Fra Angelico (Fra Giovanni da Fiesole)
(Guido di Pietro)
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 travelled extensively for prestigious
commissions. He probably began his career as a manuscript
illuminator, and his early paintings are strongly influenced by
But even in the most lavishly decorative of them all the
in the Diocesan Museum in Cortona
incluence is evident in the insistent perspective of the architecture.
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 frescos in the friary (c.1438-45)
that are at once the expression of and a guide to the spiritual life
of the community.
Many of the frescos 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 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 frescos, with
new emphasis on the story and on circumstantial detail, bringing
Angelico more clearly into the mainstream of 15th-century Italian
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
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.