Fra Angelico (c 1390-1444) has not been officially declared a saint, although he was beatified by John Paul II in 1982. Perhaps more tellingly, he was known as il Beato – Blessed One – even in his own lifetime.
His paintings, however, plead his cause more eloquently than any title. As John Paul II remarked at his beatification: “Why do we need miracles? These [his paintings] are his miracles.”
Fra Angelico’s aim was to preach through beauty. His paintings and frescoes exude such heavenly calm and spiritual depth that it is impossible to imagine their creator as anything but a fount of holiness. Indeed, he believed that it was not possible to create a Christian image without living a Christian life. Giorgio Vasari reported that he would not take up his brush without first saying a prayer.
Fra Angelico was born Guido di Pietro at Rupecanina, in the countryside north-east of Florence. In 1407, together with his brother Benedetto, also an artist, he became a novice with the Dominicans. At this stage he worked chiefly at illustrating missals and choir books. The early frescoes he painted at the Dominican house in Cortona have not survived, although there is a fine altarpiece depicting the Annunciation from this period.
Ordained priest in 1418 at Fiesole, he became known in religion as Fra Angelico Giovanni. From 1418 until the mid-1430s he lived in the Dominican monastery at Fiesole, where, among many other masterpieces, he created another celebrated altarpiece.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection