Classical Showcase: Fra Angelico

Not to be confused with Frangelico, the popular liqueur, Blessed Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, AKA Fra Angelico (the Angelic Friar), was one of the highlights of the early Italian renaissance.

Portrait of Fra Angelico, in a detail from “Deeds of the Antichrist,” by Luca Signorelli, c. 1501

Born at the end of the 14th Century, he entered the Dominicans around the age of 25, at which point he was already a practiced hand at the canvas. His work speaks solely to his devotion and piety.

Eventually taken under the wing of several popes and the famous Medici family, Fra Angelico produced numerous altar pieces, frescoes, and paintings for churches and convents around Italy. (Two sections of an altarpiece of his were recently rediscovered in the possession of a woman whose father had picked them up for £100 at a garage sale or some such nonsense.)

One of the most striking elements of the work of Fra Angelico is its incarnationality. By this I mean the weight that his figures usually have, instead of an ethereal airiness. This was in contrast to the predominant schools of religious art at the time, which were not as naturalistic. This naturalism became a characteristic element of Renaissance artwork.

The Deposition of Christ

Another interesting feature is the color – usually light pastels, with very few royal blues and golds (which symbolized wealth and human esteem, including for the patron who could provide such materials). This is again reflective of the inner life of the simple, pious friar.

St. Lawrence Distributing Alms

Pope St. John Paul II said of him at his beatification: “Angelico was reported to say “He who does Christ’s work must stay with Christ always”. This motto earned him the epithet “Blessed Angelico”, because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

He died in 1455 at a convent in Rome, poor, chaste, and obedient, leaving a legacy that would help to ignite the artistic soul of the Italian Renaissance, like a glowing ember that refuses to cool.

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The Virgin of the Annunciation

Main image: The Day of Judgement

Final image: By carulmare – ANGELICO, Fra Annunciation, 1437-46, CC BY 2.0,