Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico was a Catholic friar and an Italian renaissance artist born in the late middle ages, whose career spanned into the beginnings of the early renaissance. When translated into English his name means 'Angelic Friar.' He was born to unknown parents somewhere in Tuscany in the year 1395 under the birth name of Guido.

Nothing more is known about Angelico's early life until the year 1417, when he joined a brotherhood of Dominican friars at the Carmine church. His first name, Fra, literally means brother, or friar. His first artistic work was as an illuminator, adding special flourishes and images to religious texts.

Soon Angelico began to paint entire paintings, and it is believed that his first full work of art was a painting for a monastery, the Carthusian Monastery in Florence. Unfortunately the painting has long since been destroyed by some unknown event over the years.

He moved to the Cortona friary where he worked on religious frescoes for the dominican order. Sadly, much like his earlier work, these frescoes no longer exist. A fragment of one of the altar pieces he painted still survives at the English National Gallery, depicting many images of saints, Dominican Friars and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

By 1436 Fra Angelico had travelled to Florence to live in the Friary of San Marco. His work attracted much attention in Florence, and he soon had wealthy backers to support his art career, some of whom included the very powerful Medici family.. He was given the important task of decorating the newly built monastery, a task which would take the friar years to complete. He finished work on the altar piece of San Marco's in 1439, and it is considered to be one of his finest works of art, depicting saints, angels, Christ, and the Virgin Mary.

By 1445 word of Fra Angelico's talent had even reached the ears of the Pope, who was at that time Eugenius IV. The pope commissioned him to paint the frescoes in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament within the Vatican itself. This task took Angelico only two years to paint the frescoes for the chapel. Angelico then left Rome. He spent the next several years travelling to work at other cathedrals and teaching a number of talented pupils such as Zanobi Strozzi and Benozzo Gozzoli.

He was again recalled to work in the Vatican in 1447, this time on frescoes within the Niccoline Chapel. This involved depicting grand scenes of martyrdoms and biblical frescoes. He was often forced to add extravagant things such as gold leaf to his frescoes to impress the wealthy patrons that commissioned them. When he finished work on the Niccoline Chapel he returned to his original convent in Fiesole to become the prior. In 1455 he was again recalled to Rome to do more work for the Pope, this time Pope Nicholas, however he was very old at this point and died in 1455 at the age of fifty nine before he could complete any further art for the Vatican.

Fra Angelico's art had a great influence on the painters that came afterwards, especially many of the most famous renaissance artists. In 1982 he was canonized as a Catholic saint by Pope John Paul the Second. The majority of Angelico's art consisted of frescoes and altar pieces for churches, monasteries, cathedrals and chapels. These were the pieces of art in demand at that time, as religion and Catholicism dominated the life of most europeans during Fra Angelico's time. He pioneered the artistic concept of linear perspective, and would be one of the largest influences on the work of famous renaissance artist, Michelangelo. His portraits were notable for how lifelike they appeared in comparison to those of his contemporaries.

Some of Fra Angelico's most notable works include; Annunciation, Virgin and Child between Saints Thomas Aquinas, Barnabas, Dominic and Peter Martyr, The Adoration of the Magi, and The life of St Stephen, located in the Vatican. After his beatification he has been considered the patron saint of catholic artists and painters.

View  Fra Angelico Gallery