fiesole, better known as Fra Angelico (d. 1455) were formed in the religious life of the Dominican Order. The part of the convent built in the fourteenth century was finished in about 1418 with the generous gift of Barnaba degli Agli. In 1420 Fra Angelico painted the Madonna in Blessing, on the walls of the entrance to the little church. A recent restoration (1960) brought back a sinopite of the original.
In the Chapter room, he also painted the large fresco of the Crucifixion, a testimony of art and of piety for his beloved convent. Owing to the abolition of the religious orders, wanted by Napoleon, the friars were expropriated from the convent (1808). They could buy the convent in 1879, but, since they hadn't enough money to pay the exorbitant price requested by the owner for the paintings of Fra Angelico, two frescoes were detached from the walls and sold to enrich the museums of Paris and Saint Petersburg.
In about the middle of the 15th century because of a great expansion, the brothers founded a new convent in Florence: San Marco (Saint Marks), where Fra Angelico worked for many years and Girolamo Savonarola lived his last years. In 1491 work on the wing of the convent parallel to the church on the side of the cloister toward Florence began. The expenses for the expansion were assumed be the Salviati family. While Brother Dominic of Pescia (a companion in the martyrdom of Savonarola) was prior, an addition to the south of the new wing was built. This new addition housed afterwards the library. Thanks to the generosity of the Genovese noble Jeronimo Brignole, who became a friar with the name of Fra Cipriano, a new novitiate was built between 1588 and 1590 (now home to a part of the European University Institute). The novitiate was of three stories and was based on the design of the architect Brother Dominic Postigiani, a Dominican of San Marco.

Besides John of Dominic, Saint Antonino and Fra Angelico, we must remember other celebrated friars who have passed through the convent of Fiesole: Santi Pagnini, who reawakened an interest in Biblical Studies; Santi Cini, founder of the confraternity of the church of Saint Thomas Aquinas in via della Pergola in Florence; Vittorio Ricci, Apostolic Prefect of Formosa and central China, who revealed to the West the discovery of the Australian Continent.