Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) (circa 1400-55). Florentine painter, a Dominican friar. Although in popular tradition he has been seen as "not an artist properly so-called but an inspired saint" (Ruskin), Angelico was in fact a highly professional artist, who was in touch with the most advanced developments in contemporary Florentine art, and in later life he traveled extensively for prestigious commissions.

Fra Angelico probably began his career as a manuscript illuminator, and his early paintings are strongly influenced by International Gothic. For most of his career Angelico was based in S. Domenico in Fiesole (he became Prior there in 1450), but his most famous works were painted at S. Marco in Florence (now an Angelico museum), a Sylvestrine monastry which was taken over by his Order in 1436. He and his assistants painted about fifty frescoes in the friary (circa 1438-45) that are at once the expression of and a guide to the spiritual life of the community. Many of the frescoes are in the friars' cells and were intended as aids to devotion; with their immaculate coloring, their economy in drawing and composition, and their freedom from the accidents of time and place, they attain a sense of blissful serenity.

In the last decade of his life, Fra Angelico also worked in Orvieto and Perugia, and most importantly in Rome, where he frescoed the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican with "Scenes from the Lives of SS. Stephen and Lawrence" (1447-50). These differ considerably from the S. Marco frescoes, with new emphasis on the story and on circumstantial detail, bringing Fra Angelico more clearly into the mainstream of 15th-century Italian fresco painting.

Angelico died in Rome and was buried in the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, where his tombstone still exists. His most important pupil was Benozzo Gozzoli, and he had considerable influence on Italian painting. His particular grace and sweetness stimulated the school of Perugia, and Fra Bartolommeo, who followed him into the Convento di S. Marco in 1500, had something of his restraint and grandeur. Vasari, who referred to Fra Giovanni as "a simple and most holy man", popularized the use of the name Angelico for him, but he says it is the name by which he was always known, and it was certainly used as early as 1469. The painter has long been called "Beato Angelico" (the Blessed Angelico), but his beatification was not made official by the Vatican until 1984.

"The Annunciation" (1430-32) Tempera on wood, 154 x 194 cm - 61 x 76 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

"Deposition (Pala di Santa Trinita)" (1437-1440) Tempera on wood, 176 x 185 cm - 69 1/4 x 72 3/4 in. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy.


"The Naming of John the Baptist" (1434-1435) Tempera on panel, 26 x 24 cm - 10 1/8 x 9 3/8 in. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy.

"Entombment (Pietà)" (1438-40) Tempera on panel, 38 x 46 cm - 14 7/8 x 18 in. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.

"Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian before Lisius" (1438-1440) Tempera on wood, 38 x 45 cm - 14 7/8 x 17 5/8 in. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.

"The Healing of Palladia by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian" (1438-1440) Tempera on wood, 36.5 x 46.5 cm - 14 1/4 x 18 1/4 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA.


"Story of St Nicholas" (1437) Tempera on wood, 34 x 60 cm - 13 3/8 x 23 1/2 in. Pinacoteca, Vatican.


"Noli Me Tangere" (1440-41) Fresco, 180 x 146 cm - 70.9 x 57.5 in. Convent of San Marco, Florence, Italy.

"Fiesole Altarpiece" (detail) (1428-1430) Tempera on wood, 212 x 237 cm - 83 3/8 x 93 1/4 in. Chiesa di San Domenico, Bologna, Italy.

"Perugia Altarpiece (central panel)" (circa 1437) Tempera on panel, 130 x 77 cm - 51.2 x 30.3 in. Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Perugia, Italy.

"The Adoration of the Magi" (1445) National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' ( and others.

Related Artists: Benozzo Gozzoli.

Related Terms: International Gothic, Gothic, Fresco.


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