Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fra Angelico

I have always loved medieval stuff. The majority of my grad school work was with medieval writers, mostly Chaucer. I love medieval music and medieval art as well. And my favorite artist? Fra Angelico, who was born the same year Chaucer died: 1400. But I never knew much about his life until I started receiving the Saint of the Day e-mails from which informed me that Fra Angelico is actually a saint recognized by the Catholic Church, and is also the patron saint of artists. Here's today's e-mail:

Blessed John of Fiesole
(c. 1400-1455)

The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works.

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

Fra Angelico's work simply fascinates me. The depth of color. The three-dimensional people, more Renaissance than medieval. The amazing composition of his paintings. I really could look at his work all day. Truly. There's a transcendence to his art -- something that takes his work beyond art and into worship, which was his intent, I'm sure. Prayer in color.

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