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Fra Angelico

Patron saint of artists and painters, Fra Angelico is a key figure in the Italian Renaissance.  A painter and priest, he has fascinated the world for centuries for his artistic talent and exemplary devotion.  By adapting fourteenth century artistic processes to his religious conception of painting, Fra Angelico succeeded in creating works that were both unique and highly spiritual.

Biography

Guido di Pietro’s religious and artistic education

Born in Tuscany in around 1400, the young Fra Angelico, then known as Guido di Pietro, joined the order of the Observant Dominicans in the brotherhood of San Niccolò. He obeyed the rules required by Saint Dominic, which were absolute poverty and asceticism: “True wealth is being satisfied with very little”. He also trained as a miniaturist and completed Saint Dominic’s Glory (1424); from this early training in miniature art, he retained a meticulous eye for detail that may be seen in all his later works.  His artistic education continued in Florence: influenced by Lorenzo Monaco, Fra Angelico used bold, unrealistic colours combined with very bright light, which reinforced the illusion of mysticism in holy scenes. Among his works were The coronation of the Virgin (c. 1420) and The Annunciation (c. 1426), housed in the Prado museum in Madrid. In 1427, Guido di Pietro was ordained as a priest and became Fra Giovanni.

 

Fra Giovanni, painter priest

Fra Angelico has fascinated the world for centuries as a leading fourteenth century painter and as a “holy man”, a priest and Dominican brother. He filled his preaching vocation by painting frescoes and altarpieces for a number of towns.  He completed The Last Judgement between 1430 and 1433, showing a new interest in perspective. In around 1434, he painted The Cortona Annunciation, which is now housed in the Cortona Diocesan Museum.
In around 1436, Cosmo de Medici commissioned him to decorate the San Marco convent, Florence, situated in Europe’s leading artistic centre: here Fra Angelico perfected his art alongside his powerful sponsors. His work began to be known and he was invited to Rome by Pope Eugene IV in 1445.  He painted the chapel in Orvieto cathedral with his pupil Benozzo Gozzoli in around 1447, and the Nicolas V chapel in Rome in 1450, when he had just been appointed archpriest of Florence.

Fra Angelico and the first Renaissance

A great fourteenth century painter, Fra Angelico still remained attached to the traditions of the thirteenth century. His art shows traces of both Gothic and Renaissance styles. Though he trained in Florence, the leading centre of the Renaissance, he was highly receptive to the new artistic theories and perspective in particular: that gave figures a presence and a new verisimilitude.  Fra Angelico adapted these new techniques to his religious conception of art, and had no hesitation in reinterpreting them. Anchored in a medieval vision of art, he believed that painting had a devotional purpose; he therefore always tried to represent the predominance of the divine over the human and adopted modern techniques only to reinforce the sacred aspect of his work. 

Fra Angelico, the myth of the mystic painter

Through his artistic genius and exemplary devotion, Fra Angelico was the embodiment of the myth of the mystic, “blessed” painter: legend has it that he “never touched his brushes without first saying a prayer”. Michelangelo said of him: “This good monk has visited paradise and has been allowed to choose his models there”.  This supposed familiarity with the angels was what led to the nickname Fra Angelico.
He always kept to his vow of poverty and showed profound humility, even going so far as to refuse honours conferred upon him when he gained international fame.  The painter believed that “he who does the work of Christ should always stay with Christ”. In 1984, Fra Angelico was beatified by Pope Jean-Paul II, over 500 years after his death in 1455 in Rome.  He was also proclaimed Patron Saint of artists and painters. 

Works

Paintings

L'annonciation, The Annunciation, around 1426
Annonciation de Cortone, Cortona Annunciation, 1434
Descente de Croix, Deposition of Christ, 1436

Frescos

Le Jugement dernier, The Last Judgement, 1430-1433
Fresque du couvent San Marco, San Marco convent fresco, around 1438-1450

Useful links

The Museo nazionale, San Marco, in the convent of San Marco, Florence: it houses most of Fra Angelico’s works. 

Fra Angelico 's products at Nouvelles Images

> Greeting cards

Greeting cards The Coronation of the Virgin (detail)
Identity

Nationality(ies) : Italian
Born on : vers 1400
Died on : 18/02/1455
Profile : Set designer, Painter
Artistic current(s) : Classical, Renaissance
Theme(s) covered : Religion

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