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´╗┐Title: Fra Angelico - a sketch
Author: Keysor, Jennie Ellis, 1860-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Fra Angelico - a sketch" ***

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"_Art manifests whatever is most exalted, and it manifests it to
all_"--TAINE



FRA ANGELICO

A SKETCH

BY

JENNIE ELLIS KEYSOR

_Author of "Sketches of American Authors"_

[Illustration]

EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING COMPANY

BOSTON

NEW YORK CHICAGO SAN FRANCISCO

"The art of Angelico, both as a colorist and a draughtsman, is
consummate; so perfect and so beautiful that his work may be recognized
at a distance by the rainbow-play and brilliancy of it: however closely
it may be surrounded by other works of the same school, glowing with
enamel and gold, Angelico's may be told from them at a glance, like so
many huge pieces of opal among common marbles."

--JOHN RUSKIN.

"The light of his studio came from Paradise."

--PAUL DE ST. VICTOR.

"His world is a strange one--a world not of hills and fields and flowers
and men of flesh and blood, but one where the people are embodied
ecstasies, the colors tints from evening clouds or apocalyptic jewels,
the scenery a flood of light or a background of illuminated gold. His
mystic gardens, where the ransomed souls embrace and dance with angels
on the lawns outside the City of the Lamb, are such as were never
trodden by the foot of man in any paradise of earth."

"Fra Angelico's Madonnas are beings of unearthly beauty, and words fail
to convey any idea of their ineffable loveliness and purity. His angels
too are creatures of another sphere, and purer types have never yet been
conceived in art. The drawing of the hands of his angels and Madonnas is
most exquisite--charming in tender yet subtle simplicity of outline."

--TIMOTHY COLE.


Copyrighted, 1900, by EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING Co.

[Illustration: FRA ANGELICO]



FRA ANGELICO.

1387--1455.

Let us for a few moments turn our attention to a monastery a short
distance from Florence. From its elevated position on the hills which
skirt the vale of the Arno it commands a panoramic view of the "Lily
City." It is the time when the Renaissance is virgin new to the world.
Faith was still so real and living a thing that men and women shut
themselves up from the world in order to live holy lives and devote
themselves entirely to the service of God.

It is a body of such men on the heights of Fiesole that interests us.
They are Dominican monks, of the order of great preachers, founded long
ago by St. Dominic. Over long white robes the brothers, or frates, as
they are called, wear black capes and back from their tonsured heads
fall hoods, which protect them in inclement weather. It is a prosperous
monastery surrounded by goodly fields. In some, the olive groves blossom
in the spring-like snow, or wear foliage of richest green as the season
advances. In others, the yellowing grain waves in the upland summer
breeze. The monks are busy people, many without in the fields tilling
the fruitful soil or gathering in the abundant harvest.

Indoors there is the silence which attends toil, intense and absorbing.
The cellar and kitchen are in perfect order and in the refectory, or
dining room, the table is spread for the next frugal meal. In the
scriptorium, or writing room, several monks are busy copying ancient
manuscripts on parchment. One does this work, using the most exquisite
lettering, while another indites the hymns long loved by the church.
This other, bending over his task, from a rich palette makes the vine to
run, the dragon to coil, the angel head to shine, the tropic bird to fly
from out the lettering of his book or, more ambitious still, he
decorates a broad margin with an elaborate design. Mayhap he devotes an
entire page to the deliniation of some favorite saint.--

    "What joy it is to labor so,
     To see the long-tressed angels grow
     Beneath the cunning of his hand,
     Vignette and tail-piece subtly wrought!"

Here in the walk of the cloisters, his pallid face lit up by fiery eyes,
strolls another, the preacher of the monastery. To-night he will
electrify his audience with the eloquence of his sermon that shall tell
of the curse of evil, of the saving power of love.

Yonder, with the face and attitude of one who prays, painting a lovely
angel with flame upon her forehead, with stars upon her robe and with a
golden trumpet in her hand, is a man whose fancy has outgrown the
margin, the full page even, of the beloved parchment book, and so he
fills a whole wall with his vision from Paradise. Little need is there
to name this painter-monk. It is Fra Angelico, the "Angelical Painter,"
_Il Beato_, "The Blessed."

To this man, who prays as he paints and who paints as he prays, we are
to give our attention for a time. It is particularly delightful to find
such a character in a time when holy men and women sometimes forgot
their religious vows and ordinary citizens, in their scramble for place,
lost sight of the laws of honor and manhood. In a time of greed it
pleases us to find a man, who, though his art was the fashion of his
period, would take no money for his pictures; in a time of ambition for
place, to find one who could refuse an elevated position because he did
not think himself fitted to fill it; to find a man so simple and yet so
wise that he knew the work allotted to him in life and had the devotion
to stick to it in spite of inducements to give it up.

[Illustration: FLORENCE.]

Such a man was Fra Angelico, the sweet character, the beautiful artist
of heavenly visions, the man to whom Ruskin goes back as the embodiment
of correct principles in art, even beyond Raphael, the idol of the ages.
Fra Angelico is the last figure of the old simple time in art when the
spirit counted for most. He lingered long on the threshold of that later
time, when men forgot the spirit in their enthusiasm for copying the
real thing as it presents itself in nature.

Now that we know what the prosaic artists of that prosaic time taught,
namely to draw correctly, we go back to the visions of the angelical
painter and hug them to us as a rich bequest, a glimpse, as it were, of
that paradise closed to mortal eyes. Along other lines too, it is good
for us to study the men and women who were great enough to be simple, to
be devoted. In art it is quite as good and equally delightful.

Whoever tells the story of Fra Angelico's life has few dates and events
with which to entangle his reader's treacherous memory. The story is
told when the man and his spirit have been portrayed, when his
surroundings at various periods have been described. It is forced home
to us, therefore, that we ought to know well the history of the company
of men to whom he belonged and was devotedly attached for almost fifty
years of his life.

We have already spoken of these monks at Fiesole and of their pursuits.
As they gazed out upon Florence, the matchless city of the Arno, it was
with longing hearts as homesick children, for they had been banished
from the loved city as a matter of discipline, years before. As they
looked out from their commanding windows, they forgot the glorious
scenery about them in an intense desire to be at home again. In a small
way they shared the agonized grief of Dante, an exile in Ravenna's drear
waters, when he knocked in vain at the closed gates of his loved and
native Florence. Theirs, however, was a kinder fate than that which
befell the renowned poet, for they were recalled to Florence.

The monastery of San Marco was emptied of some monks of another order
and the place given over to the reformed Dominicans. Singing hymns of
praise, arrayed in their black and white, they filed down from the
heights of Fiesole to San Marco, while the expelled monks departed with
downcast mien and sore lamentations.

The restored monks found San Marco hardly fit for habitation, so ruinous
was its condition. Cosimo de Medici came to their relief and repaired
and beautified the building. In addition, he had a sort of chapel or
retiring room fitted up in it for himself to which he might come for
quiet and for consultation. Willingly the monks dwelt in huts while the
repairs and decorations were going forward. We shall learn later how
Angelico embellished the walls of cloister and cell until the thoughts
of the angelical brother were laid bare to his companions, so that,
to-day, perhaps the chief reason for the throng of visitors to this
unattractive building is the fact that here Fra Angelico lived and
painted.

The Dominicans were restored to Florence and their home, San Marco,
began its career, if, indeed, we may say that a building can have a
career, as an essential factor in Florentine history.

We may love Fra Angelico but, after all, the most interesting
association in many minds for San Marco is not his sweet life in its
brotherhood or his heavenly faces upon its walls, but rather that here
studied, taught, preached and died Savonarola, that pure patriot, that
noble, although often mistaken man, that most eloquent orator that
Florence has given to the world. As simple as Angelico and as free from
place-seeking, he was the soul and voice of the Florentine people when
faction rent the city and threatened its very existence. That clear
voice, prompted by a magnificent love, by a burning zeal, sometimes
makes us forget that the zeal was often misguided, and that disobedience
to authority is not always the best way of effecting reform.

[Illustration: DUOMO, FLORENCE (SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE)]

San Marco, standing off there from the Duomo, is a plain building, but
to the thoughtful visitor to-day there are echoes of footfalls sounding
down those tenantless halls, which make the heart quicken its beating,
the cheek flush, and the eye dim; for it is Savonarola's voice that he
hears, Angelico's brush that he marks, the wise counsel of Antonio that
falls on his ear, instead of the sights and sounds of sense.

Three times, at least, in the history of Italian art a pure light, a
fresh stream has flowed in from the hills--Raphael from Urbino among the
heights of Umbria, Titian from the crags of Cadore and now Angelico from
the slopes of the Apennines in the fertile district of Mugello. Each
brought with him from his native hills a vigor and devotion new to the
dwellers below.

At Vecchio, a small town crowning one of the spurs of the Apennines, Fra
Angelico was born, in 1387. His father was a certain Pietro, or Peter,
and there was an older son who afterwards bore the name Benedetto. Now,
the name _Angelico_, by which we love to call our angel painter, was
really not his name at all. He was simply Guido, the son of Pietro, and
when he entered the monastery he was given yet another name, Giovanni,
or John. Fate, or fame rather, destined that he should not be known
either by his birth name or by his religious name. What his hand could
do, what his heart could show were the things which determined his name.
Because he painted angels so matchlessly they called him Brother or Fra
Angelico, because his heart opened so unselfishly to his fellow men they
called him _Beato_, "The Blessed," and by these names we know him
to-day.

From what Vasari tells us, that Guido might have lived at ease had he so
desired, we know that his father was a man of means. What the boy's
education was we are unable to tell definitely. From the surroundings of
his home at Vecchio we can infer much, especially in the light of
Angelico's later work. Hardly twenty miles from Florence, on the road to
Ravenna, the hill town of Vecchio must have taken a keen interest in the
stirring events ever going on in the Florence of the early Renaissance.

We can imagine, however, that, though these things impressed the young
Guido, the beautiful scenery surrounding his home held a deeper meaning
for him. Here were fine olive groves, there rocks grew bare and jagged,
refusing to produce anything except scrubby underbrush. A frowning
precipice yonder lost none of its forbidding character because of the
crown it wore--a fine castle, which told by its towers and turrets,
where watchmen stood or paced throughout the lonely hours, that the age
when lusty knights rode forth to harry each other's domain was not
wholly past.

[Illustration: THE ANNUNCIATION]

That castle, gleaming white and menacing through the olive trees, is one
of the country seats of the powerful Medicean family. The boy Guido and
his brother have often seen the great Cosimo walking in his garden or
riding on the highway. Indeed, the boys have been accosted by him and
questioned regarding their sports.

It was not, however, the power of man, who plants his dwellings on the
heights of the earth or grows fat upon the produce of her soil, that
most deeply impressed our young artist. To him the pearly white of the
summer cloud, the cerulean blue of the endless depths of air, the
amethyst, ruby and topaz of the sky at sunrise or sunset were more. They
seemed but reflections of a glory beyond cloud and sky, where the hosts
of the blessed forever praise their redeeming Lord. Those soft and
melting colors slid into his soul and years later he poured them forth
in the garment of some trumpeting angel, blessed Madonna, or rejoicing
brother.

[Illustration]

In his tenderness for nature we can imagine that the little creatures of
the woods fled not at his approach but rather stayed to receive from his
hand food or a loving caress. The flowers that bespangled the soft
Tuscan turf sprung up after his foot had pressed them, so light was his
step, so gentle the thought that in him reigned. The boys were
constantly together, sharing in the rambles and sports which their home
region encouraged. Their love increased until it was sealed by the vow
that made them brother monks as well as brothers in flesh and blood.

At the age of fourteen Guido left home, probably for purposes of study,
but we cannot trace his course during the next six years. We know not
if, like Titian, he crushed flowers to obtain their colors to paint
with, in his boyhood days, but somehow, somewhere in those early years
he learned the rudiments of the art by which the world knows him to-day.

[Illustration]

With such a boyhood, remote from the marts of trade, surrounded by all
that is loveliest in nature, we are not surprised to find him at the age
of twenty anxious to follow a religious life. It is possible that,
during those six years just previous to his entering the convent, he may
have studied miniature painting or illuminating in some monastery, where
his purpose to become a monk took definite form. However that may be, in
1407, he sought out the monastery of Fiesole and entered as a novice, to
begin the study and privations which should prepare him for the life of
a Dominican friar. To his great joy his elder brother joined him soon
after and was given the name Benedetto.

The novices were sent for a time to the older convent of Cortona. Here
the training in the love of Nature, which began in the hills of Vecchio,
was continued. The convent of Cortona stood upon an elevation
overlooking the placid waters of Lake Trasemene, where, in ancient
times, Hannibal gained a great victory over the Romans. All about were
the remains of massive masonry, built in the remote past by the
Etruscans. Three islands broke the quiet surface of the little lake and
on one of them stood a monastery. I wonder if, on days of relaxation,
the holy men, rowing across to visit their brothers of the island, did
not catch some of the finny tribe that inhabited the lake, or snare some
of the wild fowl that lived along its margin.

Our angelical painter probably was not attracted by such matters. The
prospect of lake and hill and wood, which daily opened before him,
deepened all his early impressions and so, almost unconsciously, the
training for his future work continued. Meanwhile, too, he probably
practiced assiduously in the parchment books of the monastery the art of
illumination.

[Illustration]

Shortly after Angelico took upon himself the full vows of a monk, the
whole religious body of Fiesole was removed to Foligno. Here they
remained for several years, until the plague broke out and they fled to
Cortona, the same town where Angelico had spent several years of his
novitiate. By this time he had become a full fledged painter, as is
shown by the work he left in two Dominican churches of Cortona. There is
reason to believe that when Angelico, an old man, was on his way to Rome
to paint for the Pope, he gave, in exchange for the courtesies of the
convent of Cortona to a traveller, some pictures of the Madonna which
are still to be seen in the church of St. Dominic in Cortona.

The brotherhood was later recalled to Fiesole. Angelico must often have
gone down to Florence and there have seen the work of his great
contemporaries in art. Massaccio was the artist, above all others, who
was attracting attention at this time. His work was the most accurate
representation of real things that had yet been made by any artist in
Italy. Fra Angelico must have seen his work and profited by it, too.

But he never forgot his early inspiration drawn from the hills and from
the morning and evening skies, and so he went back, in spite of any
small influence of the new art, to pore over the parchment page and to
make the vision of his soul write itself down in fadeless color on
golden backgrounds. What he saw of artists' work outside of the convent
had one marked influence, however. Our devout painter began to feel
trammeled by the narrowness of a margin, indeed of an entire page, and
he turned to the ample space furnished by the walls of convent and
church.

[Illustration]

It was shortly after the return of the brotherhood from Cortona that
they were given the church and convent of San Marco in Florence. After
long absence they were to return home and their hearts were lifted in
song. When the repairs were completed, Cosimo bethought him of the
painter-monk of the brotherhood, and asked him to make the house
beautiful for his brethren. Whether Cosimo remembered those early days
when he had accosted two boys in the vicinity of his castle we do not
know, but it seems certain that he knew of the mature artist's work and
his reputation throughout Tuscany.

It must have been a great joy to Fra Giovanni to be given this congenial
task in which he could glorify God and gratify his own passion for art.
Henceforth he left the parchment books to his brother to embellish while
he occupied himself on the larger space his soul had long craved.

Lest this work, which he loved so dearly, should be done in a spirit of
self-indulgence, he laid certain strictures upon himself in carrying it
on. He believed that he had a message direct from God to bear to men
through his pictures, so he never undertook one of them without
prefacing the work with a season of fasting and prayer, and then, when
he began his work, he never changed a stroke lest he prove disobedient
to the heavenly vision. Often and often his lips moved in prayer while
his hand laid on the colors of the robes or the gold of the background.

While he painted the Crucifixion tears streamed down his cheeks in
sympathy with the agony there endured. The pictures of a man who painted
in such a spirit are not mere works of art. They are more, for they lay
bare to us a human soul, making the thoughts he thought our own, the
devoutness and sympathy he felt a part of our own lives.

[Illustration: THE CRUCIFIXION]

Savonarola thundered forth his message from the pulpit of San Marco;
Angelico delivered his, more enduring, though hardly less eloquent, on
his knees, through the rainbow colors on his palette. In an age when
monasteries and convents were an essential part of civilization, it was
a mighty contribution that San Marco gave to the world in the earnest
preacher, in the angelic painter. Both were simple men, great in their
devotion, leaders of their age in their respective places, but the one
was wending along a quiet way that should terminate peacefully in a
secluded grave in Rome, while the other was moving on like a whirlwind,
tearing up many things sacred in its course and ending in a violent
death.

Everyone talks of Angelico's work in San Marco. Let us see what it was,
what we should look for were we to go there to-day. In the cloister,
where the monks were constantly passing to and fro, are many of his best
works. Here above a doorway, is "_St. Peter, Martyr_" standing with his
finger on his lips in token of the silence that should reign in a holy
house. Above another door two of the brotherhood welcome their Lord, a
weary traveller.

[Illustration: DETAIL FROM THE CRUCIFIXION]

In a larger space he has painted the angel Gabriel announcing the coming
of the Christ Child to the youthful Mary. The sweet submissiveness of
Mary together with her mild surprise at the angelic appearance, the
grace and earnestness of Gabriel, with his wings still spread, as if
just alighted from heaven, are wholly to our satisfaction for
representing this naive scene from sacred history.

Here, too, we find the solemn last scene in the Christ-drama, as "_The
Annunciation_" was the first. "_The Crucifixion_," which we find here,
was simply portrayed, but with a pathos that Angelico's sympathetic
nature would naturally show. It was afterwards reproduced in each of the
cells.

In the chapter house we find a more elaborate representation of the
Crucifixion. Here it is large enough to fill an entire wall and its
excellence hardly in proportion to its size. The attention is drawn from
the great central figure to the figures at the foot of the Cross, whose
awe and adoration are well expressed by the painter. It was in the room
adorned-with this great fresco, that George Eliot had Romola and
Savonarola meet in their famous interview. That the presence of the
solemn picture added force to that powerful scene goes without saying.

Into the cloisters, the chapter house, the chapel, men of the world
might enter and look about. Not so the narrow cells, huddled together,
where each monk was supposed to commune with his Lord in uninterrupted
silence. For these narrow cells, forty in number, Fra Angelico did his
best work, believing, doubtless, with the ancient builders that "The
gods see everywhere." The subjects selected were the events in Christ's
life and to each cell was given one chapter, as it were, from the
wondrous story. Nothing could more forcibly prove the absolute devotion
of the painter, his total disregard for the attention of men, than his
dedication of his best work to the narrow and dimly lighted cells of San
Marco.

[Illustration: MADONNA DELLA STELLA]

Long ago the good brothers of San Marco were sent away and the doors
thrown wide to the public, who now call it the Museum of San Marco.
Easel pictures have been gathered here to swell the number of Angelico's
works in the place that was so long his home. One of these is a small
copy, made by the artist, of what is known to us as the "_Tabernacle
Madonna_" which is in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. The glory of this
work is not in the Madonna or the child she holds but, strange to say,
in the frame which encloses the picture. A broad band of smooth gold
intervenes between the outer and inner molding of the frame and in this
space are painted the twelve angels playing various musical instruments,
which are so familiar to us to-day.

Since Angelico's time, no matter what artist has essayed the task of
angel painting, none has approached so nearly as the angelical painter
of San Marco to our ideal of these heavenly beings. We all of us have
some more or less definite notions of how angels should look. We may be
painfully literal on other subjects but, though there is no science on
which to base our demand, we want them with white or jeweled wings.
Sometimes, in our most rapt moods, the air about us seems filled with
these ethereal beings, tending on the sick and dying, leading little
children, ministering to prisoners as to Peter of old, bringing comfort
to us in our sorrows. This, of course, is a fancy and yet it is such
fancies that have made Fra Angelico's representations of angels a real
joy to man through all the centuries since he painted them with more
than mortal power.

His angels that we enjoy most are not those entrusted with some special
mission, but they are of that great multitude whose joy it is to bring
good tidings of great joy to men. Here is one glowing in ruby red, the
color of passion. She lifts on high her golden trumpet and we know that
God is a ready helper, waiting only to be summoned to our rescue.
Another, arrayed all in green, the color of spring, brings us hope,
without which man would be crushed by the iron weight of his sorrows.
This one in blue bears her message of heavenly love and fidelity. That
one in yellow, the color of the sun itself, brings light to those who
sit in darkness. Truly they are a ministering band with their
halo-encircled heads, their heavenward-lifted eyes, their
star-bespangled robes.

[Illustration: CORONATION OF THE VIRGIN.]

What matter if critics tell us that Angelico's knowledge of anatomy was
defective and that it is fortunate for his angels that their creator
represented them all closely draped? Their talk for centuries has not
made the devout painter's fame one whit less, while all the time his
angels have been bringing comfort to generations of men and women.

Another picture in San Marco we scan carefully. It is "_The Coronation
of the Virgin_." This was a favorite subject with the painter, perhaps
because it represents the final reward of the world's great mother--the
crown placed upon her head by her enthroned Son. We remember how
exquisitely Correggio depicted the same event, with what supreme grace
his lovely virgin bends her matchless head to receive the diadem. Hardly
less beautiful are Fra Angelico's pictures of this subject, even though
they were painted half a century before Correggio's birth. The best of
Angelico's pictures of "_The Coronation of the Virgin_" is now in the
Louvre, where the beautiful Virgin is surrounded by tier upon tier of
rejoicing angels.

For nearly forty years Fra Angelica had served his convent faithfully,
with devout life and the work of his hand. Everything paid for his
pictures went to swell the income of the convent. He never took an order
without first consulting his prior.

His fame had long ago reached Rome. The art-loving Popes of that time
could not remain oblivious to his great ability. In 1445, the quiet life
of the monastery was interrupted by Pope Eugenius, who called Angelico
to Rome to assist in decorating the Vatican. We can easily imagine that
there was some shrinking on Angelico's part at severing the ties that
had held him so long among the brothers of his order. This may have been
somewhat offset by a vague desire to see Rome, the pilgrim city of the
Christian world.

However that may be, he obeyed the call of the Pope and journeyed by
easy stages, passing from convent to convent, until the Holy City was
reached. It would have been an interesting journey to have taken with
the pious monk. One could have seen how the various monasteries
exercised one of the most beneficial purposes of their organization,
that of ministering to tired and hungry travellers. At many convents at
whose doors he appeared, a stranger, he probably left pictures and
certainly the memory of a charming personality. Perhaps he relieved for
an hour some weary illuminator of the parchment and left a page of his
work to encourage the tired monk.

The Pope who called Angelico to Rome did not live long after the
painter's arrival there, but he did not die before he had shown special
favor to the monk of San Marco.

Taking for granted that, because Angelico could paint such beautiful
pictures he could do everything else equally well, he asked him to
become the Archbishop of Florence, one of the most important church
offices within the gift of the Pope. How we admire the good brother when
he responded, with the simplicity which was so marked a characteristic
of him, "I can paint pictures but I cannot rule men." And further, how
we delight in him as he recommends another brother of his order, Fra
Antonio. That his judgement in this matter was equal to his generosity
is proved by the fact that Antonio became the wisest archbishop Florence
had ever had.

The successor of Pope Eugenius, Nicholas V., also extended his
friendship and protection to the painter. Here in Rome he lived for the
last ten years of his life. His work here was largely confined to the
chapel of Nicholas V., in the Vatican, which he decorated with scenes
from the lives of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen. For years this chapel
was closed to the public and the key lost, so that when it was re-opened
it seemed as if a new set of works belonging to Fra Angelico had been
discovered.

[Illustration: FLIGHT INTO EGYPT]

When the heat of summer came on in Rome, the painter from the hills of
the Arno wilted under the depressing influence and he longed for his
native heights. An opportunity for release from the stagnant weather of
Rome during the months of June, July and August came from an unexpected
quarter. It was the time of the building of the great Italian
cathedrals. Every large community seemed bent on excelling its neighbor
in the splendor of the church it erected. Florence reared her Duomo, the
Santa Maria del Fiore, Siena built her fine cathedral, striped black and
yellow like a tiger.

Orvieto, near by, had witnessed a wonderful miracle, and in remembrance
of it her citizens determined to build a cathedral that should be more
beautiful than any other in Italy. So much in earnest were the people of
Orvieto in undertaking this work, that they gave their holidays to
drawing materials for it from the hills near by. In eight years, an
incredibly short time in the building of a mediaeval cathedral, it was
sufficiently finished for holding religious services. It was three
hundred years, however, before the people had made it the wrought jewel
that it stands to-day.

In the delicacy and elaborateness of its ornament it is the most
splendid church in Italy. A hundred and fifty skilled sculptors worked
their best on the carving. Nearly a hundred workers in mosaic put
together cunningly the bits of glass and precious stones which make its
rich and vari-colored mosaic. Almost as many master painters added their
work to the precious structure. The facade is like some grand screen,
with its exquisite bas-relief, its glistening and intricate mosaic and
its delicate pinnacles, every one crowned with a statue.

Such a beautiful and substantial structure was a fine crown for this
ancient town, rising almost like a rock-cube from the barren ravines
below. It was to help adorn this wonderful church that the building
council urged Fra Angelico to quit Rome each year through the sickly
summer. All arrangements were completed and our artist once more
breathed the hill air to which he was born.

On one of the walls he planned to represent "_The Last Judgment_" a
subject which he had previously painted. He never proceeded further than
to the completion of the figure of the judging Christ. This fragment is
the strongest piece of work Angelico ever did. It is probable that the
mighty Angelo studied this figure before painting his own "_Last
Judgment_." The critic who compares the two Christs must, it seems to
me, ever decide in favor of the one made by the Angelical painter. The
combination of strength and compassion in Angelico's is far more to our
notions of the gentle Christ, sitting as Judge of all the world. If
Angelico had finished the work at Orvieto, it would doubtless have been
much like the one we may study to-day in the Academy in Florence. Let us
consider that for a moment.

[Illustration: PARADISE. (DETAIL OF LAST JUDGMENT)]

It was a strange subject for one with so mild and loving a nature to
undertake, but we must remember that it was the favorite theme of the
age, so that all sorts of painters tried their hands at it. Here Christ
sits enthroned, encircled by angels, while below him, divided by a long
line of unopened graves, are the blessed and the condemned. In depicting
the former our angel painter was perfectly at home. What a joyous host
they are as they tread the flowery meadows and appear in the searching
rays of heaven's own light! One group, a monk embraced by an angel, is
reproduced in this sketch.

Even if for a time Angelico was able to summon the power by which he
could portray an avenging and yet pitying Christ, he lost that power
when he tried to image forth the agony of the condemned, the wickedness
of Satan. So the picture stands, half in the glory of fine and
characteristic execution and half in the darkness of inadequate
workmanship.

Just why Angelico never went back to Orvieto we do not know. It is
probable that the infirmities of age were pressing upon him. Perhaps,
too, he was reserving his surplus strength for a last visit to his
beloved Florence. Hither we know he came, in the last years of his life,
and painted for the Church of the Annunciation a little cupboard to hold
the gold and silver vessels used about the altar. It was a delicate task
not wholly unlike the miniature work with which, in his early years, he
had adorned the parchments of his monastery.

[Illustration: FACADE OF ORVIETO CATHEDRAL]

Thirty-five panels were filled with scenes from the life of our Lord.
The series is done in the spirit of a man who knows the Scriptures and
medieval legend to a point, and all the time there shines through the
painted figures the saintliness, the mystic, far-away thoughts of the
artist. It was a beautiful work to give to his home city in the evening
of his quiet life.

The work completed, he wended his way back to Rome where he died, in
1455, or, as a contemporary historian says, "Envious death broke his
pencil and his beautiful soul winged its way among the angels to make
Paradise more joyous." He was buried in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra
Minerva where he had lived since his first coming to Rome. His tomb is
simple enough, enriched merely with the quaint figure of a Dominican
monk, with his hands crossed, and wearing the dress of his order. At the
feet of the stone monk is this epitaph, composed by Nicholas V.,
Angelico's friend and patron--

    "Not that in me a new Apelles lived,
     But that thy poor, O Christ, my gains received;
     This be my praise: Deeds done for fame on earth
     Live not in heaven. Fair Florence gave me birth."

What his appearance was we cannot tell with certainty as no authentic
portrait of him remains to us. From imaginary and traditional portraits
we get our only notions of how the angelical painter looked, and these
are likely to fall far short of giving us correct ideas of the face of
one whose character was well-nigh faultless.

Living the secluded life of a monk, we should hardly expect to find many
pupils to continue his work after him. One there is, however, who is
always spoken of as Angelico's pupil, and that is Benozzo Gozzoli, whose
angels at times approach in beauty those of the master-painter of
angels. Benozzo was the artist who completed the work that Angelico
began at Orvieto.

We have found the facts of Angelico's life few and not at all startling
and yet his character was such that it left an indelible impress on his
age. We cannot better close this sketch than by quoting from Vasari, who
thus sums up the character of his devout countryman:--

"This father, truly angelic, spent all his life in the service of God
and for the good of the world and his neighbor. In truth, the great and
extraordinary powers possessed by Fra Giovanni could not have existed
except in a man of most holy life. He was a man of simplicity and most
holy in his ways.... He withheld himself from all worldly deeds, and
living purely and holily, he was such a friend to the poor that I think
his soul is now in heaven.

"He worked continually at his pictures and would never treat any but
religious subjects. He might have been a rich man but he cared not to
boast, and used to say that true riches consisted in being content with
little. He might have had command over many but would not, saying that
there was less trouble and risk in obeying than in commanding.... He was
most gentle and sober, and, living chastely, freed himself from the
snares of the world; and he was wont to say that whoever followed art
had need of peace and to live without distracting thoughts, and that he
who does work that concerns Christ must live continually with Christ.

"He was never known to get angry with the monks; if anyone desired work
from him he would say that he would obtain consent of the Prior to it,
and then would not fail to fulfill the request. In fact, this father,
who cannot be sufficiently praised, was in all his works and
conversation most humble and modest, and in his painting dexterous and
conscientious, and the saints of his painting have more the air and
resemblance of saints than those of any other painter."


SUBJECTS FOR COMPOSITION AND SPECIAL TOPICS

1. Angels in Art.

2. Savonarola, the Orator of San Marco.

3. Antonio, the Good Archbishop of Florence.

4. The Angel-Painter of San Marco.

5. An Illuminated Manuscript.

6. With Angelico on His Way to Rome.

7. In the Cells of San Marco.

8. How Monasteries Have Served Civilization.

9. A Day with the Dominicans at Fiesole.

10. Some Hill Towns of Tuscany.

11. Two Gothic Cathedrals of Italy. (Siena and Orvieto,)


REFERENCES FOR FRA ANGELICO.

1. Life of Fra Angelico ... _Sweetser_.

2. Life of Fra Angelico ... _Phillimor_.

3. Makers of Florence ... _Oliphant_.

4. Sketches and Studios in Southern Europe. (Orvieto) ... _Symonds_.

5. The Fine Arts ... _Symonds_.

6. Old Italian Masters ... _Cole_.

7. Friar Jerome's Beautiful Book ... _Aldrich_.

8. Art and Artists ... _Clement_.

9. Angels in Art.... _Clement_.

10. The Monk as Civilizer. _Kingsley_.





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