Fra, Angelico

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

One of the most beloved artists in history was the Italian painter Fra Angelico. He was considered so saintly that legends grew up around him. One story relates that when he fell asleep while working on a painting, angels came down from heaven to finish it for him.

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Fra Angelico (Guido Di Pietro) c. 1400-1455, Italian. Angel of the Annunciation (detail). © SuperStock/SuperStock
 

Fra Angelico was born about 1400 near Florence. His real name was Guido di Pietro. He took the name Fra Giovanni da Fiesole at about the age of 20, when he entered a monastery in Fiesole. There he became famous for his paintings and illuminated manuscripts (handwritten books decorated with painted pictures or designs).

In 1436, Fra Angelico was transferred to the San Marco monastery in Florence. It is said that when the pope saw San Marco after Fra Angelico redecorated it, he offered to make the artist archbishop of Florence. But Fra Angelico refused, explaining that he could better serve the church by painting. About 1445 the pope called him to Rome to paint frescoes (wall paintings done on wet plaster) at the Vatican. Fra Angelico's frescoes use soft, yet clear colors and graceful lines to tell stories from the Bible.

Fra Angelico died in Rome on February 18, 1455. The names Fra Angelico ("angelic brother") and Il Beato ("the blessed one") were given to him after his death because he was devout--in his life and in his art.

Reviewed by S. J. Freedberg
National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)

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