Fra Angelico

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Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico, as he is known in English, is il Beato Angelico in Italian and was known to his contemporaries as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole. By the time Vasari published his "Lives of the Artists" in 1555, Fra Angelico was already known as Fra Giovanni Angelico (Brother John, the Angelic One). He was born Guido di Pietro, at Rupecanina, in Vicchio di Mugello, near Fiesole, some time around 1395 and died in Rome in 1455. The appellation "Beato" was a measure of the esteem in which his painting was held and not a reference to his beatification, which took place only in 1984.

Fra Angelico was a Dominican and a mendicant, so, not being part of a closed order, he was free to meet and talk to others in the Florence.  He initially trained as an illuminator and in 1420-1422, he entered the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole with his brother Benedetto. It was here that he produced his first known paintings: the Altarpiece of the Annunciation, The Coronation of the Virgin, as well as the frescoes for his monastery.

Fra Angelico not only gained recognition as a painter but was held in high regard in his convent because he was appointed Vicario for the first time in Fiesole from 1432-33, a post he was to hold frequently in later years.

From 1408 to 1418 Fra Angelico was at the Dominican Convent of Cortona where he painted frescoes, now destroyed, in the Dominican Church. In the 1430ís, he worked in Florentine churches, also carrying out commissions for the Dominicans in Cortona, including the Cortona Triptych and the Annunciation panel. From 1438, he worked on his most important commission, the San Marco Altarpiece and the frescoes for the convent of San Marco in Florence.

In July 1445, Fra Angelico was summoned to Rome by Pope Eugenius IV, where he painted frescoes in the chapel of Santissimo Sacramento, which was later torn down under Pope Paul III. For Pope Nicholas V, the successor of Eugenius, he painted the frescoes of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence between 1447 and 1449 with the assistance of Benozzo Gazzoli (1420-1497), in the Capella Niccolina in the Vatican, named after the Pope who commissioned the frescoes.

In the summer of 1447, Fra Angelico began work on the frescoes in the Capella di San Brizio in the Cathedral of Orvieto. These were competed by Luca Signorelli fifty years later. From 1450-1452, he returned to his old convent in Fiesole as Prior, before going for one last time to Rome, where he died on 18 February 1455. He is buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

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