Fra Angelico – National Gallery of Art

Fra angelico


fra angelico was born in the city of vicchio di mugello, northeast of florence, at the end of the 14th century. His date of birth, which Vasari reports as 1387 and which has been reaffirmed by some scholars as around 1400, was probably around 1390-1395, since in 1417 Guido di Pietro, still a layman, was already documented as a painter, and the following year he was paid for the prestigious commission for part of an altarpiece for the church of santo stefano al ponte. Just before 1423, Guido donned the habit of the Dominican friars at the Convent of San Domenico in Fiesole, taking the name Fra Giovanni. the denomination “fra angelico” only became current in the 19th century; It derives from an abbreviation of the epithet “pictor angelicus”, which was first applied to him in early Dominican sources and has been common since Vasari’s time.[1]

The artist’s early production, from which certain points of reference have not been preserved, is still the subject of debate. recent criticism tends to move the date of the triptych of saint peter the martyr (florence, museo di san marco) to around 1425-1427, although it was not paid until 1429. an even earlier date, around 1422-1423, should be assigned to the altarpiece of the main altar of san domenico di fiesole (the main panels are still in the church today). Several other paintings have been grouped with this work, and if they are by Angelico, they show that his formation was influenced not so much by the late Gothic tradition of Lorenzo Monaco, as had been thought, but by the presence in Florence of Gentiles da Fabriano (since 1420 to c.1425-1426) and by the artistic innovations introduced by Ghiberti, Masolino and Masaccio.

by the 1430s fra angelico was already one of the leading artists in florence, and a series of documented works allows us to reconstruct his development more clearly: the deposition painted for the strozzi chapel in the church of santa trinità around 1432 (Museum of San Marco, Florence); the somewhat later Coronation of the Virgin, painted for San Domenico in 1435 and today in the Musée du Louvre; the tabernacle of the linaioli (museo di san marco), commissioned in 1433 and completed in 1436; and the painted reliquary panels executed for Fra Giovanni Masi (three in Florence in the Museo di San Marco and one in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), executed between the late 1420s and early 1420s, but certainly complete before 1434. angelico expressed deep human feelings in his figures; he modeled with light and intense, bright colors, in contrast to the masaccesco chiaroscuro. his mastery of Brunelleschian perspective allowed for daringly innovative compositions with compelling spatial effects in architectural settings.

The extraordinary realism of

fra angelico is also evident in works such as the lamentation of santa maria della croce al tempio (1436) and the more or less contemporary altarpiece of annalena (both in the museo di san marco), where the vivid, sculptural figures are arranged in open and balanced compositions bathed in an atmosphere of luminous color.

in 1438 the remodeling of the Dominican convent and the church of san marco began, commissioned by cosimo de’ medici and directed by michelozzo; The new church was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV on January 6, 1443. Fra Angelico, who by then had moved to the headquarters of the order in Florence, was commissioned to create an altarpiece for the main altar (the Majestic Sacra Conversazione, now also in the Museo di San Marco) and the decoration of various areas of the convent. from the great crucifixion in the chapter house to the small frescoes in the cells, the rich narrative is restrained in favor of a sublime spiritual and poetic message, dominated by an analytical vision that owes much to contemporary Flemish models.

in 1445 fra angelico was in rome at the behest of pope eugene iv, and in 1446 in orvieto, where he began frescoing the vaults of the chapel of san brizio in the duomo, completed several decades later by signorelli. The following year he may have been in Perugia to paint the San Domenico polyptych (now divided between the Galleria Nazionale in Perugia and the Vatican Pinacoteca), then returned to Rome to paint scenes from the lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence in the chapel. Private of Pope Nicolas V in the Vatican. From 1450 to 1452 he was prior of the convent of Fiesole, and it was probably then that he painted the scenes from the life of Christ on the doors of the silver chest of the Santissima Annunziata (Museo di San Marco). in 1454 he was again in perugia, and then in rome, where he died on february 18, 1455. [this is the biography of the artist published in the nga systematic catalogue]

[1] In the Theotocon of Fra Domenico di Giovanni da Corella (manuscript in the National Library of Florence), written in the second half of the 15th century, he is called for the first time “angelicus pictor”; see ordinis praedicatorum… 1960, 20.

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