Black and white photography. Florence and Fra Angelico through the eyes of a secular Benedictine Oblate

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Images of everyday life in Florence, in a few black and white shots, impart and recollect well the profound dialogue which takes place between the present and the important past of this city. They are the photographs of Mariangela Montanari, a secular Benedictine Oblate, Roman but Florentine by adoption, connected to the Benedictine Community of San Miniato al Monte. Her snapshots have been selected by the Italian Conference of Bishops to illustrate la Traccia, preparatory document for the 5th National Church Council which will take place in Florence during November of 2015, from the 9 until the 13, and will have as its theme “The New Humanism in Jesus Christ.” Of the twenty one photographs, all dedicated to Florence, four, with one of them to be found on the cover of the document, were taken at the Museum of San Marco – glimpses of art and mystery.

It concerns the fifth assembly of the Italian Church, held once every ten years. After Rome, Loreto, Palermo and Verona, this time it’s the turn of Florence, where approximately 2,300 delegates will attend and, perhaps, Pope Francis himself, formally invited by the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, and by Monsignor Cesare Nosiglia, Archbishop of Turin and President of the Preparatory Committee for the Congress.

The text of la Traccia, as has been stressed by Father Bernardo Gianni, benedictine monk and prior of the Florentine abbey of San Miniato, is enriched by a “parallel narrative,” which is the images captured “with feminine perspective and sensitivity,” by Marianangela Montanari, who was impassioned by photography in a journey of personal growth, human and spiritual, through contact with the Benedictine community. The photographic images portray Florence, but not only of its centre, with its artistic and historical beauty, there are also the peripheries, urban and existential, the railway station of Santa Maria Novella, the S. Ambrogio Market, the university hostels of Novoli, a soup kitchen for the poor. “I sought to recount” – says Mariangela – “not only the beauty and the history, but also life in the shadows, in the less visible corners. The attention that Florence has for human beings struck me, which shows through in its art but also in voluntary work and works of charity.”

Therein lies the Mystery, that exists inside and outside of San Miniato al Monte, which guards the city from on high, and embraces everything, as if the panorama was “the eye of God”. And there is, unavoidably, the encounter with Mystery incarnate, in Michelangelo, Masaccio and, above all, Fra Angelico. “The most beautiful discovery has been the Convent of San Marco which I had never seen before” relates Mariangela to “Corriere Fiorentino” on 27 November 2014 – the paintings of Beato Angelico where I would immerse myself, synthesize perfectly Florentine humanism and Christian faith”. The photographs of Marianangela Montanari, as she explains, are not researched or constructed images, but seek to gather and capture moments of emotion, wonder and faith.

The use of black and white, furthermore, elevates the role and the impact, physical and symbolic, of light. It is an intense light which illuminates, quoting la Traccia, “the darkness of bewildered contemporary anthropology” where “everything seems to be dissolved in a broth of equivalence.” It is an intense light which consents to find anew the “taste for the human,” travelling along in the wake of Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis, the “five paths” underpinning the Congress: “Go out, proclaim, abide, educate and transform.” This so as to teach a new humanism.

Oriana Eugenia Lanzafame

Alessandro Santini

transl. by Marcus Francis

Cella 2

Museum of San Marco, Cell n.2, Fra Angelico, Lamentation over the dead Christ

Da San Miniato

View from the Church of San Miniato al Monte


Piazza della Repubblica, Florence


Santa Maria Novella Railway Station

Trinità Masaccio

Church of Santa Maria Novella, Masaccio, Trinity


Museum of San Marco, Fra Angelico, Linen-drapers Tabernacle


Piazzale Michelangelo, David


Museum of San Marco, Fra Angelico, Annunciation


City centre, Street painter


Museum of San Marco, Chapter Room, Fra Angelico, Crucifixion

Da San Miniato 2

View from the Church of San Miniato al Monte

More info

La Traccia, text and pictures:

National Church Council:


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