Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico/Beato, was the name given to the Dominican friar and early renaissance artist, Fra Giovanni Guido di Piero for his extraordinary works and personal piety. He was born in Vicchio, Tuscany, and had begun his artistic career as an illuminator of missals and other religious related books in his late teens. In 1417, he was accepted as a member of the Compasniadisan Niccolo, a religious confraternity in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, which was an implicit recognition of his Christian piety. Here he was prohibited from painting, and therefore resigned from the order and joined the community of San Dominico to become a Dominican friar in 1420, where his brother Fra Benedetto also joined and was ordained as a priest.


It was in this place that Fra Angelico had begun his first works on altar pieces and frescoes such as The Annunciation, and had adopted the name Frate Giovanni de’ San Domeico da Fiesole (Fra Giovanni of the friars of San Dominico in Fiesole). He was one of the first friars who employed for working on convents other than his own. By the time he was the age of twenty-five, Fra Angelico was already a well known master painter. At the time Florence was the ideal area for Renaissance artwork. So Fra Angelico along with other Fiesole friars, moved to the convent of San Marco in Florence around 1436. In 1445 however, he went to Rome as a request by Pope Eugenius IV. Eventually Fra Angelico returns to his Fiesole, and passes away in March 1455.
Unlike many other artists of those times, Fra Angelico used effective artistic techniques such as devout facial expressions, convincing usage of color, motion, deep spacing, usage of a linear perspective, all combined with the influence of the decorative Gothic style of Gentile da Fabriano, which made him one of the foremost painters of the Renaissance. It was also said that his work was inspired by the preaching of another Dominican known as Fra Manfredida Vercelli, and since all his work consisted of Christian relevance, his Christian spirituality is manifested in his art.
One of Fra Angelico’s more well known piece of work, is the painting of The Last Judgement, which was a piece for the back of a seat for the priest to use at the Mass. It was most probably commissioned by the Florentine church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This piece of work shows the separation of the ‘blessed’ and the ‘dammed’ by the receding graves separating them, and being judged by they saints and Christ at the top of the horizon. Fra Angelico achieves his perspective of ‘the last judgement’ convincingly by the clever usage of colors, facial expressions and actions used to differentiate the two sides.
The ‘blessed’ are surrounded by supernatural lights that form halos around their heads and shine upon them from paradise, which is in the very corner of the picture. This would suggest that paradise is much harder to reach compared to hell, which is portrayed to be closer to the viewer, implying hell would be much easier to go to. On the side of the ‘dammed’, much darker colors such as blacks and browns are used to create a negative feeling to emphasize the difference of hell and paradise, where paradise, soft yellows and bright colors are used to convey a more heavenly feel. Angry and horrific facial expressions and people deliberately hurting each other have been used to portray the ‘dammed’, whereas those who are ‘blessed’ have peaceful and calm facial expressions, and most of them are all united together by the holding of hands or by embracing each other.

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