F = Fra Angelico

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Please remember to click on the images to see them in all their beauty!

I am taking liberties with ‘F’ because Fra means Father; but this painter is so interesting, I just had to include him.

Self Portrait of Fra Angelico

Self Portrait of Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico, or Guido di Pietro (c.1395-1455) was an early Renaissance painter. Although his life and work have been recognized for centuries, it is only recently that his contribution to the development of European painting been fully appreciated. Fra Angelico pioneered many of the stylistic trends that distinguish the early Renaissance, including the treatment of pictorial space and the creation of volume with light and shadow.

The earliest record of him dates from October 17, 1417 when he joined a Dominican order, still under the name of Guido di Pietro. He was known to his contemporaries as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole; the name Fra Giovanni Angelico was given to him after his death, based on his humility and modesty.

A_Dominican_Friar_and_Companion_ below_the_Dragon's_Tower

Dominican Friar and Companion below the Dragon’s Tower

Fra Angelico was already a painter when he joined the order, probably having received part of his training in the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. The strong modeling of figures and spatial organization seen in two of the fragments of a pen and ink drawing (probably done sometime between 1408 and 1418) demonstrate he was moving beyond the Late Gothic style.

In 1436 Fra Angelico moved to the new Friary of San Marco in

The Transfiguration in a monk's cell in the Friary of San Marco

The Transfiguration in a monk’s cell in the Friary of San Marco

Florence,which brought him the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici. At Cosimo’s urging, Fra Angelico decorated the monastery with frescoes. Fresco is the technique of mural painting on freshly laid lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the pigment and, with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes becomes an integral part of the wall. Fra Angelico’s frescoes in the friary are humble works in simple colors, more mauve/pink than brilliant red and blue. There is nothing lavish, nothing to distract from the spiritual experiences of the humble people who are depicted within the frescoes.

The Annunciation, 1430

The Annunciation, 1430

In the 1430s, Angelico painted one of the most inspired works of the time, The Annunciation. Along the left side, Adam and Eve are being driven out of the Garden of Eden, while the bulk of the piece portrays the angel and the Virgin within a Renaissance-style portico. Fra Angelico occasionally used medieval techniques, such as a gold background, in deference to the wealthy patrons who commissioned the work.

In 1439 he completed one of his most famous works, the Altarpiece

San Marco Altarpiece

San Marco Altarpiece

for St. Marco’s, Florence. The work was unusual because rather than hovering above, the saints are grouped around the Virgin and Child, as if they were conversing about the experience of witnessing the Virgin. This arrangement was subsequently used Raphael.

Chapel of Pope Nicholas

Chapel of Pope Nicholas

Fra Angelico and his assistants went to the Rome in 1447 to decorate the chapel of Pope Nicholas. The Nicoline Chapel is like a jewel box. The walls are decked in the Gothic style with brilliant color and gold, but Fra Angelico’s figures, with their lavish gilded robes, have the sweetness and gentleness for which his works are famous.

He returned to Florence in 1450. During this time he painted scenes

Adoration of the Magi, Arena Chapel of Padua

Adoration of the Magi, Arena Chapel of Padua

from the life of Christ  for the doors of a silver chest in the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. These works have been extensively repainted and are not representative of his true mastery.

Coronation of the Virgin

Coronation of the Virgin

Fra Angelico died in Rome In 1453 or 1454. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982, in recognition of the holiness of his life.

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4 thoughts on “F = Fra Angelico

  1. Too bad the repainted works haven’t been truly representative of his mastery, but then again, only one person can do justice to the mastery of the self — the artist.
    Another great post, Noelle.

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