Fra Angelico (1395-1455) was an early Italian Renaissance painter. He was also a Dominican Friar who spent his the greater part of his life in the friary of St. Marco in Florence, Italy. According to the Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a famous work on Italian Renaissance painter, The Live of the Artists, “It is impossible to bestow too much praise on this holy father, who was so humble and modest in all that he did and said and whose pictures were painted with such facility and piety.” He also said Fra Angelico painted with a “rare and perfect talent”.
The above painting is of the Transfiguration of Christ. This is told at today’s Catholic mass. Basically, it is the moment when Jesus went up to a high mountain with three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, and was “transfigured” before them. According to the Gospels, his physical appearance changed, as he “was transfigured before them; his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.” Then, a shining cloud appeared above his disciples, from which they heard a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”. It is one of the most intriguing moments in the Gospels.
It has also been a favorite scenes of many artists. Raphael painted perhaps the most famous depiction, which I posted on a few years ago. Today’s post celebrates the painting by Fra Angelico, who, as mentioned above, was one of the most spiritual of all Renaissance artists. He has even been named as “Blessed” by Pope John Paul II in 1982, which is a mark of high sanctity and is one step removed from formal sainthood.
Fra Angelico’s paintings are wonderful depictions of the life of Christ. In their calm and simplicity, their peaceful quiet and solid beauty, they reflect the deep spiritual soul of their creator. Not only can they be enjoyed simply as nice works of art, they also can be used as aides to prayer and meditation. In many ways they are a bridge between the more traditional Byzantine, icon style paintings of medieval art, and the emerging naturalism of the Renaissance. In fact, most of his painting were done in his friary, St. Marco, and were, like most religious art, intended as spiritual aids, rather than simply as sources of aesthetic pleasure. Fra Angelico was a great influence on the next generation of Italian Renaissance painters, such as Leonardo and Raphael.
His painting may be difficult for modern eyes to understand and appreciate, but for me their beauty and sense of spiritual truth far excels so much of weirdness and ugliness that exists in most modern art.