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Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico

Angelico, Fra (c. 1400-1455), Italian painter of the early Renaissance, who combined the life of a devout friar with that of an accomplished painter. He was originally called Guido di Pietro and was named Angelico (Italian "angelic") and Beato (Italian "blessed") because of the calm, religious subjects of his paintings and because of his extraordinary personal piety.Fra Angelico was born in Vicchio, Tuscany. He entered a Dominican monastery in Fiesole in 1418 and about 1425 became a friar, using the name Giovanni da Fiesole.

His teacher is unknown, but he apparently began his career as an illuminator of missals and other religious books. His earliest paintings were altarpieces and other panels; among his important early works are the Madonna of the Star (c. 1428-1433, San Marco, Florence) and Christ in Glory Surrounded by Saints and Angels (National Gallery, London), which depicts more than 250 distinct figures. Among other works of that period are two paintings of the Coronation of the Virgin (San Marco and Louvre, Paris) and a Deposition and Last Judgement (San Marco). His mature style is first seen in the Madonna of the Linen Weavers (1433, San Marco), which features a border with 12 music-making angels.

In Florence and Rome In 1436 the Dominicans of Fiesole moved to the monastery of San Marco in Florence, which had recently been rebuilt by Michelozzo. Fra Angelico, sometimes aided by assistants, painted many frescoes for the cloister, chapter house, and entrances to the 20 cells on the upper corridors. The most impressive of these are the Crucifixion, Christ as a Pilgrim, and Transfiguration. His altarpiece for San Marco (c. 1439) is one of the first representations of what is known as a Sacred Conversation: the Madonna flanked by angels and saints who seem to share a common space.

In 1445 Fra Angelico was summoned to Rome by Pope Eugenius IV to paint frescoes for the now-destroyed Chapel of the Sacrament in the Vatican. In 1447, with his pupil Benozzo Gozzoli, he painted frescoes for Orvieto Cathedral. His last important works, frescoes for the chapel of Pope Nicholas in the Vatican, are Scenes from the Lives of SS Stephen and Lawrence (1447-1449), probably painted from his designs by assistants. From 1449 to 1452 Fra Angelico was prior of his monastery in Fiesole. He died in the Dominican monastery in Rome on March 18, 1455.

Fra Angelico combined the influence of the elegantly decorative Gothic style of Gentile da Fabriano with the more realistic style of such major Renaissance artists as the painter Masaccio and the sculptors Donatello and Ghiberti, all of whom worked in Florence. Fra Angelico was also aware of the theories of perspective proposed by Leon Battista Alberti. Fra Angelico's rendering of devout facial expressions and his use of colour to heighten emotion are particularly effective. His skill in creating monumental figures, conveying a sense of motion, and suggesting depth through the use of linear perspective, especially in the Roman frescoes, mark him as one of the foremost painters of the Renaissance.

Death and beatification
In 1455, Fra Angelico went back to Rome, probably to look at the work on Pope Nicholas' Chapel. He died at the Dominican Convent and was buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico on October 3, 1982, making him officially known as the "Blessed Angelico". In 1984 the pope made him the patron of Catholic artists.

Fra Angelico never wanted to be important, and even though he was so talented he never put himself above other people. He thought his most important job was caring for others. He always prayed before he picked up his brushes to paint, and he never made any later changes to his pictures, because he believed that the Holy Spirit was guiding him. He painted a great number of scenes of the Crucifixion and he would always cry while he was painting them.

The words on his grave say:

"When you praise me, don't say that I am a famous painter.

Instead, say that for love of Jesus, I gave everything that I had to the poor.

The things that seem to be important on Earth are not the things that are important in Heaven.

I am Brother John and I come from Tuscany.

About Fra Angelico's paintings

San Marco, Florence,The Day of Judgement. This panel is the top part of an altarpiece. It has expensive colours and gold, which show it was paid for by a rich patron.Fra Angelico was working at a time when the style of painting was in a state of change. The changes had begun a hundred years before his time with the works of Giotto. Fra Angelico would have seen the famous pictures of the "Life of Saint Francis" that Giotto did for the church of Santa Croce in Florence. In Giotto's paintings the figures look more real and solid and lifelike than in the pictures of other painters of the 1300s. Giotto was also very good at painting the emotions on peoples faces and the actions that showed how they were feeling. His work was a big influence on every artist who saw it.

At the same time, rich patrons like Cosimo de Medici liked to show off their wealth by ordering paintings that had lots of bright colour and real gold backgrounds. The red colour called "vermilion" was one of the most expensive. But the most expensive colour was a beautiful blue made from grinding up a semi-precious stone called Lapis lazuli. This type of painting is called "International Gothic". Some artists of Fra Angelico's day were expert at doing paintings that would make very rich people happy. But other painters, like Masaccio were followers of Giotto and painted in a very plain way.

Fra Angelico was able to paint in both ways. If the Pope or a rich family wanted an altarpiece or a fresco that had gold and expensive bright colours, then Fra Angelico could do it. But his most famous paintings have no gold and no bright colours. They are the simple gentle paintings of the life of Jesus that he did for the friars in their cells at San Marcos.

 

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