The Dream of the Deacon Justinian is a relatively small wood panel (17 ½ inches by 14 ½ inches) which was painted using tempera, a quick-drying medium containing egg. Over the ages the wooden panel, which is part of a larger altarpiece in San Marco dedicated to the two medical saints, has weathered and cracked. It was created for the main altar of the church belonging to the Convent of San Marco in Florence, which houses works of art intended to inspire prayer and meditation.
Fra Angelico was commissioned in 1438 by Cosimo de Medici – the first of the Medici dynasty in Florence – to paint the altarpiece. The two saints, Cosmas and Damian, were the patron saints of the Medici family.
The Deacon Justinian sleeps on a hard wooden bed whose linear line contrast with the soft folds of the curtains which are draped aside to allow the saints to work. Justinian’s head rests on raised pillows and his arms are folded gently across his chest. The room is spartan, with a small window, and a stool the only furniture other than the bed. The saints have wisps of cloud around them as they work on the bloodless operation.