His Blood Shrieks Out: The Blood of Christ in Fra Angelico’s Frescoes for the Novices’ Cells at the Convent of San Marco, Florence” by Benjamin W. Allsopp





The seven cells of the novices, numbers fifteen to twenty-one, in the south dormitory at the Dominican convent of San Marco, Florence contain frescoes executed by the workshop of Fra Angelico in the early 1440s (Fig. 1-7).1 These works were part of a larger Christological program by the friar-painter, constituting seven of the fifty frescoes in the cloister, chapter house, and dormitories. In each of the novice cell frescoes, St. Dominic, the founder of the eponymous mendicant order, is represented in prayer at the base of a Crucifix, upon which Christ bleeds profusely. Set against a plain white background, the vivid red of Christ’s blood in each of these frescoes is visually arresting in its various iterations as it drips from the hands, gushes violently out of the side-wound towards the devotee, and trails down the base of the Crucifix onto the barren ground. The seven frescoes have, on the whole, received little scholarly attention, due to their repetitiveness and likely production by Fra Angelico’s workshop, with Benozzo Gozzoli (c. 1421-97) likely playing a prominent role in their execution.2 


Fig. 1. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 15 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York

Yet such repetitiveness prompts one to consider the importance that was attached to their content. These frescoes were directed towards young men entering the Dominican Order who were training to become fully-fledged friars. The consistency with which the blood of Christ is emphasized in the novice cells underscores the importance of this image in the training of initiates to the Dominican Order. While some of the cells of the laymen and friars feature depictions of crucifixions, these are never as conspicuously bloody as those in the novices’ cells. These bloody images in the cells of the novices were designed to aid their inhabitants in their initial absorption of Dominican belief and values. In order to understand how the novices at San Marco would have interpreted the representations of Christ’s blood in these frescoes, they must be contextualized against the dual discourses of Dominican theology and conventual phlebotomy.3 The study sheds new light on the understudied topic of the depiction of blood in Italian Renaissance art, focusing on conventual images of Christ on the cross that, given their Quattrocento Italian provenance, are outstanding for their prominence of blood. 


Fig. 2. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 16 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York.
Fig. 3. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 17 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York.
Fig. 4. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 18 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York.
Fig. 5. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 19 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Reproduced with the permission of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali / Archivi Alinari, Firenze.
Fig. 6. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 20 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York.
Fig. 7. Workshop of Fra Angelico, St. Dominic at the Crucifix, ca. 1442, fresco, 61 x 31.5 in. (155 x 80 cm). Cell 21 (Novice), Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York.


The only author to have written extensively on the novice cells’ frescoes is William Hood, who, in an article of 1986, connected the images with those of St. Dominic in a thirteenth-century Dominican prayer treatise, De modo orandi (‘On the Ways of Prayer’).4 In her review of Hood’s 1993 volume on the San Marco decoration, Mary-Ann Winkelmes suggested the possibility for future scholarship to situate the “particularly bloody” novice cells’ frescoes within the context of late medieval devotion to the body and blood of Christ.5 In 2019, Marco Piana delivered a talk on the San Marco fresco cycle as a whole, connecting it to blood devotion, flagellant practices, and hypothesizing the frescoes’ possible impact upon the Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98).6 The prominent depiction of Christ’s blood in works by Fra Angelico has been the subject of passing comments by several scholars. Timothy Verdon notes that, of early Quattrocento Italian painters, Fra Angelico was the most explicit in the representation of blood.7 As far back as 1853, Vincenzo Marchese noted the “copious” streams of blood pouring from Christ in St. Dominic at the Cross, located in the convent cloister of San Marco.8 Giorgio Bonsanti also mentions the “copious” amount of blood in the St. Dominic at the Cross located in the dormitory corridor, a fresco that novices and friars would walk past every time they left their cells to frequent any other area in the convent or to exit the complex.9 Georges Didi-Huberman refers to the “repeated, and hence unforgettable, shock of bloody blotches” at the bottom of the cell Crucifixion frescoes.10 While there has been significant scholarship on blood in medieval culture in the last two decades, such work generally focuses on the “brutal realism” of Christ’s blood in Northern European culture.11 Given that Italian artists did not depict Christ’s blood with the same exuberance and goriness as did Northern artists, the blood of Christ in Italian art has, on the whole, received less scholarly attention.12

As a cohesive set, the frescoes in the seven novice cells are the bloodiest of Fra Angelico’s images at San Marco. Indeed, as images of Christ on the cross produced in Italy during the second quarter of the Quattrocento, the frescoes are outstanding for their prominence of blood. The physical and intellectual environments of these frescoes prompted the viewers, whether that be the novices or the novice master, to contemplate the painted blood with great intensity. There is no precedent for frescoes adorning the cell of a member of a religious order.13 Moreover, the novices who occupied these cells were around sixteen years of age and undergoing a year of study and training, with an aim to prepare them for preaching, before being fully admitted as clerics of the Order.14 When not being trained by the novice master in the art of prayer and liturgical recitation, they were expected to occupy their minds in the most productive way possible: through contemplation and study in their cells.15 These frescoes were available for constant viewing by the respective resident of each cell. By point of comparison, the fresco in the corridor leading to their cells, depicting St. Dominic at the Cross, has a similar emphasis on the blood of Christ, but due to its position, it is unlikely that it was the object of such prolonged contemplation as those in the cells of the novices. These youths confronted images of Christ’s blood for sustained periods of time every day.

On one level, of course, the blood would have been read as a Eucharistic symbol, particularly given the Order’s associations with the Feast of the Corpus Domini: the liturgy for the feast was written by the great Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74).16 The feast celebrated the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist and its salvific role in humankind’s salvation. However, the depicted blood at San Marco invited further associations. Caroline Walker Bynum has suggested that scholarship has obscured modern understanding of medieval blood devotion by overemphasizing the Eucharistic element of Christ’s blood. She argues convincingly that devotion to Christ’s blood was not only restricted to a devotion to the Eucharist, pointing in particular to the proliferation of blood relics of Christ in the late Middle Ages.17 As discussed below, the Dominicans believed blood relics of Christ to be a theological impossibility. Yet this does not preclude my basic point that the blood of Christ could have been seen as something beyond just Eucharistic in Dominican theology and art. The novice cells’ frescoes were not associated with any altar and were embedded into the quotidian life of the inhabitant of each cell, functioning in a didactic rather than a liturgical context.18 This is not to argue that the painted blood would not be seen as Eucharistic, but that it was open to understandings beyond a strictly Eucharistic context. These interpretations might pertain to miraculous blood from sculpted crucifixes, or to the blood that flowed through a fifteenth-century Dominican’s body.19

How, then, did the novices understand images of Christ’s blood in their cells, designed by a friar-painter from their own convent? In the first section of the present study, the prominence of the painted blood is considered against the context of late medieval Dominican theology on the blood of Christ, with particular attention given to the writings of Catherine of Siena and arguments presented at the 1463 debate on the Holy Blood at the papal court. The second section explores how the monastic practice of phlebotomy may have influenced how the novices responded to the representation of a bleeding human body in their living quarters. At the time of the frescoes’ production, the influential Antoninus Pierozzi (1389-1459) – future archbishop of Florence and saint – was prior of San Marco. In his Summa, Antoninus recommends the use of sermon collections by Jacopo da Voragine (d. 1298) and Giovanni da San Gimignano (d. 1333).20 Devotional texts and sermon collections produced by Dominicans in the Duecento and Trecento were still an active source of inspiration for the Florentine Dominicans in the Quattrocento.21 Examining these late medieval sources indicates that the blood in the novice cells’ frescoes could evoke a multitude of responses from its original viewers, both in theological and physiological terms.



Blood on the Walls: The Blood of Christ in Dominican Theology


In Antoninus’ c. 1454 Opera a ben vivere, he proclaims that because Christ wanted humanity to participate in God’s kingdom he sacrificed his own body on the cross and, in so doing, paid humankind’s debt of sin with Christ’s precious blood.22 Yet beyond the well-established redemptive quality of the sanguinis christi, Fra Angelico produced the San Marco frescoes at a time when the exact nature of Christ’s blood was a topic of great attention in Dominican theology. In 1463, the Dominicans articulated their doctrine on the Holy Blood in a debate held at the papal court of Pius II (1405-64). In opposition to the Franciscans, the Dominicans argued that the blood of the Passion “was never deprived of hypostatic union with the Word,” thus remaining divine upon leaving Christ’s body.23 Furthermore, the Dominicans emphasized that Christ’s blood was absolute proof of his humanity as blood pertained “to the verity of human nature;” as such, the shedding of Christ’s blood was fundamental to the redemption of humankind.24 At the debate, the Dominicans also announced the impossibility of Passion blood relics, since it was their belief that the blood of Christ had not been left on earth but returned to Christ’s body during the Ascension.25 The Dominican views expressed at the 1463 debate were not new. Indeed, many of the arguments were rooted in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, which by then were nearly 200 years old. However, with the increasing popularity of blood relics during the late medieval era, the issue became ever more pressing for the Dominicans in the Quattrocento and, during this time, a number of members of the Order of Preachers wrote treatises on the divinity of Christ’s Passion blood.26 The San Marco frescoes were produced in a theological climate in which increasing emphasis was placed on the divinity of the blood that Christ shed at the Passion.


Fig. 8. Fra Angelico and Workshop, Crucifixion with the Virgin, Mary Magdalene, and St. Dominic, ca. 1442, fresco, 69 x 53.5 in. (176 x 136 cm). Cell 25, Convent of San Marco, Florence. Wikimedia Commons, Artwork in the Public Domain / Web Gallery of Art

A focus on the blood of Christ dominated not only the sphere of highly erudite Dominican debate, but also permeated popular devotional practices within the Order’s orbit. The writings of Catherine of Siena (1347-80), in their emphasis on the divinity and redemptive power of Christ’s blood, foreshadowed the arguments of the Dominicans in the 1463 debate.27 Scholars have long recognized Catherine’s outstanding devotion to the blood of Christ.28 Beyond their general emphasis on Christ’s blood, Catherine’s writings encouraged an understanding of the Holy Blood that went beyond its perceived powers to wash away sin, towards metaphors of Christ’s blood as nourishment and life.29 To give but one example, in a 1377 letter, Catherine describes how Christ gave his blood as drink and that this “blood is so sweet and mild and so strong that it heals every weakness, and brings life out of death.”30 Significantly for this study, scholars have suggested that the writings and cult of Catherine were especially prominent in the devotional life of Observant Dominicans in Florence in the first half of the Quattrocento.31 Antoninus had close links with Catherine, writing a biography of the holy woman.32 With Catherine’s writings circulating in a variety of manuscripts during the Quattrocento, elements of her blood theology surely transfused into the intellectual sphere of the Florentine community of Observant Dominicans, especially during the period from 1439 to 1445 when Antoninus was prior at San Marco.33 The prominence of blood in the novice cells’ frescoes encouraged them to reflect on the divinity, life-giving ability, and redemptive power of Christ’s blood as emphasized in contemporary Dominican theology. The frescoes are remarkably bare and devoid of geospatial details, further focusing the viewer’s attention on the blood of Christ.34 These frescoes are unusual because the background of the images consists of an entirely plain, white intonaco (the preparatory plaster layer of fresco).35 The only figures in these frescoes are St. Dominic and Christ; this is in contrast to the more narrative-based and multi-figured scenes in the cells of the friars and lay brothers. These frescoes feature various episodes from the life of Christ, ranging chronologically from the Annunciation to the Noli me tangere (‘Do not touch me’). By point of comparison with the novice cells, in cell twenty-five there is a Crucifixion scene that consists of three attendant figures: the historical actors of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene at the base of the Cross and St. Dominic. Christ on the cross is set against a dark, almost black sky, and as such, the falling blood is not as visually striking as it is in the novices’ cells (Fig. 8)


Fig. 9. Detail of figure 3

Fig. 10. Detail of figure 7


The images of Christ on the cross in the novices’ cells are particularly “bloody,” as compared not only to the other Fra Angelico frescoes at San Marco but also to painting in late medieval central Italy. Blood falls in thick drops from Christ’s hands, the blood from his side-wound projects with noticeable force, and the blood from his feet rolls down the base of the cross into dramatic rivulets that extend across the ground (Fig. 9, 10). To some degree, this recalls earlier Italian images of Christ on the cross in which Christ bleeds just as profusely. For example, in a Crucifixion panel by Pietro Lorenzetti from the 1340s, the blood projects from Christ’s side-wound with as much prominence as it does in the novices’ cells at San Marco (Fig. 11).36 Nevertheless, the blood does not dominate the Lorenzetti panel, in contrast to the later San Marco frescoes. In the panel, other elements vie for the viewer’s attention, such as the gilding of the background, the distorted pose of the Bad Thief crucified to Christ’s left, and the various dynamics of the groups of figures at the base of the cross. In this image, and indeed in virtually all paintings of Christ on the cross that precede the novice cells’ frescoes, the flowing of blood is just one among many pictorial elements that compete for the viewer’s attention. The novice’s frescoes are extraordinary in their combination of narrative sparseness and material bareness, enabling the blood of Christ to offer itself up as the primary focus of the viewer’s attention. 


Fig. 11. Pietro Lorenzetti, The Crucifixion, 1340s, fresco, 16.5 x 12.5 in. (41.9 x 31.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and Gwynne Andrews Fund, 2002. Image in the Public Domain.

The novice’s attention may also have been drawn to the frescoed blood due to its material makeup. The paint used to render these drops and streams of blood was produced with the pigment of haematite, a mineral that itself was believed to be ‘blood-like’ in nature.37 In the first century CE, Pliny the Elder stated that the stone reproduces the color of red lead, and that genuine haematite should give off a blood red smear when rubbed. He also notes its quality as a healing substance, particularly for predicaments of a blood-related nature.38 In his treatise On Minerals, the Dominican Albertus Magnus (d. 1280) pointed out that the term ‘haematite’ derives from the Greek for ‘bloodstone.’39 Novices were perhaps aware of the fact that the represented blood in the frescoes was rendered with the ‘bloodstone,’ making them contemplate ever more intensely the blood of Christ. 

The location of these frescoes also encouraged contemplation of Christ’s blood. In their cells, novices could view the painted blood in close detail. The emptiness of the surrounding environment enhances the visual prominence of this blood; the cell walls at San Marco are white-washed. The novices’ cells are sign40 Despite the larger size of the rooms, the frescoes in the novices’ cells are significantly smaller than those of the friars’ cells.41 The original furnishings of the cell likely consisted of just a bed, a desk, and a prie-dieu.42 The intonaco of the background, combined with the large amount of white used in the fresco, augment the appearance of a continuum between fresco and wall and an overall visual impression of great emptiness and whiteness.43 This made the red brushstrokes of haematite that represent Christ’s blood ever more visually compelling.44 The blood which flows from the upper-half of Christ’s body is painted onto plain intonaco, as if painted straight onto the wall of the cell (Fig. 10). This directness of paint to wall and of red to white evokes the words of the Trecento prior of the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Novella, Jacopo Passavanti (d. 1357). Speaking of the crucified Christ as a way to achieve eternal happiness, he states “His blood shrieks out, and offers mercy and pity.”45 The visual emptiness of the cell and the barrenness of the fresco allow the red marks of painted blood to assert their prominence: to “shriek” in visual terms. 

The importance of an empty, barren environment for spiritual edification was a common theme in Dominican discourse. A popular Dominican topos was that of the preacher in the desert.46 In a sermon of 1304, the Dominican preacher Giordano da Pisa (d. 1311) described the wonder of the preacher who is able to flee from the distractions of everyday life. He states that just as Christ was able to reject the vanities of the everyday world, so the preacher should retreat to the desert, for “this desert could be your cell, your house, your room … and so those who want to be saved must leave the world either by going into the desert or becoming religious or fleeing from people.”47 This topos of a preacher in the desert functioned as an emblem of a condition of inner isolation, an isolation which made meditation and contemplation possible.48 As such, it is fitting to consider Catherine of Siena’s rejection of the worldly, in favor of meditation on the blood of Christ.49 In a letter to Raymond of Capua, she urges her confessor, the future Master of the Dominican Order, to embrace the blood of Christ. Describing her own desire for the Holy Blood, she states that she was “deluded” when she looked for satisfaction in other people. Now, when she is lonely she desires to “find companionship in the blood, and in this way I will find both the blood and these other people, and in the blood I will drink their love and affection.”50 For Catherine, the loneliness that is conjoined with a rejection of the world can be transformed into joy through meditation on Christ’s blood. The original effect of the sparse novice frescoes, each adorning a desolate cell, can be better understood through Dominican exhortations like these, calling for worldly rejection in favor of meditation on the Holy Blood. 

For late medieval Dominicans, there was much to be contemplated in the blood of Christ. The theology of the order held that it was the blood of Christ which constituted the redemptive sacrifice; Aquinas argued that it was the blood, not the body, of Christ, which “is more specially the image of our Lord’s Passion.”51 Central to the Dominicans’ argument of 1463 was the belief that it was the blood Christ shed which enabled the act of redemption.52 This was in opposition to the Franciscan belief that the shedding of Christ’s blood was merely a by-product of the redemptive act of his death.53 Key to the Dominican belief in the redemptive ability of Christ’s blood was a conviction that a person’s blood contained the life of that person within it. According to Aquinas, “Christ’s blood, or His bodily life, which is in the blood, is the price of our redemption.”54 At the 1463 debate, the Dominican speakers emphasized the Levitican belief that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.”55 Later in the debate, they described how Christ on the cross “pour[ed] out His life with blood.”56 For the Dominicans, the blood of Christ was equivalent to God himself, and the shedding of his blood was the act that constituted redemption.57 


Fig. 12.. Fra Angelico and workshop, Crucifixion with the Three Marys and Saint Dominic, ca. 1442, 70 x 59 in. (180 x 150 cm) Cell 40 (Lay brother) Convent of San Marco, Florence. Photo credit: Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, New York.

In each of the novice cells’ frescoes St. Dominic is positioned to the side of the Crucifix, enabling a clear view of Christ’s blood which falls across the ground. The blood rolls in three or four rivulets down the raised mound in varying degrees of thickness and in a distinctive manner that invites closer attention. The trails of blood appear to be moving towards the bottom edge of the fresco as if dribbling into the space of the cell itself (Fig. 4).58 Of particular note is cell twenty in which a trail of blood visibly makes contact with the edge of the frescoed border (Fig. 6). Bearing in mind that for the Dominicans the blood of Christ indicated his divinity, corporeal identity, and sacrifice, these rivulets were likely viewed as more than just narrative details. The blood on the ground is located just above eye level when one stands up close to the fresco. In his Life of Saint Mary Magdalen, the Dominican preacher Domenico Cavalca (d. 1342) placed great emphasis on the blood that flowed onto the ground surrounding the Crucifixion. He describes the sadness it causes him to contemplate the blood of Christ shed upon the earth, which took the form of “three pools” around the base of the Cross. Although these pools were a “marvel to see,” it was only the Madonna who truly knew what they signified.59 Cavalca subsequently narrates how Mary Magdalene, on the night of the Crucifixion, requested of the Virgin that they “stay standing here this night, to watch over this Blood, that it may not be trampled on, nor touched by any unclean thing.” The Virgin replies that there is no need for it will be guarded. She subsequentially addresses the earth, “Earth, guard well my Son’s Blood, for never was such a noble thing laid upon thee.”60 In the fresco of cell forty in the lay dormitory, St. Dominic prostrates himself on the ground, gazing intently at the rivulets of blood descending from the cross (Fig. 12). This image, along with Cavalca’s account, indicates one way in which novices at San Marco might have understood these frescoes that include Christ’s shed blood on the ground. 

For this audience of Dominican novices, the painted traces of blood represented something worthy of meditation; they constituted independent foci of contemplation. An emphasis on the redemptive potential of the smallest amount of Christ’s blood was a common rhetorical motif in Dominican devotion. In a sermon of 1303, Giordano da Pisa stated that one drop of Christ’s shed blood “was sufficient for all the world, and for a thousand worlds.”61 The Dominican preacher, Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), argued that, due to the holiness of Christ’s humanity, “one drop of blood, without death, would have sufficed to redeem humanity.”62 Hence, each rivulet and each drop of blood represented in the novice cells’ frescoes was perceived as more than just the body fluid of Christ. Each trace, while containing the life of Christ within it, encapsulated the act of redemption. 

The Blood of Christ as Consolation: The Conventual Practice of Phlebotomy

Christ’s blood was proof of his humanity, particularly for the Dominicans. Yet despite the power of blood as a signifier of what Christ shared with humanity, scholarship has not sufficiently addressed the actual lived contexts through which late medieval Dominicans would have encountered their own blood. To understand how the San Marco novices may have responded to the images of Christ shedding copious blood in their cells, it is necessary to consider the situations in which this audience would have seen actual human blood on a regular basis. One important ritual for thinking about the frescoes is that of communal flagellation, particularly given the imagery of cell twenty (Fig. 6).63 The constitutions of the Order stipulate that the prior was to perform flagellation each day on errant friars in the Chapter Room before the entire community during the confession of faults.64 Yet beyond flagellation, the regular practice of phlebotomy for medical purposes signified another ‘bloody’ aspect in the life of a Dominican brother, as it was for a member of any religious order. In considering this medical procedure in the life of a novice, it is relevant that, for late medieval Dominicans, the “scientific” realities of the human body provided a means through which to comprehend the extent of Christ’s sacrifice. I suggest that the blood that was shed by a novice through bloodletting influenced how they viewed the images of the sacrificed Christ in their cells; likewise, the cell frescoes may have influenced how the novices reacted towards the sight of blood leaving their own bodies.65

Dominican discourse of the fourteenth century is notable for its incorporation of physiology.66 In a sermon delivered in 1303 at Santa Maria Novella, Giordano da Pisa referred to how blood was the primary “vertù” of nourishment, since it was able to convert itself into bone, flesh, and veins.67 There is noticeable use of physiological metaphor in the Summa of Giovanni da San Gimignano, a copy of which is known to have been in the library of Santa Maria Novella during the fifteenth century.68 One of the most memorable analogies of the tract is that of the mutually comforting organs, which states that as pain in one organ mitigates pain in another, similarly “the passion of Christ and the suffering of the saints alleviate human pain and toil.”69 Domenico Cavalca’s Specchio di Croce from the 1330s is particularly noteworthy for its theo-physiological considerations.70 At the debate of 1463, the Dominicans stated that it was “hard to believe that any superfluous blood could have been found in Christ at the time of His Passion since He was in the prime of life and His habit and way of life were most temperate.”71 These examples demonstrate that physiological considerations, as well as physiological analogies, featured heavily in Dominican theological discourse. As such, it becomes ever more pressing to consider how the surgical procedure of bloodletting may have conditioned audience response to the novice cells’ frescoes at San Marco.   

Blood-letting was a popular form of medicinal therapy prior to the Enlightenment and was practiced as both a prophylactic procedure and as a curative remedy.72 Most relevant to the case of the novices at San Marco, phlebotomy as a prophylactic procedure functioned as a regular means to keep the human body healthy and purged of excess matter.73 By combatting excess blood through bloodletting on a regular basis, it was believed that the body progressed further towards the desired but ultimately unattainable equilibrium of the humors.74>

Within religious orders, prophylactic phlebotomy was standardized practice. Documentary sources demonstrate that, beginning in the ninth century and continuing up until the sixteenth, virtually all religious orders practiced “periodic bloodletting.” Nearly all religious communities featured chapters on bloodletting within their constitutions.75 The Dominican chapter begins thus: “Blood-letting is to be done four times a year: first in September; secondly after Christmas; thirdly after Easter; and fourthly round the feast of St John the Baptist.”76 Due to the fact that Dominican ideology of the Quattrocento emphasized the need to make an effort to return to the principles of the original constitutions, it is a safe assumption that the novices at San Marco were blood-let at least four times a year.77 By contrast, a Florentine layperson generally received a routine phlebotomy only once a year.78

A barber-surgeon usually performed the blood-letting, a manual operation.79 The “barber’s room” at San Marco, now known as the small refectory, was almost certainly the place where the Dominican brothers were bled.80 A cursory sketch of the practice during this period involved the patient being given a stick to grasp, thereby encouraging the swelling of the veins in one arm, further aided by a tight ligature. Blood would then be drawn from a vein by way of a lengthwise incision and collected in a basin.81 When the requisite amount of blood had been drawn, the ligature was removed, a bandage applied to the incision, and drugs given to the patient to ease the pain.82 One can well imagine that it must have been frightening for the young novice to witness blood gush from his arm. Beyond the obvious shock factor in seeing the life-force spurt out of his body, he was undergoing an operation that was known to be painful, dangerous, and possibly deadly.83 In his 1584 tract on phlebotomy, the barber-surgeon Pietro Piacentino stated that the primary task of a surgeon performing a phlebotomy was to stabilize the “flinching body of an ill and frightened human being.”84 For a Dominican novice, apprehension of the procedure may have been ever greater due to his young age. Phlebotomy was generally not practiced on anyone under the age of fourteen.85 For a fifteen-year-old novice, the bloodletting they underwent at San Marco may have been their first exposure to the operation, further fueling their anxiety.86

In his instructions for Dominican novices, Humbert of Romans (d. 1277) recommended meditation on things that particularly relate to oneself.87 The frescoes adorning the novices’ cells that represent Christ bleeding profusely may have offered the novices with a model of consolation in their anticipation for their quarterly phlebotomies. No scholar has made a link between depictions of Christ bleeding on the Cross and the presumed fear of phlebotomy experienced by the images’ audiences.88 During the late medieval era, representations of the suffering body of Christ were often designed to direct the viewer’s attention to their own physical being.89 In rendering the bleeding body of Christ on the wall of their cells, a body which purged humankind of its sins, the frescoes directed the novices to look at their own physical body, encouraging them to perceive their phlebotomy as a purgative procedure in both a corporeal and spiritual sense. Late medieval Christian thought closely associated the healing of the physical body with the cleansing of the spiritual self.90 Accordingly, theologians claimed that prior to Original Sin, humankind existed in a perfect state of humoral equilibrium, with a perfect amount of blood within the body.91 After the Fall, this equilibrium was lost and humankind became susceptible to illness, a perpetual reminder of sin.92 It has been suggested that the medieval attitude towards phlebotomy was that of an effort to purge the human body of sin.93 Commenting on monastic phlebotomy, Mary Yearl suggests that the four-day period which took up the time of the operation and its recovery was seen as a “re-creation,” not just in terms of a period of rest from monastic duties, but also in terms of recreating the body and the spirit.94 The Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) clearly articulated this idea of bloodletting as a spiritual renewal in his sermon “On Bloodletting,” in which a parallel is explicitly drawn between the shedding of excess blood and the purgation of sin.95 Relieving the body of excess blood was important for both physical and spiritual welfare. 

Dominican literature of the period shows that the concept of bloodletting was considered a spiritual act analogous to the Passion. In one sermon, the Dominican Martin von Troppau (d. 1278) explicitly described Christ’s Passion as a phlebotomy.96 The Summa of Giovanni da San Gimignano describes how “the love among the organs is so great that sometimes when one of them is damaged another is liberated, as happens in cautery, phlebotomy, and surgery, and as is revealed in parallel manner by Christ’s Passion.”97 Jacopo da Voragine makes reference to Christ as a bloodlet patient in one of his Lenten sermons. Voragine argues that of the four causes for illness – gluttony, cold, corruption of the blood, the corruption of the humors – gluttony is the only one that can be cured by man himself. He states, “The rest are cured by Christ: cold by the heat of his sweat, corrupt blood by his own bleeding, and corrupt humours by the bitter medicine of the gall he was given to drink on the cross.”98 Esther Cohen highlights that in the original Latin text, Voragine refers to the “bleeding” of Christ as “minutia,” a medical term which referred to the practice of prophylactic bloodletting.99 Monastic recipients of bloodletting were referred to as “minuti.”100 In his Specchio della Croce, Cavalca implies that Christ suffered more than a “minuto,” describing how Christ wanted to be bled not by a barber’s “lanciuola” (‘lancet’), but by the Jews with a lance and nails.101 In this and other texts, phlebotomy is presented as a comfortable activity in comparison to Christ’s shedding of blood at the Passion.102

Most probably, the novice master at San Marco presented the quarterly phlebotomies to the novices as a means to replenish the strength of their bodies and spirits, a procedure required for their monotonous lifestyle of prayer and study. Yet for an adolescent recently accepted into San Marco, an additional form of consolation and encouragement was possible to prepare him for the potentially frightening prospect of bloodletting. Moreover, the Dominican novices may have perceived the shedding of blood as one way of imitating Christ.103 Fra Angelico’s depictions of Christ bleeding on the Cross may have provided consolation for the frightened novices, converting their fear of phlebotomy into excitement at the opportunity to let their blood flow in an analogous manner to Christ. While ‘re-creating’ their spirits and attaining an equilibrium of the humors, the frescoes prompted them to also perceive their bloodletting as a form of imitatio Christi. 





Situating the novice cells’ frescoes at San Marco within the contexts of Dominican theology on the blood of Christ and general monastic attitudes towards the practice of phlebotomy, it becomes clear that the novices received Fra Angelico’s images as more than just visual forms of didacticism on the manners of praying. This paper has demonstrated that, given the lifestyle of the original intended viewer, the shedding and flowing of Christ’s blood in the frescoes had the ability to communicate powerful messages. For the Dominicans, the blood of Christ was believed to really do something. The blood leaving the side-wound brought about redemption. The shedding of Christ’s blood purged humankind of Original Sin, just as blood being let from a novice’s body purged that body both in a corporeal and in a spiritual sense. For an audience of Dominican novices inculcated with late medieval attitudes towards the blood of Christ and the blood of humankind, the way the Fra Angelico workshop depicted blood in their cell frescoes simultaneously offered the possibilities of theological contemplation, devotional encouragement, and a very human form of consolation and excitement at the prospect of imitation. Moreover, the seven frescoes – explicit in their visualization of Christ’s multivalent blood – prepared young men entering the Dominican Order for a life of preaching, devotion, and asceticism, often centered around the corporeality of Christ. Outstanding for its prominence against a white background, the depicted blood should be seen as part of a very deliberate strategy on behalf of the artist and patrons at San Marco to initiate young men into the Dominican Order. Blood emerges not merely as an object of theological contemplation, but, in its flowing and shedding from the fifteenth-century novice’s veins, a conduit for identification with the Passion body of Christ.





My gratitude goes towards the Syracuse University Graduate Program in Renaissance Art, for which a version of this paper was submitted as my MA thesis in 2018. Particular thanks go to Molly Bourne, Sally J. Cornelison, and Jonathan K. Nelson for reading drafts and providing feedback. I would also like to thank Ana Alicia Hernandez for support, feedback, and photography, the very helpful feedback of an anonymous reviewer, and the editors of the Rutgers Art Journal. For providing funding for illustrations, I thank the Johns Hopkins History of Art department. All translations are mine unless noted otherwise. 

1. William Hood, “St. Dominic’s Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico’s Cell Frescoes at San Marco,” Art Bulletin 68 (1986): 195-206. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00043079.1986.10788332; William Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 195-208. Hood cites the “Analia conventus S. Marci de Florentia” from the Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence (Cod. S. Marco 370) for evidence that these seven cells were those of the novices. See Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco, 318 n16. 

2. Throughout the text, for the sake of brevity, I will refer to the artist as Fra Angelico, as he was likely responsible for the overall design of these frescoes. However, most scholars agree that Benozzo Gozzoli’s was the predominant hand in the production of the frescoes in the novitiates’ cells. See Magnolia Scudieri, Gli affreschi dell’Angelico a San Marco (Florence: Giunti, 2014), 77.

3. Robert Gaston has pointed to the need to consider exactly how the novices in their cells might have contemplated these frescoes. Robert Gaston, “Affective Devotion and the Early Dominicans: the Case of Fra Angelico,” in Ritual, Images and Words: Varieties of Cultural Expression in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ed. F.W. Kent and Charles Zika (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005), 102.

4. Hood, “St. Dominic’s Mannters of Praying,” 195-206.

5. Mary-Ann Winkelmes, review of Fra Angelico at San Marco, by William Hood, Speculum 70 (January 1995), 157. https://doi.org/10.2307/2864735

6. Marco Piana, “Blood Devotion and Flagellant Practices in Fra Angelico’s Frescoes” (lecture, University College, Toronto, February 27, 2019)

7. Timothy Verdon, Beato Angelico (Milan: 24 Ore Cultura, 2015), 44-52.

8. “I enjoy immensely Fra Angelico’s way of constantly painting the crucifix; because instead of following the examples of his contemporaries, portraying him already dead, and with evident signs in the face and in the person of an excessive pain and the spasm of a violent and cruel death, instead, like the painters of the ancient school, he paints Christ nevertheless alive, with copious streams of blood pouring from his most holy wounds…” Vincenzo Fortunato Marchese, S. Marco, convento dei Padri predicatori in Firenze, illustrato e inciso principalmente nei dipinti del B. Giovanni Angelico, con la vita dello stesso pittore, e un sunto storico del convento medesimo del P. Vincenzo Marchese (Florence: Presso la Società artistica, 1853), 32.

9. Giorgio Bonsanti, “Gli affreschi del Beato Angelico,” in La chiesa e il convento di San Marco a Firenze, ed. Tito Centi, vol. 2 (Florence: Giunti, 1990), 162, 168.

10. Georges Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration, trans. Jane Marie Todd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 67; Didi-Huberman observes that the use of white in the Crucifixion frescoes makes “the blood that streams endlessly into the foreground more traumatic.” Didi-Huberman, Dissemblance and Figuration, 77.

11. James M. Bradburne, ed., Blood: Art, Power, Politics and Pathology (Munich: Prestel, 2001), Exhibition catalog; Nicholas Vincent, The Holy Blood: King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Caroline Walker Bynum, “The Blood of Christ in the Later Middle Ages,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 71, 4 (2002): 685-714. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0009640700096268; Bettina Bildhauer, Medieval Blood (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006); Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); for the origins of the terms “brutal realism,” see Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 266 n37.

12. For an assessment on the historiographical focus on medieval blood in Northern Europe, see Marco Piana, “Fonte de Pietade: Blood Devotion and Blood Consumption in the Laudari ‘Illuminati’ and ‘Frondini’,” Confraternitas 30 (2019): 28-29. On the representation of Christ’s blood in late medieval Italian art see Beate Fricke “A Liquid History: Blood and Animation in Late Medieval Art,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 63/64 (2013): 53-69. https://doi.org/10.1086/690977

13. John Spike, Fra Angelico (New York: Abberville Press, 1996), 62; Patricia Sheaffer, “White Light and Meditation at San Marco,” Memorie domenicane 14 (1983): 331.

14. Scudieri, Gli affreschi dell’Angelico a San Marco, 73. See also Hood, “St. Dominic’s Manners of Praying,” 204. For the age of the novices, see Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco, 199.

15. Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco, 199.

16. It was composed by Aquinas shortly after 1264. Paul H. D. Kaplan, “The Paliotto of the Corpus Domini: A Eucharistic Sculpture for a Venetian Nunnery,” Studies in Iconography 26 (2005): 134-35; In 1425, the Feast of Corpus Domini was inaugurated as a communal celebration by the city of Florence. See Eve Borsook, “Cults and Imagery at Sant’Ambrogio in Florence,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 25 (1981): 156.

17. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 10, 131, 177; Bynum, “Blood of Christ,” 691-703.

18. Chloë Reddaway emphasizes that these were images that were to be lived with. See Chloë Reddaway, “Inhabiting Vocation: The Convent of San Marco,” chap. 5 in Transformation in Persons and Paint: Visual Theology, Historical Images, and the Modern Viewer (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 150.

19. Another important context for these frescoes is the phenomenon of miraculously bleeding crucifixes in late medieval central Italy, particularly within the Dominican Order. A trope of Dominican mystic literature is to be covered by the blood of Christ, often when miraculously emitted from a cult crucifix. It is significant that in the fifteenth-century Bolognese illustrations to De modo orandi, so important to William Hood’s understanding of the novice frescoes, blood miraculously spurts out from the altar crucifix towards the devotee. Such miraculous blood of cult sculptures presents another alternative blood to that of the Eucharist.

20. Peter Howard, Beyond the Written Word: Preaching and Theology in the Florence of Archbishop Antoninus, 1427-59 (Florence: Olschki, 1995), 56-57.

21. Gaston, “Affective Devotion and the Early Dominicans,” 112-13.

22. “E perchè potessimo essere partecipi del suo regno, volle fare a Dio Padre sacrificio del corpo suo per noi, offerendoglielo in sul legno della croce, pagando il nostro debito col suo sangue.” Antoninus of Florence, Opera a ben vivere di santo Antonino, messa ora a luce con altri suoi ammaestramenti e una giunta di antiche orazioni Toscane da Francesco Palermo (Florence: M. Cellini F. C., 1858), 167.

23. Pius II, Commentaries of Pius II, Book XI, trans. Florence Alden Gragg (Northampton, MA: Department of History of Smith College, 1957), 705. By the phrase, “hypostatic union,” the Dominicans were arguing that the blood retained its inherent divinity of the Trinity.

24. Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 720.

25. Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 705, 725.

26. Vincent, Holy Blood, 113. Dominicans who wrote treatises on the nature of Christ’s blood around the mid-Quattrocento include Bartolomeo Lapacci, Gabriele de Barcelona, Giacomo da Brescia, Vercellino da Vercelli, and Domenico da Domenichi.

27. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 165.

28. Bernard McGinn states that “no theologian gave more attention to blood than Catherine of Siena.” See McGinn, “Catherine of Siena: Mystical Apostle of the Blood of Christ,” in The Varieties of Vernacular Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2012), 208.

29. Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 177.

30. Catherine of Siena to prisoners in Siena, Holy Thursday 1377 in The 

Letters of Catherine of Siena, trans. Suzanna Noffke, vol. 2 (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001), Letter T260/G309.

31. Gaston, “Affective Devotion and the Early Dominicans,” 116; Constant J. Mews, “Catherine of Siena, Florence, and Dominican Renewal: Preaching through Letters,” in Studies on Florence and the Italian Renaissance in Honour of F.W. Kent, ed. Peter Howard and Cecilia Hewlett (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016), 387-403.

32. Joan Barclay Lloyd, “St Catherine of Siena’s Tomb and its Place in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome: Narration, Translation, and Veneration,” Papers of the British School at Rome 83 (2015): 127. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0068246215000069.  It should also be noted that while prior of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, Antoninus supervised the translation of Catherine’s remains to a new tomb in 1430.

33. F. Thomas Luongo, “The Historical Reception of Catherine of Siena,” in A Companion to Catherine of Siena, ed. Carolyn Muessig (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 29; Paolo Morachiello mentions in passing that Fra Angelico’s depictions of the Crucified Christ were inspired by the “love for the mystic blood” exalted by Catherine. See Paolo Morachiello, Fra Angelico: The San Marco Frescoes (New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 80.

34. Hood, “St. Dominic’s Manners of Praying,” 200.

35. Scudieri, Gli affreschi dell’Angelico a San Marco, 73.

36. Entry for “Pietro Lorenzetti: The Crucifixion,” The Metropolitan Museum of New York, accessed January 13, 2021, https://www.metmuseum.org/en/art/collection/search/438605

37. For the identification of haematite in the frescoes, see Diane Cole Ahl, Fra Angelico (London: Phaidon Press, 2008), 126-32; Morachiello, Fra Angelico, 288 & 294.

38. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book XXXVI ed. Jeffrey Henderson, trans. D. E. Eichholz (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962), 115-19.

39. Albertus Magnus, On Minerals, trans. Dorothy Wyckoff (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 89-90.

40. Scudieri, Gli affreschi dell’Angelico a San Marco, 73. Scudieri states that the novices’ cells are the largest (single) cells at the convent; The floor of each novice cell measures approximately 396 cm x 364 cm, compared to the friars’ cells, which are roughly 296 cm x 364 cm, and those of the laybrothers, which are roughly 286 cm x 429 cm.

41. Verdon, Beato Angelico, 266. The vertically oriented novice cells’ frescoes are roughly 155 x 80 cm, while those in the clerics’ cells measure 180 x 150 cm.

42. Hood, Fra Angelico, 196.

43. Cyril Gerbron writes of the novice cells’ frescoes: “The cross appears in a very abstract and white setting that does not evoke the Golgotha but a sort of nowhere in visual continuity with the white walls of the cell.” Cyril Gerbron, “The Story of Fra Angelico: Reflections in Mirrors,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 57 (2015): 310; Chloë R. Reddaway observes how the visual space of the San Marco cell frescoes echoes the material space of the convent. Reddaway, “Inhabiting Vocation,” 155.

44. Penny Howell Jolly, “Rogier van der Weyden’s Escorial and Philadelphia Crucifixions,” Oud Holland 95 (1981): 117-18. https://doi.org/10.1163/187501781X00147. Jolly observes of The Mocking of Christ in cell seven that against the plain “neutral” colors of the fresco, and the walls of the cell, the “brilliant” red of Christ’s throne focuses the viewer’s attention on the figure of Christ.

45. “O ye sinners, you hardened ones, you careless and sleepy ones: awake, feel again, open your eyes, repent! For you Jesus is called the crucified one. His blood shrieks out¸ and offers mercy and pity; his open side shows you his heart wounded by love and full of charity…” From Lo specchio di vera penitenza. Cited in and translated by Gaston, “Affective Devotion and the Early Dominicans,” 109.

46. Lina Bolzoni, The Web of Images. Vernacular Preaching from its Origins to St Bernardino da Siena, trans. C. Preston and L. Chien (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 21.

47. According to Giordano da Pisa, “Christ went both among beasts and with angels, he fled men, he fled the world to be an example to you: that
you must flee from men and go into the desert. This desert could be your cell, your house, your room … and so those who want to be saved must leave the world either by going into the desert or becoming religious or fleeing from people any way they can, because the devil is too strong here.” Cited in Bolzoni, Web of Images, 21-22.

48. Bolzoni, Web of Images, 22.

49. In a letter of 1372 Catherine states that remembrance of Christ’s blood “will make the world and all its works a cause of boredom and repugnance.” Catherine of Siena to Neri di Landoccio Pagliaresi, March 1372, in Catherine of Siena, The Letters of Catherine of Siena, , vol. 1, Letter T99/G272/DT7.

50. “I want blood, and in the blood my soul is and will be satisfied. I was deluded when I looked for [satisfaction] in other people. So in times of loneliness I want to find companionship in the blood, and in this way I will find both the blood and these other people, and in the blood I will drink their love and affection.” Cited in Suzanna Noffke, “The Physical in the Mystical Writings of Catherine of Siena,” Annali d’italianistica 1 (1995): 120-21.

51. “Nevertheless, lest the Church be deprived on that day of the fruit of the Passion offered to us by this sacrament, the body of Christ consecrated the day before is reserved to be consumed on that day; but the blood is not reserved, on account of danger, and because the blood is more specially the image of our Lord’s Passion, as stated above.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Bros., 1947), Part III. Q83. A2; Herveus Natalis, an early fourteenth-century Master of the Dominicans, argued that the Passion was signified “especially by blood poured out as from a wound.” Cited in Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 174.

52. At the 1463 debate, the Dominicans stated that “only after it had been shed did blood have the power of purification and absolution.” Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 709.

53. Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 726-28; Also at the debate the Franciscans stated that “the human race could have been redeemed without blood if the Son of God had laid down His life for us without shedding it.” Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 716-17.

54. Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part III. Q48. A5.

55. Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 720.

56. “But since in the beginning it was decided that for our redemption the only begotten Son of God should put on flesh and die on the Cross and pour out His life with blood, as the prophets had foretold, we must not argue that the sin of our first parent could have been wiped out without blood.” Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 728.

57. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 158. Bynum emphasizes that for the Dominicans, the blood of Christ was Christ.

58. Allie Terry-Fritsch, “Florentine Convent as Practiced Place: Cosimo de’ Medici, Fra Angelico, and the Public Library of San Marco,” Medieval Encounters 18 (2012): 254. https://doi.org/10.1163/15700674-12342109. Of the images of Christ on the Cross in the lay-brother cells, Allie Terry-Fritsch notes how the “the painted figures do not seem to be situated within an imaginary space located within their frame, but rather they are pressed against the pictorial surface and appear to emerge away from the painted wall into the real space of viewer.”

59. Domenico Cavalca, The Life of Saint Mary Magdalen: Translated from the Italian of an Unknown Fourteenth-Century Writer, trans. Valentia Hawtrey (London: John Lane, 1904), 237; For the identification of the authorship of this text as that of Domenico Cavalca, see Allie Terry-Fritsch, “Criminal Vision in Early Modern Florence: Fra Angelico’s Altarpiece for ‘Il Tempio’ and the Magdalenian Gaze,” in Renaissance Theories of Vision, ed. John Shannon Hendrix and Charles H. Carman (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010): 49, 59 n26.

60. “And the Magdalen, looking upon the Cross and that Blood, beat her breast and rent her garments, and I think that she said: ‘Dearest Mother, let us stay standing here this night, to watch over this Blood, that it may not be trampled on, nor touched by any unclean thing.’ And I think the Mother said: ‘Do not fear, my daughter; it will be well guarded.’ And I think that Our Lady, full of wisdom, rose up, and before any other, she first made the sign of the Cross, for she knew what ought to be done; and bending to the earth she said: ‘Earth, guard well my Son’s Blood, for never was such a noble thing laid upon thee.’” Cavalca, The Life of Saint Mary Magdalen, 237-38.

61. In a sermon on December 23, 1303, Giordano specifies “Che una gocciola di sangue che Cristo isparse era sofficiente a tutto il mondo e a mille mondi.” Giordano da Pisa, Prediche inedite del B. Giordano da Rivalto, ed. Enrico Narducci (Bologna: Gaetano Romagnoli, 1867), 123.

62. “St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P. – Sermon on Good Friday John 18-19,” Sermons of St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P. 1350-1419, accessed July 28, 2017 http://www.svfsermons.org/A724_Good%20Friday.htm.

63. This issue has recently been addressed by Marco Piana. Piana, “Blood Devotion and Flagellant Practices in Fra Angelico’s Frescoes.”

64. “The Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers,” 297. See Chapter six: the daily Chapter.

65. In an analysis of Fra Angelico’s Deposition altarpiece, Allie Terry-Fritsch introduces “somaesthetics,” a theoretical approach whereby there is a connecting of the active body to an individual’s experience of visual encounters. The approach advocates a renewed interest in the living sentient body as a locus of the appreciation of art and life. Terry-Fritsch, “Criminal Vision in Early Modern Florence,” 47-48.

66. Kalina, “Giovanni Pisano, the Dominicans, and the Origins of the ‘Crucifixi Dolorosi’,” Artibus et Historiae 24 (2003): 94. https://doi.org/10.2307/1483761; Dominican incorporation of physiology into theology originated with Aquinas, who stated that Christ was in the perfect state of health at the Crucifixion, and was at the perfect age, when “those things that most pertain to the truth of human nature were most to be found in the body.” Cited in Vincent, Holy Blood, 101.

67. Sermon XXXV: “imperocchè ‘l vino immantamente si converte in sangue, e ‘l sangue ha la prima vertù di notricare, che del sangue si fa la carne, e ‘l ossa, e veni e le nerbora. Or cosi è propriamente dell’amore divino.” Giordano da Pisa, Prediche inedite, 191.

68. For a discussion of Giovanni da San Gimignano’s Summa de exemplis et similtudinibus, see Ziegler, Medicine and Religion, 66-67, 79, 188-99; for the presence of this text at Santa Maria Novella during the fifteenth century, and its relevance to the San Marco frescoes, see Didi-Huberman, Dissemblance and Figuration, 61-62.

69. Cited in Ziegler, Medicine and Religion, 80.

70. Domenico Cavalca, Lo Specchio di Croce di F. Domenico Cavalca, ed. Giuseppe Taverna (Brescia: Presso Moro e Falsina, 1822), 81-82, 150-55.

71. Pius II, Commentaries, Book XI, 725.

72. Shigehisa Kuriyama, “Interpreting the History of Bloodletting,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 50, 1 (1995): 12. https://doi.org/10.1093/jhmas/50.1.11. Shigehisa Kuriyama states that bloodletting was the most popular form of medical therapy in the Middle Ages; Linda E. Voigts and Michael R. McVaugh, “A Latin Technical Phlebotomy and its Middle English Translation,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 74, 2 (1984): 5. https://doi.org/10.2307/1006388; Avicenna, The Canon of Medicine, trans. Oskar Cameron Gruner (New York, NY: AMS Press, 1973), 501. Avicenna, in his Canon of 1025, makes the clear categorization of phlebotomy as a curative or preventative practice.

73. Mary K. K. Yearl, “Medieval Monastic Customaries on ‘Minuti’ and ‘Infirmi,’” in The Medieval Hospital and Medical Practice, ed. Barbara S. Bower (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 178-79.

74. Angela Montford, Health, Sickness, Medicine and the Friars in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 232.

75. Yearl, “Medieval Monastic Customaries,” 176; see also Yearl, “Bloodlettings as Recreation in the Monasteries of Medieval Europe,” in Between Text and Patient: The Medical Enterprise in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, eds. Florence Eliza Glaze and Brian K. Nance (Florence: SISMEL, 2011), 217-43.

76. “The Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers,” trans. Simon Tugwell, in Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco, 291.

77. For the Dominican Quattrocento ideology of returning to the principles of the original constitutions, see Hood, Fra Angelico at San Marco, 21; for Dominican phlebotomy in the medieval period, see Montford, Health, Sickness, Medicine and the Friars, 234-36. Montford also draws attention to the Dominican Hubert of Roman’s De Officiis, which states that in a Dominican convent, arrangements for phlebotomy sessions were part of the duties of the procurator.

78. James Shaw and Evelyn Welch, Making and Marketing Medicine in Renaissance Florence (Amsterdam: Rodopoi, 2011), 37.

79. Montford, Health, Sickness, and the Friars, 235; Evelyn Lincoln states that it was common practice for a doctor to administer and oversee the operations, while a barber did the manual operation of performing the phlebotomy. Evelyn Lincoln, “Curating the Renaissance Body,” Word and Image 17 (2001): 45-47. https://doi.org/10.1080/02666286.2001.10435701

80. Antonio Benfante and Paola Perrett, “I Chiostri e il Museo di S. Marco,” in La Chiesa e il convento di S. Marco a Firenze, ed. Tito Centi, vol. 1 (Florence: Giunti, 1990), 307; Terry-Fritsch, “Florentine Convent as Practiced Place,” 246.

81. Avicenna, Canon of Medicine, 503. Avicenna recommends that, for the purposes of preventative bloodletting, the cephalic vein (the main vein running through the arm) is best; Yearl, “Medieval Monastic Customaries,” 184.

82. The description presented here is a sketch, and there is the possibility that there were variations in the practice when performed at San Marco during the Quattrocento. Voigts and McVaugh, “Latin Technical Phlebotomy,” 6.

83. Esther Cohen, The Modulated Scream: Pain in Late Medieval Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 105-06; According to Avicenna (d. 1037), one of the preeminent medieval sources for medical practices, there is a risk of death in the operation by way of an artery accidently being punctured. He also states that people have been known to die from the pain of an operation gone wrong. Avicenna, Canon of Medicine, 505, 506; For the influence of Avicenna in the early modern period, see Nancy. G. Siraisi, Avicenna in Renaissance Italy: The Canon and Medical Teaching in Italian Universities after 1500 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)

84. Cited in Lincoln, “Curating the Renaissance Body,” 51.

85. Voigts and McVaugh, “Latin Technical Phlebotomy,” 5; Avicenna, Canon of Medicine, 502. Avicenna states that it is not to be practiced on anyone under the age of fourteen, or over the age of seventy.

86. “The first blood-letting may be accompanied by syncope [fainting] if it is carried out quickly on a person not accustomed to it.” Avicenna, Canon of Medicine, 507.

87. Humbert of Romans, in De instructione novitorum: “The novice should also reflect on things that particularly relate to himself.” Cited in Gaston, “Affective Devotion and the Early Dominicans,” 105.

88. Beate Fricke, “Liquid History,” 55-56. In her article on blood in late medieval religious art, Fricke discusses the practice of phlebotomy, but does not explicate how it could have conditioned viewers in their viewing of represented blood.

89. Valentin Groebner, “The Sight of Blood: Christ as Delinquent in the Late Middle Ages,” The Medieval History Journal 3 (2000): 224. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F097194580000300202

90. For the association between Christianity and medicine see Marie-Christine Pouchelle, The Body and Surgery in the Middle Ages (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 54. See also Joseph Ziegler, Medicine and Religion c. 1300: The Case of Arnau de Vilanova (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

91. Vincent, Holy Blood, 101 n46.

92. Cohen, Modulated Scream, 187.

93. Pouchelle, Body and Surgery in the Middle Ages, 176.

94. Yearl, “Bloodlettings as Recreation,” 232.

95. “Let a vein be cut and opened with the steel of compunction, so that the consent of sin, even if not every sense [of sin], will surely flow out and be expelled.” Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 108 “Concerning Bloodletting,” Monastic Sermons, trans. Daniel Griggs (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016), 280.

96. Ziegler, Medicine and Religion, 182.

97. Cited in Ziegler, Medicine and Religion, 80.

98. Cited in Cohen, Modulated Scream, 188. The sermon is a summary of the belief in Christus medicus, in the inherent illness of humanity that can only be cured by Christ, modelled after a medical diagnosis.

99. Cohen, Modulated Scream, 188.

100. Yearl, “Medieval Monastic Customaries,” 175.

101. “Ancora volle fare la signatura non pur d’una vena, ma di tutte; non di poco sangue, ma di tutto; non con lancuiola di barbiere, ma con lancia e chiavelli di crudelissimi Giudei.” Cavalca, Lo Specchio di Croce, 150.

102. The English author of the Ancrene Wisse, a monastic rule for female anchorites from the early thirteenth century, suggests that the Passion was more discomforting than a normal bloodletting by posing the question, “When was so poor a provision ever given to any bloodletter?” See “Ancrene Wisse,” in Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works, trans. Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), 91; for a similar sentiment, see Fasciculus Morum: A Fourteenth-Century Preacher’s Handbook, ed. and trans. Siegfried Wenzel (University Park, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), 206.

103. Cohen, Modulated Scream, 189.