(c. 13871455)

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      • Fra Angelico was an Italian painter celebrated for his frescoes in the convent of S. Marco, Florence. In 1407 he entered the Dominican convent of S. Domenico, Fiesole, near Florence, of which he was later prior (144952). Papal politics forced the community to leave Fiesole (1409-18) and some time after their return Fra Angelico began to paint; nothing is known about his early training but he shows the influence of such International Gothic painters as Monaco. He executed (c. 1428-33) an altarpiece (extensively altered by di Credi, c. 1501) and 3 frescoes (sala capitolare of the convent) for his own convent and an Annunciation for the church of S. Domenico, Cortona: these foreshadow the simplicity of his mature work.

        In 1433 he was commissioned to paint the 'Linaiuoli' or 'Linen-workers' triptych, particularly famous for the 12 angels playing on musical instruments which decorate the frame surrounding the central figures of the Virgin and Child. Two triptychs, painted after this for the churches of S. Domenico, Cortona and Perugia in the Gothic style, show that Fra Angelico was attempting to break with the conventions of this form of altarpiece. In 1436 Cosimo de' Medici commissioned Fra Angelico to paint 3 altarpieces including the high altar for the Dominican convent of S. Marco, Florence - Virgin and Child Enthroned with SS Cosmos and Damian (1438-40). In these and the slightly earlier Coronation of the Virgin for Fiesole the figures of saints and angels recede towards the central figure, marking a step in the development of the sacra conversazione altarpiece. Fra Angelico also uses single panels instead of the triptych and completely abandons the Gothic gold background; in the S. Marco altarpiece he introduces landscape background. The predella scenes for this altarpiece from the lives of SS Cosmas and Damian illustrate Fra Angelico's excellence as a colourist and are his most lively narrative paintings. Fra Angelico began, about this time, to supervise the painting of 50 frescoes of scenes from the life of Christ for the cells of the convent of S. Marco; he himself probably painted not more than 10. Their setting and purpose, which was not decorative but to act as an aid to meditation, were ideally suited to the direct and simple piety characteristic of Fra Angelico's painting. Those by him are the most straightforward and hence most effectively fulfil their purpose. In 1447 he was in Orvieto where he painted The Last judgement, finished by Signorelli, and in Rome executing decorative work in the Vatican for Pope Nicholas V. Only his frescoes in the chapel of Nicholas V (1447/8) survive. In keeping with their setting these are richer and more complex than any of Angelico's previous work.

        Angelico died in Rome. Much of his work refers back to Giotto and he took no part in the artistic experiments and secular interests of his contemporaries, although he utilized new visual techniques such as perspective if they served the devotional purpose of his painting.

        Gozzoli was his pupil.

      • Source: The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists (World of Art)

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