Sunday, March 6, 2011


The Orange Cloister
I love doing tours on Mondays, when the major ‘must see’ galleries are closed (Uffizi, Accademia, Pitti Palace being the big main ones) because then I get the time to take people to other really wonderful, tasty, delightful and often barely known (for no other reason other than Florence has the greatest concentration of UNESCO heritage protected sites in the world) places, and you need a lifetime in the city to see everything she has to offer. Il Chiostro degli Aranci, or the Orange Cloister,  is open Monday afternoon only, from 3pm-6pm. 

The cloister is inside the Badia Fiorentina  (Badia is a short-cut way of saying abbazia, or abbey) which was first constructed in the late eleventh century on land donated to the Benedictines and bought by the Willa, the mother of Ugo the Marquis of Tuscany. It developed an important collection of illuminated manuscripts as well as their its own flourishing workshop of bookbinders and copiers making their own production. The abbey was restructured in 1285 by the great Arnolfo di Cambio (the first architect of the cathedral, Santa Croce church and the last set of the city’s walls amongst other things) and the beautiful Gothic bell tower is one of the jewels of the Florentine skyline. In the early renaissance period one of the greatest architects of the city, Bernardo Rossellino restructured the two storey cloister of the oranges and the lunettes of the first floor were frescoed with twelve episodes from the life of St Benedict, the father of the European monasticism and, thus, a worthy subject for an abbey’s cloister where the monks followed his rule.

Beating the devil out of a monk
The painter is referred to as the ‘Master of the Chiostro degli Aranci’ as his identity is unknown and the frescoes were executed during the 1430’s. His style is described by the art historian Millard Meiss as ‘blend[ing]the geometry of [Paolo] Uccello, the luminism of Domenico [Veneziano], and the narrative repertory of [Filippo] Lippi with an idiom that is largely Angelican [Fra Angelico]’, suffice to say that Millard thinks, as many others, that it is pretty wonderful. The photo depicted is one of my favourite scenes from the life of Benedict, when he beats the devil out of the monk possessed by the devil, giving origin to the expression we have today ‘to beat the devil out of someone’.
So if you find yourself in Florence on a Monday, you could dedicate the afternoon to ‘time with Benedict’ with a little cruise around the fabulous cloister of the oranges (you are likely to be the only one there) and then walk up to the other magnificent Benedictine church and monastery on the hill overlooking Florence, called San Miniato al Monte, and see similar beautiful episodes from the life of St Benedict from the later 1300’s. You will notice that Benedict is now wearing a different colour robe, black turns to white…. but this will be the subject for another blog…..


  1. Looks fabulous - please take me there next time we meet in Florence. Jackie x

  2. Wow girl! You really are a fountain of knowledge! You amaze me! I love Mondays too, but for other reasons:) I love getting back to work after the weekend. Buon Lavoro!