Angelico, Fra ca. 1400–1455 Painter

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Angelico, Fra
ca. 1400–1455

The painter known as Fra Angelico was born Guido di Pietro in Florence. Guido and his brother Benedetto were trained in the production of manuscripts. Benedetto was a scribe, or professional copyist, and Guido created illuminations*. By 1425 the two brothers had entered a Dominican* order. Guido changed his name to Fra Giovanni when he became a monk. After his death, the Dominicans renamed him Fra Angelico, "the angelic friar."

From the early 1420s until Benedetto's death in 1448, the two brothers ran a large and successful workshop, producing manuscripts and paintings. They created most of their works for Dominican houses throughout Tuscany (the region around Florence). However, Fra Angelico's beautiful illustrations also attracted the attention of wealthy patrons* in Florence. Eventually his fame spread to Rome, where he worked for Pope Eugenius IV and Pope Nicholas V.

Fra Angelico's style was different from that of many other artists of his time. He did not embrace new techniques such as chiaroscuro, the alternation of areas of light and shadow. Instead he adopted a natural style. He used old-fashioned techniques such as gilding (applying a thin layer of gold to a surface), punch work (creating small, repeating patterns with a steel punch), and vivid use of color. These methods were part of the tradition of sacred art from the early 1300s.

By the mid-1430s Fra Angelico was operating the largest painter's workshop in Florence. Like most Tuscan artists of his time, he was best known for his frescoes*. His largest fresco project was at the Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence. Aided by artists from his shop, Fra Angelico painted the walls of more than 48 rooms and 3 corridors in the convent. Many of these frescoes show scenes from the life of Christ. They include two of his finest achievements, the Annunciation and the Transfiguration.

In Rome, Fra Angelico painted in more public spaces, including St. Peter's, the Vatican Palace, and the cloister* of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Many of these works have disappeared, but Fra Angelico's frescoes depicting the lives of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence still exist in the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican Palace.

(See alsoArt in Italy; Books and Manuscripts; Illumination; Patronage. )

* illumination

hand-painted color decorations and illustrations on the pages of a manuscript

* Dominican

religious order of brothers and priests founded by St. Dominic

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

* cloister

covered passageway around a courtyard in a convent or monastery

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Angelico, Fra ca. 1400–1455 Painter

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