1395 – 1455
Beatified Pope John Paul II on October 3, 1982,
and in 1984 declared as patron of Catholic artists
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 1984.1
In 1455 Fra Angelico died while staying at a Dominican convent in Rome, perhaps in order to work on Pope Nicholas' chapel. He was buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
When singing my praise, don't liken my talents to those of Apelles.
Say, rather, that, in the name of Christ, I gave all I had to the poor.
The deeds that count on Earth are not the ones that count in Heaven.
I, Giovanni, am the flower of Tuscany.
Tomb of Fra Angelico, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico on October 3, 1982, and in 1984 declared him patron of Catholic artists.
—Pope John Paul II
From various accounts of Fra Angelico's life, it is possible to gain some sense of why he was deserving of canonization. He led the devout and ascetic life of a Dominican friar, and never rose above that rank; he followed the dictates of the order in caring for the poor; he was always good-humored. All of his many paintings were of divine subjects, and it seems that he never altered or retouched them, perhaps from a religious conviction that, because his paintings were divinely inspired, they should retain their original form. He was wont to say that he who illustrates the acts of Christ should be with Christ. It is averred that he never handled a brush without fervent prayer and he wept when he painted a Crucifixion. The Last Judgment and the Annunciation were two of the subjects he most frequently treated.
—William Michael Rossetti2