At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Blessed Fra Angelico – painter

Talented Friar became patron of Catholic artists


A detail from a Luca Signorelli fresco in Orvieto cathedral, thought to represent Fra Angelico
A detail from a Luca Signorelli fresco in Orvieto
cathedral, thought to represent Fra Angelico
The early Renaissance painter who became known as Fra Angelico died on this day in 1455 in Rome.

Fra Angelico is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 15th century, whose works reflected his serene religious attitude.

He painted many altarpieces and frescoes for the Church and Priory of San Marco in Florence where he lived for about nine years.

In 1982, more than 500 years after his death, Fra Angelico was beatified by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the holiness of his life. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared him ‘patron of Catholic artists’.

The artist was born Guido di Pietro at Rupecanina near Fiesole, just outside Florence, towards the end of the 14th century.

The earliest recorded document concerning him dates from 1417 when he joined a religious confraternity at the Carmine Church and it reveals that he was already a painter.

The first record of him as a Friar is dated 1423 and shows him to have been a member of the Dominican order.

The San Marco altarpiece in Florence is one of Fra Angelico's most famous works
The San Marco altarpiece in Florence is one of Fra
Angelico's most famous works
It is believed his first paintings were an altarpiece and a painted screen for the Carthusian Monastery in Florence, but these no longer exist.

Between 1418 and 1436 he lived at the convent of Fiesole where he painted frescoes and an altarpiece. A predella - platform - of the altarpiece is now in the National Gallery in London.

In 1439, while living at the convent of San Marco in Florence, he completed one of his most famous works, the San Marco altarpiece, which was unusual for its time as it showed the saints grouped in a natural way as if they were able to talk to each other. Paintings such as this became known as Sacred Conversations and were later executed by many other artists, including Bellini, Perugino and Raphael.

In 1445 Fra Angelico was summoned to Rome to paint the frescoes of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament at St Peter’s. He moved to Orvieto in 1447 to paint works for the Cathedral and then went back to Rome to design frescoes for Pope Nicholas V, which were probably later painted by his assistants.

Fra Angelico returned to live in his old convent in Fiesole in 1449, but must have eventually gone back to Rome to do more work for the Vatican. He died in a Dominican Convent there in 1455 and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Piazza Giotto is the central square of Vicchio
Piazza Giotto is the central square of Vicchio
Travel tip:

Rupecanina, where Fra Angelico was born, is a hamlet of Vicchio, a town about 25 km (16 miles) north east of Florence. Many other Italian painters came from the area, including Giotto, who was believed to have been born in Colle di Vespignano, another hamlet of Vicchio, in about 1270.

The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome
The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome
Travel tip:

Fra Angelico’s tomb, which was the work of Isaia da Pisa, is in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome because the artist died in the adjoining convent. He had painted a fresco in the cloister there, which has not survived.  The important Dominican Church is in Piazza Minerva, close to the Pantheon, and was built directly over an ancient temple. The church was consecrated in 1370 and the façade was designed by Carlo Maderno.

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