Italian renaissance artist Fra Angelico lived his life as a devout friar who created magnificent works of art throughout his lifetime. Known for centuries to the Italians as ‘Beato Angelico’ (the Blessed Angel), his beatification was made official when he was named the patron saint of artists by Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Born in Vicchio, Tuscany, in 1395, Fra Angelico was originally named Guido di Pietro. He was passionate about religion and joined the convent of San Domenico in Florence at an early age. When he became a Dominican monk in 1418, he took on the name "Fra Giovanni". This would be the first of many names given to one of the most celebrated artists of the early Renaissance.
Fra Angelico began his career as an illuminator of missals and other religious books, influenced by Italian religious artist Gentile da Fabriano. According to Italian painter and art historian Vasari, his earliest works of art were created in the Certosa of Florence; none of which can be found there now.
In 1433, Fra Angelico painted the Madonna of the Linen Guild which is the first painting of certain date. Among his many divine subjects are included such works as Christ in Glory Surrounded by Saints and Angels, Adoration of an Angel, and Virgin and Child Enthroned with Twelve Angels. When the Dominicans of Fiesole moved to St. Mark's convent in Florence, Fra Angelico supervised the fresco decoration of the building. Some of the works of art that adorn its walls include Crucifixion with St. Dominic and the Great Crucifixion.
In 1445, Fra Angelico decorated the Cappella del Sacramento in the Vatican and two years later he visited Orvieto, one of Italy's most unique and interesting cities where he left his mark when he and student Benozzo Gozzoli painted Christ as Judge and the Prophets in the Cappella Nuova of the cathedral.
Upon his return to Rome in 1450, Fra Angelico would create one of his final works of art, frescoes in the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V which consisted of Scenes from the Lives of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence.
Before his death in 1455, Fra Angelico’s achievements were greater than anyone of his stature could have hoped for in a lifetime, including becoming Prior of the Convent of San Marco and later Archbishop of Florence. He is buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, where his tombstone still exists and has since been a source of inspiration for such masters as Fra Filippo Lippi and Benozzo Gozzoli.