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Definition: Angelico, Fra (Italian, ‘Brother Angelic’) from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

The name by which Giovanni da Fiesole (c.1400-55), famed for the spiritual quality of his paintings, is better known. The art historian Vasari particularly associated the name with Giovanni's Coronation of the Virgin, formerly in the Convent of San Domenico, Fiesole, and now in the Louvre, Paris.

The whole colouring of that work appears to be by the hand of a saint or an angel … wherefore it was with very good reason that this excellent monk was ever called Fra Giovanni Angelico.

giorgio vasari: Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects 1550

Summary Article: Angelico, Fra (c.1395-1455) from The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

Real name, Guido di Piero de Mugello. Mon-astic name, Fra Giovanni da Fiesole. Italian religious painter, one of the few artists who have been beatified. He entered the Dominican Order in 1423. He began his career as a manuscript illuminator. For most of his career he was based in Fiesole where he had become a prior in 1450, but most of his paintings were painted in S. Marco in Florence (now an Angelico museum), a Sylvestrine monastery taken over by his order in 1436. Here he and his assistants painted about 50 frescoes (1438-1445) in the corridors and cells as aids to meditation. They are characterized as serene in their economy of composition and drawing and in their simplicity of details. For example, The Mocking of Christ shows only the head of the man spitting and his hand grasping a stick, Christ in the Sepulcher is surrounded only by the instruments of his Passion, and the Transfiguration shows only Christ flanked by Moses and Elijah. In the last decade of his life, Angelico also worked in Orvieto (where he began the Last Judgment) and Perugia and finally in Rome where he frescoed the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V with scenes from the lives of SS Stephen and Lawrence (1447-1450). He also painted numerous altarpieces, including Madonna and Saints (1438-1440) commissioned for the high altar of S. Marco in Florence. This altarpiece was important in the development of what later came to be known as Sacra Conversazione featuring Madonna and groups of saints. The Coronation of the Virgin (1435, Paris, Louvre) shows a mastery of perspective and spatial rhythms as does the Crucifixion in Fiesole. The Deposition (1443) is serene in its spatial and tonal harmonies. Vasari referred to him as a simple and holy man and popularized the use of the name, Angelico.

SEE ALSO: Altarpiece; Christ in Art

References and Suggested Readings
  • Hood, W. (1993). Fra Angelico at San Marco. Yale University Press New Haven, CT.
  • Pope-Hennessy, J. (1972). Fra Angelico, 2nd edn. Cornell University Press Ithaca, NY.
  • George Thomas Kurian
    Wiley ©2012

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