Fra Angelico is truly fascinating figure in the history of art. He was Dominican monk, one of many orders of monks in Italy during the 1400s and throughout the middle ages. His full name was Guido di Piero da Mugello but after entering the order was known as Fra Giovanni da Fiescole. Fra Angelico was a title that he was bestowed upon him. It means angelic brother, and indeed it was earned. He was a singular individual, Fra Angelico. Determined to inspire religious meditation, Fra Angelico set out with several assistants to paint a religious scene in each of the forty four cells for the monks. Frescoes were also added to meetings rooms and along corridors, leaving the Monastery of San Marco completely covered with this talented artists work.
One of the most well known of Fra Angelico’s frescoes is that of the Annunciation, found in the north corridor of the monastery. A calm Mary accepts the message of the archangel Gabriel, arms crossed over her stomach. Her bright eyes are focused on the angel in front of her, flushed cheaks the only sign of the shock the news that she is to bare the son of God brings. Mary’s simple outfit falls in great flowing heaps of cloth about her feet. The angel, though, is depicted in great detail, his robes falling in tiny rippling folds as it nears the floor. Particularly interesting are the wings of the angel, not done in the simple white we often see even in antiquity but in all colors and tiny patterns. The wings seem to meld into the flowered garden directly behind the angel.
Fra Angelico’s work follows in the then new style of art set down by Pietro Perugino. For the first time paintings were beginning to have depth and perspective, something that earlier Medieval paintings were lacking. Many works before Perugino had only a flat background of color, or else something very similar, not the sweeping landscapes as a backdrop for other happens as we are now accustomed to seeing. Following in Perugino’s footsteps, Fra Angelico used depth in his paintings as can be seen in the Annunciation. In the foreground Mary and the archangel Gabriel converse, the background shows an inner room and window opening into the beyond.The pope at the time, Pope Eugenius IV, commissioned several frescoes of Fra Angelico for the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, only to have them torn down several years later by Pope Paul III. He was invited back to the Vatican a second time though, this time by Pope Nicholas V for several frescoes for the Niccoline Chapel. Fra Angelico, though humble in nature – according to some sources he was offered the position of Archbishop of Florence and refused. His contemporaries weren’t the only ones who wanted to praise his spiritual nature and achievements either. Fra Angelico was beatified, the first step in becoming a saint, in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. In 1984 Fra Angelico was declared the patron of all Catholic artists.