When Fra Angelico was painting his frescoes in the convent of San Marco in about 1440, an imposing library lying only a few meters from the bushes was subtly diffusing the whispers of great Eastern and Western theologies, in a continuous exchange of Greek and Latin manuscripts that had been rediscovered, reread, and discussed by everyone, under the authority of a theologian who was none other than the future Saint Antoninus, archbishop of Florence.
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.
According to Vasari, Fra Angelico not only practiced a prayerful life but considered it indispensable for anyone who would wield the brush, along with a quiet, untroubled life; he liked to say that the man who occupies himself with the things of Christ should live with Christ.
Fra Angelico is known in Italy as il Beato Angelico, the term "Il Beato" ("Blessed One") being already in use during his lifetime or shortly thereafter, in reference to his skills in painting religious subjects. In 1982 Pope John Paul II conferred beatification, in recognition of the holiness of his life, thereby making this title official.
When Masaccio died in 1428, Fra Angelico was one of few painters who understood his innovations in naturalism, narrative power, and vanishing point perspective. Fra Angelico practiced Masaccio's ideas such as using realistic light to create solid, heroic forms. Fra Angelico's Descent from the Cross, painted around 1434, is one of the first successful Italian attempts to set a group of figures into a harmoniously receding landscape. Around 1443 Fra Angelico and his assistants created fifty frescoes for their new monastery of San Marco in Florence, now a museum of his work. His simple and clean style, served to instruct or encourage contemplation. He died in Rome while painting for the pope.
In addition to his celebrated altarpieces and frescos in Florence, Fiesole, Cortona, Perugia, and Rome, Fra Angelico also completed many masterpieces on a small scale. His predella panels, the small narrative scenes included beneath large altarpieces, are among the most innovative creations in fifteenthcentury Florence, while his images of the Virgin and Child still retain the inspirational immediacy and presence that first secured the artist’s reputation as the premier painter of his age.
Fra Giovanni of Fiesole (1400-1455), better known as Fra Angelico of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), enjoyed, at the monastery of San Marco in Florence, a life remarkable both for spiritual purity and artistic fecundity. His reputation for sanctity rests largely on the writings of Vasari, who reports that the holy friar "shunned all worldly intrigues, lived in purity and holiness, and befriended the poor as much as his soul is now, I believe, befriended by heaven."
Not much is known about Fra Angelico's early life. He was born around 1400 and was named Guido di Pietro. Around 1418 he and his brother Benedetto took vows to become monks in the Order of Dominican Preachers in Fiesole, Italy, near Florence. Fra Angelico's religious name was Fra Giovanni da Fiesole. The titles Fra Angelico and Beato Angelico came into use only after his death, as a way of honoring his religious life and work.
Fra Angelico was born in 1400 in Florence, Italy. Between 1420 and 1422 he entered a monastery the San Domenico at Fiesole. He painted altarpieces and manuscripts. Linaiuoli Altarpiece, a triptych enclosed in a marble shrine, was an early masterpiece, but he went on to paint famous frescoes at the monastery of San Marco in Florence and a chapel in the Vatican. He died in 1455.
From 1438 to 1445 Fra Angelico worked on frescoes (paintings done on moist plaster with water-based colors) and altar-pieces for the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence. The church and monks' quarters were newly rebuilt at this time under the supervision of Cosimo de' Medici, with Michelozzo as architect for the project. The frescoes by the master and his assistants were placed throughout the corridors, chapter house, and rooms. In the midst of the traditional subjects from the life of Christ, figures of Dominican saints meditate (focus all their thoughts) upon the sacred events. At the same time the dramatic effect is increased by the inclusion of architectural details of San Marco itself in some of the scenes.