Fra Angelico was an Early Renaissance Italian artist with a considerably rare talent for painting frescoes. His most painted scenes were the Annunciation and The Last Judgment. To those who knew and worked with him, he was known either as Fra Giovanni de Fiesole or Fra Giovanni Angelico. There were many Dominican friars of the time named Fra Giovanni, or Brother John, so he added the name of the town Fiesole, where he took his vows, to his name to help distinguish himself from other friars named Giovanni. In modern times he bears the Italian name “il Beato Angelico” which translates into English as “The Blessed One”, but now he is best known as Fra Angelico, which means “Angelic Brother”.
His birth name was Guido di Pietro and he was born in Rupecanina, Tuscany. Much of the information gathered about Fra Angelico comes from several historical church records. According to a church document made when he joined the Carmine Church it notes that his profession was painting. He completed many frescoes and altarpieces during his life as he moved from monastery to monastery between the years 1418-1445, and his most famous work of art, the Altarpiece for the Friary of San Marco in Florence, was completed in 1439.
Fra Angelico, along with a number of friars from Fiesole, had moved to the Friary of San Marco in 1436, where he earned the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici, who was a powerful and very wealthy man. It was with this influential backing that Fra Angelico began decorating the monastery, which had only recently been built. Among the works were the Annunciation found at the top of the stairs to the friars’ cells, the Chapter House fresco, many small frescos depicting Christ’s life on the walls of the cells, and the Maesta with Saints.
His reputation brought him to the attention of Pope Eugenius IV, and he was called to Rome in 1445. There he began filling the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament with beautiful frescoes, which unfortunately were later destroyed when Pope Paul III demolished the chapel. In 1447 he and his students, Benozzo Gozzoli and Zaobi Strozzi, worked in the Orvieto Cathedral, but soon after he was back at the Vatican again. This time he was designing frescoes under the patronage of Nicholas V for a small chapel named the Niccoline Chapel.
Fra Angelico came back to Fiesole and served as the Prior of Frisole’s convent from 1449 to 1452. This was not to be the completion of his circle, however, as he continued to travel and paint frescoes in different chapels throughout Rome. The last Chapel he worked on was Pope Nicholas’. He was finally laid to rest in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in 1455.
His life was considered a holy and an exemplary one, and so in 1982 Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the honor of “beatification”. In 1984 Fra Angelico was again honored, this time with Pope John Paul II’s declaration that Fra Angelico would be known from now on as the “Patron of Catholic artists.”