Agony in the Garden
Fra Angelico, 1395-1455
Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar and a painter, and is known by many other names. He was born Fra Giovanni de Fiesole in Vicchio di Mugello and was baptized as Guido di Piero. He has also been known as “Beato Angelico” since 1984; “Beato” is a reflection on his painting (beauty), and “Angelico” is how he was referenced after his death (angelic).
Nothing is known about Fra Angelico’s parents, but it is thought that he came from a wealthy family. He initially received training in illumination, and many manuscripts are still in existence today in San Marco that are thought to be completely by his hand. Very little is known about his actual training, but it is thought that he was influenced by Lorenzo Monaco and the Sienese School of art.
Around 1420, Fra Angelico entered the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole with his brother, Benedetto. It was at the convent that he produced frescoes for the monastery, as well as his first two works, “Altarpiece of the Annunciation” and “The Coronation of the Virgin.”
Altarpiece Of The Annunciation
The Coronation Of The Virgin
Fra Angelico would later paint in churches in Florence in the 1430s, and carried out commissions for the Dominicans in Cortona. His most important commission was completed during this time, “The San Marco Altarpiece”, as well as frescoes for the convent in San Marco. He quickly gained notoriety for his artistic talents, and was in high demand.
San Marco Altarpiece
In 1445, Fra Angelico would be called on yet again to paint frescoes, this time at the chapel of Santissimo Sacramento. This chapel has since been destroyed, but Fra Angelico would go on to paint commissions for Pope Paul III. Legend has it that he was offered the position of the Archbishop of Florence at this time, but he turned it down, though this is just speculation. During this time, Fra Angelico also took on a number of pupils including Zanobi Strozzi and Gentile de Fabriano.
Fra Angelico returned to the convent in Fiesole in 1450, and made one last return to Rome in 1455 where he died. In 1982, he was given beatification by Pope John Paul II. There is a feast day in his honor every year on February 18, the day of his death, and his grave in Minerva continues to still draw worshippers to this day. The inscription on his tomb reads; “When singing my praise, don’t liken my talents to those of Apollo. 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.”
While most of Fra Angelico’s known work is housed in museums and in the churches and cathedrals they were commissioned for, it is possible that some of his unauthenticated work still exists. Illuminated manuscript pages or altarpieces stolen in times of war are only a few possibilities.