Angelico, Fra (Guido di Pietro) (c. 1400-55). 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 International Gothic. But even in the most lavishly decorative of them all-- the Annunciation in the Diocesan Museum in Cortona-- Masaccio's 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 fresco painting.
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 Benozzo Gozzoli 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.
Presentation in the Temple (left)
1440-41 (150 Kb); Fresco, 158 x 136 cm; Cell 10, Convent of San Marco, Florence
Noli Me Tangere
1440-41 (190 Kb); Fresco, 180 x 146 cm; Cell 1, Convent of San Marco, Florence
Photographs by Mark Harden.