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Title: Fra Angelico - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Mason, James
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 - Masterpieces in Colour Series" ***

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    ARTIST.              AUTHOR.

    VELAZQUEZ.           S. L. BENSUSAN.
    REYNOLDS.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TURNER.              C. LEWIS HIND.
    ROMNEY.              C. LEWIS HIND.
    GREUZE.              ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
    BELLINI.             GEORGE HAY.
    LEIGHTON.            A. LYS BALDRY.
    RAPHAEL.             PAUL G. KONODY.
    TITIAN.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
    MILLAIS.             A. LYS BALDRY.
    TINTORETTO.          S. L. BENSUSAN.
    LUINI.               JAMES MASON.
    VAN DYCK.            PERCY M. TURNER.
    RUBENS.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WHISTLER.            T. MARTIN WOOD.
    HOLBEIN.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
    CHARDIN.             PAUL G. KONODY.
    MEMLINC.             W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
    CONSTABLE.           C. LEWIS HIND.
    RAEBURN.             JAMES L. CAW.
    LAWRENCE.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
    DÜRER.               H. E. A. FURST.
    MILLET.              PERCY M. TURNER.
    WATTEAU.             C. LEWIS HIND.
    HOGARTH.             C. LEWIS HIND.
    MURILLO.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WATTS.               W. LOFTUS HARE.
    INGRES.              A. J. FINBERG.
    COROT.               SIDNEY ALLNUTT.
    DELACROIX.           PAUL G. KONODY.

_Others in Preparation._

[Illustration: PLATE I.--A GROUP OF ANGELS. (Frontispiece)

This panel from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is an example of Fra
Angelico's most popular work. It is painted in his earliest manner and
the figures are stiff and conventional, but the simplicity and beauty
that can be found in the group connect it with the paintings of the
primitives who were in a sense Angelico's forebears.]




    [Illustration: IN

    LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK


      I. Introduction                                  11

     II. The Painter's Early Days                      21

    III. In San Marco                                  45

     IV. Later Years                                   58

      V. A Retrospect                                  71

     VI. Conclusion                                    78


       I. A Group Of Angels                  Frontispiece
              In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

      II. A Figure of Christ                           14
             In the San Marco Convent, Florence

     III. Two Angels with Trumpets                     24
              In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

      IV. Christ as a Pilgrim met by Two Dominicans    34
              In the San Marco Convent, Florence

       V. The Coronation of the Virgin                 40
              In the San Marco Convent, Florence

      VI. Detail from the Coronation of the Virgin     50
              In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

     VII. The Infant Christ                            60
              In the San Marco Convent, Florence

    VIII. St. Peter the Martyr                         70
              In the San Marco Convent, Florence




Round the peaceful life and delicately imaginative work of Guido da
Vicchio, the Florentine artist who is known to the world at large as Fra
Angelico, critics and laymen continue to wage a fierce controversy.
While few are heard to deny the merit of the artist's exquisite
achievement, it is hard to find, even among those who are interested in
early Florentine religion and art, men who can agree about Fra
Angelico's positions between the monastery and the studio. "He was a man
with a beautiful mind," says one; "a light of the Church, a saint by
temperament, and he chanced to be a painter." "You are entirely wrong,"
says the supporter of the opposing theory; "he was a Heaven-sent artist
who chanced to take the vows."

So the schools of art and theology rage furiously together, after the
fashion of the two men who approached a statue from opposite sides and
quarrelled because one said that the shield carried by the bronze figure
was made of gold, and the other said it was made of silver. Incensed by
each other's obstinacy they drew swords and fought until they both
fell helpless to the ground, only to be assured by a third traveller,
who chanced to pass by, that the shield had gold on one side and silver
on the other.


Detail from San Marco's Convent in Florence. This striking example of
the master's mature art reveals in most favourable light his exquisite
conception of Christ. Although this is no more than part of a picture,
it has been reproduced here in order that the details of the handling
may be appreciated.]

Standing well apart from the enthusiasts of both sides, the average man
sees that Fra Angelico was an artist of remarkable attainments and at
the same time a devout, God-fearing friar, who seems to have deserved a
great part at least of the praise he received from the honeyed pen of
Giorgio Vasari. Naturally enough the modern artist finds in Fra
Angelico, or "Beato" Angelico as he is sometimes called, one of the most
interesting painters of the fifteenth century, and he does not bother
about the fact that his hero chanced to be a Dominican brother. Very
devout Catholics, on the other hand, will approach Fra Angelico's work
on the literary side, and will be profoundly conscious of the fact that
he was the first great artist of Italy who, realising the maternity of
the Madonna, represented her as a mother full of human affection, and
the Holy Child as a beautiful baby boy. It is the painter's abiding
claim to our regard that he brought life to his walls and panels, that
they present the living, palpitating sentiment of men and women and
children, that he painted for us the flowers that blossomed round him
and the countryside through which he wandered in his hours of ease. The
technical achievement, the gradual but steady improvement in dealing
with composition and masses of colour, the extraordinary change from the
stiff early figures to the supple ones of the later years, the splendid
growth of the artistic sense, from all these things the devotee turns
aside. He is not unconscious of the change, for the results achieved by
the painter account for the spectator's riper and fuller appreciation,
but he cannot analyse it. Of far more moment to him is the thought that
all Fra Angelico's life and art were given to the service of the Church,
that he laboured without ceasing to present the Gospel stories in the
most attractive form, despising the material rewards that awaited such
achievements as his. Ease, luxury and the praise of the world at large
the Dominican dismissed with fine indifference, believing that his
reward would come when his task was ended, and the work of his hands
should praise him in the gates. "Here," his orthodox latter-day admirers
say, "is the man of noble convictions and pure life, who stood for all
that was best in religion. As he chanced to have the gifts of a
painter, he used those gifts to develop his mission. Painting with him
was no more than a means to an end, and that end was the glorification
of God." The dispute must needs be endless; for we cannot see through
the four centuries that separate us from the artist, and every man takes
from a picture some echo of what he brought to it.

In sober truth the matter is of far less importance than the makers of
controversy imagine. It should suffice both parties to agree that Fra
Angelico was a great painter and a great man, that his association with
the Church afforded him the opportunity of leaving behind him work that
has a spiritual as well as artistic quality. His altar-pieces and
frescoes seem to breathe the serene atmosphere of an age of faith; they
tell of a quiet retired life amid surroundings that remain unrivalled
to-day, even though our horizon is widened and we know the New World as
well as the Old.

There are examples of the painter's art in the National Gallery and in
the Louvre, in Rome and in Perugia; but Florence holds by far the
greatest number. In Florence we find the series painted to decorate the
"Silver Press" of the Annunziata, and more than a dozen other works of
importance. The Uffizi guards the famous "Madonna dei Linajuoli" and the
"Coronation of the Virgin" from Santa Maria Nuova. The Convent of San
Marco, to which the Brotherhood of San Dominico went in 1346 from
Fiesole, holds the famous frescoes in cloister, chapter-house, and
cells, and offers an illuminating guide to the painter's ideals and
intentions, in work that is the ripe product of middle age. So it is to
Florence that one must go to study the painter, though there are one or
two works from his hands in Fiesole across the valley, while the
collection in Perugia is not to be overlooked, and Rome holds some of
the best work of the artist's hand, painted in the closing years. For
all the surging waves of tourists that break upon Florence, month in,
month out, filling streets and galleries with discordant noises, and
giving them an air of unrest strangely out of keeping with their
traditional aspect, the city preserves sufficient of its old-time
character to enable the student to study Fra Angelico's pictures in an
atmosphere that would not have been altogether repugnant to the artist
himself. Save in seasons when the city is full to overflowing the
Convent of San Marco receives few visitors, while in the Academy and at
the Uffizi there are so many expressions of a more flamboyant art that
there is seldom any lack of space round the panels Angelico painted.

There are some days when San Marco is altogether free from visitors, and
then the frescoed cells, through which the great white glare of the day
steals softly and subdued, seem to be waiting for the devotees who will
return no more, and one looks anxiously to cloisters, and garden and
chapter-house for some signs of the life that rose so far above the
varied emptiness of our own.



When Guido da Vicchio was born in the little fortified town from which
he takes his name, the town that looks out upon the Apennines on the
North and West, and towards Monte Giovo on the South, the Medici family
was just beginning to raise its head in Florence. Salvestro di Medici
had originated the "Tumult of the Ciompi"; the era of democratic
government in the city was drawing to a close. Beyond the boundaries of
Florence the various states into which Italy was divided were
quarrelling violently among themselves. The throne of St. Peter was rent
by schism, Pope and anti-Pope were striving one against the other in
fashion that was amazing and calculated to bring the Papal power into
permanent disrepute. It was a period of uncertainty and unrest, prolific
in saints and sinners, voluptuaries and ascetics. No student of history
will need to be reminded that it is to periods such as this that the
world has learned to look for its remarkable men.


These panels from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence are very popular
examples of the master's early work, and although they do not compare
favourably with his later efforts, they have achieved an extraordinary
measure of popularity in Italy, and are to be seen on picture postcards
in every Italian city from Genoa to Naples. (See p. 32.)]

Doubtless some echo of the surrounding strife penetrated beyond the
walls of Vicchio when Guido was a little boy, for he lived in a
fortified town built for purposes of war. It is not unreasonable to
suppose that he may have seen enough of the stress and strife peculiar
to the age to have turned his thoughts to other things. If a lad, born
with a peaceable and affectionate disposition, be brought into contact
with violence at an early age, his peaceful tendencies will be
strengthened, he will avoid all sources and scenes of strife. We know
nothing of the painter's boyhood, but, looking round at the conditions
prevailing in Florence, it seems more than likely that the years were
not quite restful.

In the absence of authentic information one may do no more than suggest
that, when the lad was newly in his teens, he served in the studio of
some local painter and discovered his own talent. Attempts have been
made to give the teacher a name and a history, but these efforts, for
all that they are interesting, lack authenticity. Far away in Florence
the first faint light of the Revival of Learning was shining upon the
more intelligent partisans of all the jarring factions. The claims of
the religious life were being put forward with extraordinary fervour and
ability by a great teacher and preacher, John the Dominican, who appears
to have reformed the somewhat lax rules of his order. We are told that
he travelled on foot from town to town after the fashion of his time,
calling upon sinners to repent, and summoning to join the brotherhood
all those who regarded life as a dangerous and uncertain road to a
greater and nobler future. Clerics looked askance at the signs of the
times, for although art and literature were coming into favour,
although Florence was becoming the centre of a great humanist movement,
the change was associated with a recrudescence of pagan luxury and vices
that boded ill for the maintenance of moral law.

Perhaps John the Dominican preached in Vicchio, perhaps Guido and his
younger brother Benedetto heard him elsewhere, but wherever the message
was delivered it went home, for it is recorded that in the year 1407,
when Fra Angelico would have been just twenty years old, he and
Benedetto travelled to the Dominican Convent on the hillside at Fiesole
and applied for admission to the order. The brothers were welcomed and
sent to serve their novitiate at Cortona, where some of Fra Angelico's
earliest known work was painted. They returned to Fiesole in the
following year, but the Dominican establishment there was soon broken
up because the Florentines had acknowledged Alexander V. as Pope, and
the Dominican Brotherhood supported his opponent, Gregory XI. Foligno
and Cortona were visited in turn. In the former city the Church of the
Dominicans remains to-day; and so the brethren sought peace beyond
Fiesole, until in 1418 the Council of Constance healed the wounds of
Mother Church. Then Pope Martin V. came to live in Florence, where John
XXIII. paid him obeisance, and the Dominican friars returned to their
hillside home beyond the city, that was then, according to the historian
Bisticci, "in a most blissful state, abounding in excellent men in every
faculty, and full of admirable citizens."

And now Fra Angelico, as he must be called in future, settled down to
his first important work. He had learned as much as his associates
could teach him, and had gathered sufficient strength of purpose,
intelligence and judgment, to enable him to deal with the problems of
his art as he thought best. It may be said that Fra Angelico built the
bridge by which mediæval art travelled into the country of the
Renaissance. Indeed, he did more than this, for having built the bridge,
he boldly passed over it in the last years of his life. We can see in
his work the unmistakable marks of the years of his labour. He started
out equipped with the heavy burden of all the conventions of
mediævalism. Against that drawback he could set independence of thought,
and a goodly measure of that Florentine restlessness that led men to
express themselves in every art-form known to the world. No Florentine
artist of the Quattrocento held that painting was enough if he could
add sculpture to it, or that sculpture would serve if architecture could
be added to that. Had there been any other form of art-expression to
their hands, the Florentines would have used it, because they were as
men who seek to speak in many languages. This restlessness, this
prodigality of effort, was to find its final expression in Leonardo da
Vinci, who entered the world as the Dominican friar was leaving it.

In the early days Fra Angelico must have been a miniaturist. Vasari
speaks of him as being pre-eminent as painter, miniaturist, and
religious man, and the painting of miniatures cramped the painter's
style in fashion that detracts from the merits of the earlier pictures,
but of course Fra Angelico is by no means the only artist to whom
miniature painting has been a pitfall.

Professor Langton Douglas has pointed out, in his admirable and
exhaustive work on Fra Angelico, that the artist was profoundly
influenced by the great painters and architects of his time, and has
even used this undisputed fact as an aid to ascertain the approximate
date of certain pictures. We can hardly wonder that the influence should
be felt by a sensitive artist, who responded readily to outside forces,
when we consider the quality of the work that sculpture and architecture
were giving to the world in those early days of the Quattrocento. Men of
genius dominated every path in life and Florence held far more than a
fair share of them.

Among the works belonging to the years before Fra Angelico went to San
Marco, and painted the frescoes that stand for his middle period at its
best, are the Altar-piece at Cortona, "The Annunciation" and "The Last
Judgment," in the Academy of Florence, and the famous "Madonna da
Linajuoli," with its twelve angels playing divers musical instruments on
the frame round the central panel. These angels have made the Madonna of
the Flax-workers the best known of all the painter's works. So long the
delight of the public eye they are very harshly criticised to-day, and
not without reason, for doubtless they are flat and stiff productions
enough. But they have a certain naïve beauty of their own, and because
they have done more than work of far greater merit to spread the fame of
Fra Angelico, because they have been the source of great delight to
countless people despised and rejected of art critics, it has seemed
reasonable to present some of them in this little volume, side by side
with those more important works of the master to which so many
artists of the Renaissance are indebted. We may rest assured that to the
painter the angels were very real angels indeed, the best that his art
and devotion could express.


This is a fresco in the cloister of San Marco at Florence. It will be
seen that Christ holds a pilgrim's staff which cuts the picture in half,
and the right hand of the foremost Dominican and the left hand of
Christ, extended across the staff, form a cross.]

Other important works of this first period, which may be taken to range
from 1407 to 1435, are the altar-pieces known as the Madonna of Cortona,
the Madonna of Perugia, and the Madonna of the Annelena, the last-named
being in the Academy at Florence. Critics and artists can divide the
painter's life into four or more divisions expressed to them by changes
in his style; but a simpler division suffices here.

Looking at Fra Angelico with eyes that the nineteenth century has
trained, we speak of this early work as of less importance than what
followed, but in so doing it is quite easy to speak or write as several
of his critics have done in very unreasonable fashion. Certainly the
artist, who in the last years of his life painted the picture of St.
Lorenzo distributing alms, and the scenes in the life of St. Stephen,
has travelled very far from the painter of the "Last Judgment" that may
be seen in Florence; but, even in the early days of Cortona, Fra
Angelico was a modern of the moderns. He was a man who worked and
thought far in advance of his times, who had the wide outlook that we
have learned to associate with all the Florentine artists of the
Quattrocento, and he left the boundaries of the painter's art far wider
than he found them. Doubtless many of his contemporaries found his work
daring and even immoral in so far as it departed from the traditions
that had satisfied his predecessors. He had an individuality that
expressed itself in fashion unmistakable before he was thirty years of
age, and developed steadily down to the last year of his life. Divorced
by his calling from the cares and joys of other men, he responded with
delight to the larger and more general aspects of life. Fra Angelico had
a keen and eager eye for natural beauty; he seems to have gone to the
countryside for all the inspiration that remained to seek when the
sacred writings were laid aside. The maternal aspect with which he
endowed the Madonna, who had hitherto been as stiff and formless as
though carved out of wood, testifies to the artist's recognition of
maternity as he saw it among the simple peasants his order served. He
restored humanity to Mother and Child. The child-like Christ, no longer
a doll but a real _bambino_, tells us how deeply the painter entered
into the spirit of a life that the rules of his order forbade him to
share. Just as some women who do not marry seem to keep for the world at
large the measure of loving sympathy that would have been concentrated
upon their children; so this painter monk, who had paid his vows to
poverty, chastity, and obedience, could express upon his canvas the
affection and the sentiment that would have been bestowed under other
circumstances upon a chosen helpmate. Lacking the joys of healthy
domesticity he turned to Nature with a loving eye and an intelligence
that cannot be over-estimated and, if he knew hours wherein, manlike, he
mourned for the life forbidden, the consolation was at hand. The Earth
Mother consoled him. In his earliest canvases he expresses his love of
flowers, the love of a child for the sights that make the earliest
appeal to our sense of beauty. His angels are set in flowering
fields, they carry blossoms that bloom in the fields beyond Cortona, and
upon the hillside of Fiesole. Clearly the painter saw Paradise around
him. Roses and pinks seem to be his favourite flowers, he paints them
with a loving care, knowing them in bud and in full leaf and, just as he
went to Nature for the decorative side of his art, so in a way he may be
said to have gone to Nature in her brightest and most joyous moods for
his colours. His palette seems to have borrowed its glory from the
rainbow--the gold, the green, the blue, and the red are surely as bright
and clear in his pictures as they are in the great and gleaming arch
that Easterns call in their own picturesque fashion "The Bride of the


This is a detail of a famous picture in San Marco. It is a fresco in a
cell of the South Corridor. Christ is seen crowning the Virgin, the
clouds surrounding them are rainbow tinted, and below the rainbow six
saints are ranged in a semi-circle.]

In all his work Fra Angelico showed himself an innovator, a man who, in
thinking for himself, would not allow his own clear vision to be
obscured by the conventions that bound men of smaller mentality and less
significant achievement. At the same time he was very observant of the
progress of his peers, particularly in architecture, and students of
this branch of art cannot fail to notice his response to the
developments brought about by Michelozzo and Brunelleschi. Even in the
first period of his art he would have seemed a daring innovator to his
contemporaries for, all unconsciously he was taking his share in shaping
the great Renaissance movement that left so many timid souls outside the
radius of its illumination.

In the early days he approached the human body with some diffidence, and
though a greater courage in this regard is the keynote of Renaissance
painting, the earlier timidity is hardly to be wondered at when we
consider the attitude of the religious houses towards humanity in its
physical aspect, and how necessary it was to avoid anything approaching
sensuous imagery throughout that anxious period of transition. As he
grew older and more confident of his powers, Fra Angelico seems to have
freed himself from some of the restrictions that beset an artist who is
also a religious. He, too, learned to glorify the human form.

His love for Nature remained constant throughout all the years of his
life; he was sufficiently daring to introduce real landscape into his
pictures, and by so doing, to become one of the fathers of landscape
painting. His angels have a setting in the Italy he knew best, the
flowers that strew their paths are those he may have gathered in the
convent garden; for even his vivid and exalted imagination could not
create aught more beautiful than those that grew so freely and wild by
the wayside, or were tended by his brethren in San Marco.

We find throughout the pictures a suggestion that the life of the artist
was a serene and tranquil one that, while he was actively concerned with
things of art throughout the district he knew best, he was sheltered by
the house of the brotherhood from the tumult and turmoil that beset
Fiesole, Cortona, and Foligno in the days of his youth. When he went to
San Marco in Florence, where his most enduring memorial remains to this
day, Fra Angelico was a man of experience and an independence so far in
advance of his time, that some of the work he had accomplished comes to
us to-day with a suggestion of absolute modernity in thought if not in
treatment. No beauty that our more sophisticated age can reveal to us
had passed him by, he paints Nature as Milton painted it when he wrote
the "Masque of Comus" and "l'Allegro." And this manner of painting, so
different from that of men who mix themselves with the world and
surrender to its fascinations, is the painting that endures.



It was in 1435, and Fra Angelico was approaching his fiftieth year, when
the brotherhood of San Dominico quitted their convent in Fiesole and
went to find a new home in Florence. With the turn of the year they left
a temporary resting-place in San Giorgio Oltr' Arno and went into the
ruined monastery of San Marco. This house appears to have belonged to
the brotherhood of San Silvestro whose behaviour had been quite fitted
to the fifteenth century in Florence, but was not altogether creditable
to a religious house. Pope Eugenius IV., anxious to purify all the
religious houses, gave San Marco to the Dominicans with the consent of
Cosimo di Medici, and a very poor gift it was at the time, for the
dormitory had been destroyed by fire, and hastily-made wooden cabins
could not keep out the rain and cold wind. There was a great mortality
among the brethren. Once again the Pope Eugenius interceded with the
powerful ruler of Florence, and Cosimo sent for his well-beloved
architect Michelozzo and commissioned him to rebuild the monastery.
Naturally enough Fra Angelico, whose feeling for architecture was finely
developed, came under the influence of the architect, and when the
building was complete he was commissioned to adorn the walls with
frescoes that should keep before the brethren the actualities of the
religious life, and enable them to feel that the Spiritual Presence was
in their midst.

Cosimo's munificence had not stopped with the presentation of the
building to the brotherhood. He equipped the monastery with a famous
library, provided all the service books that were necessary, and gave
the brethren for librarian a man who was destined to ascend the
Fisherman's Throne and keep the keys of Heaven. The books were
illuminated by Fra Angelico's brother Benedetto, who had taken the vows
with him, indeed some critics are of opinion that Fra Angelico himself
assisted in the work, but for this belief there appears to be but a
very small foundation.

The Pope Eugenius, compelled by the quarrels of the great houses in Rome
to leave the Eternal City, came to Florence and saw Fra Angelico's work
there, and this visit paved the way for the painter's sojourn in Rome in
the last years of his life. Like so many of his contemporaries, Eugenius
could find time amid the distractions of a stormy and difficult
existence to keep a well-trained eye upon the artistic developments
going on around him, and he did but wait for peace and opportunity to
show himself as keen a patron of art as that "terrible pontiff," Julius
della Rovere, for whom Michelangelo was to work in the Sistine Chapel.


This is a detail from one of the pictures that have excited a great deal
of criticism. Professor Douglas calls the work "the last and greatest of
Fra Angelico's glorified miniatures." In the work as it stands in the
Uffizi to-day, Christ is seen placing a jewel in the Virgin's crown.
Right and left stretches the Angelic choir, below there is a great
gathering of saints.]

To realise the life that the painter saw around him in the days when the
Dominican brotherhood first went to San Marco, it is necessary to
turn to some historian of Florence in an endeavour to recall the
splendour and stateliness of the city's life. The limits of space forbid
any attempt, however modest, to picture Florence in detail as it was in
those days, though the subject could scarcely be more tempting to the
pen. The pomp and circumstance of life were not passed over by the
painter, whose extraordinary receptivity found so much more in Florence
than in Fiesole for its exercise. Some echo, however, subdued to convent
walls, lingers in the city to-day where San Marco preserves its great
painter's reputation, and tells us that he was not indifferent to the
sights and sounds beyond its gates.

A few of the frescoes have lost a little of their pristine beauty and
yet, for all the ravages of time, the most faded among them can suggest
much of the charm they possessed when they were painted. It is in the
open cloisters, of course, that the greatest damage has been done, and
the great "Crucifixion" in the chapter-house has not escaped lightly;
but in the cells where the work is more protected, time has dealt
lightly with the frescoes and the two or three little panels that help
to make the friar's lasting monument. Good judges have pointed out that
the great "Crucifixion" in the chapter-house, the largest work of the
painter, was never completed, and that the red background was intended
to serve as a bed for the blue that was never put on. Nobody can say why
this fine work was abandoned, and reproduction in colour is impossible.
Even a detail would be unsatisfactory, but one of the lunettes from the
cloister is given here. It represents Christ as a pilgrim meeting two
Dominican brothers, and gives an excellent suggestion of Fra Angelico at
his best, revealing the deep feeling of the religious man, and the skill
of the artist blended together in happiest and most inspired union. To
have seen the picture in his mind, the artist must have been a deeply
religious man; to have expressed the vision as he has expressed it in
terms of line and colour, the devotee must have been a great artist.

From one of the cells in San Marco the chief part of another picture has
been reproduced in these pages. It represents the "Coronation of the
Virgin." Christ seated upon a white cloud is placing a crown upon the
Virgin's head; there is a rainbow border with six saints. In order that
the beauty of the central figures may be seen, no more than a part of
the picture is given here. It is the more important part, for the saints
are conventional figures, each with the hands uplifted in adoration,
each with a halo round his head. The beauty of the stories that Fra
Angelico sets before us was as true to him as the beauty of the flowers
he painted, and the landscape that met his eyes whenever he walked
abroad. The modern world, whether it doubt or believe, cannot but
recognise that the artist of San Marco has succeeded as much by his
faith as by his art. The other frescoes of the Dominican House must be
left for the fortunate minority who can visit them, but these two will
be found to represent well and truthfully both the religious idea and
the artistic achievement. To realise their merits to the full one must
not fail to bear in mind the development of painting at the time when
they were painted. For the men who came after Angelico the task was
easier; he had paved the way for them. In the days when San Marco was
decorated, the painter had very little to add to his technical
knowledge, and nothing at all to his feeling for the beauty of the
Gospel stories, and few artists of the fifteenth century have been so
fortunate as to collect their best work in one place where it could
remain undisturbed throughout the ages.

Naturally enough it must pass--cloisters and chapter-house show signs of
the times all too clearly. "The Crucifixion" is faded not so badly as
Leonardo's "Last Supper" in the Santa Maria della Grazie of Milan, but
still seriously, nor can all the _lire_ of faithful but hurried tourists
restore its charm. It is in the cells that the work of Fra Angelico will
linger longest, and it is pleasant to speculate upon the debt that
devout monks must have owed to their artist brother, who could give them
such exquisite embodiments of the truth as he saw it to brighten their
hard lives and assure them, even in hours of doubt and mental trouble,
of the joys that would be associated with the latter end.

San Marco, then, may be regarded as an exquisite and enduring memorial
of the middle period of Fra Angelico's life. The saint that was in him
dreamed dreams and saw visions, the artist that was in him expressed
them in fashion that calls for admiration even in these days when the
work done is nearly four hundred years old, and the thought that gave it
birth is no longer held in such universal esteem. The devotion that
inspired the themes, the simplicity of his handling, the beauty of his
colour, the love of Nature that was expressed as often as the picture
would permit, the reverential feeling in treatment that was bound to
communicate itself to the spectator, all these qualities make the work
remarkable, and help us to see how strong was the faith that inspired
and kept the artist happy in the cloisters when, had he wished to turn
his talent to other purposes, he might have had riches and honour.
Leading rulers of men were building palaces in every great city,
conquerors and statesmen were seeking to excel one another in tasteful
and costly display. Of those who could have commanded wealth, honour,
and comfort, the Dominican friar was among the first. But it sufficed
Fra Angelico to serve neither kings nor princes, but to choose for his
worship the King of kings "Who made the heavens and the earth and all
that is therein."



There is a great temptation to linger awhile in San Marco with the
friar, for even to-day the place has not lost its appeal, and there are
sufficient landmarks in the surrounding city to enable us to trace the
influence of men who were at once the contemporaries and inspirers of
his genius. Only the limits of space intervene to forbid too long a stay
in Florence, and as the painter's later years were spent in Rome we must
follow him there. For those who wish to linger in the monastery there
are books in plenty, some dealing with the Quattrocento, others dealing
with the Popes, others with Fra Angelico himself. This outline of a
painter's life seeks to do no more than introduce him to those who
may be interested; it is not intended for those who wish to follow
him beyond the limits of a modest appreciation. Vasari, Crowe, and
Cavalcaselle, Professor Langton Douglas, Bernhard Berenson and others
will supply the more complete and detailed accounts of the painter's
life and works, and the careful reader will find sufficient references
to other writers to direct him to every side issue.


From the Convent of San Marco. This picture gives a fair idea of the
exquisite sweetness and delicacy with which the painter handled the
subject of the child Christ. He does not treat this subject very often,
but when he does the result is in every way delightful.]

Pope Eugenius IV., who visited Florence when he was exiled from Rome,
had settled for a while in Bologna until the anti-Pope Felix V. fell
from power, and had then hastened back to Rome, and settled down to
beautify the Vatican. Like all the great men of his generation he felt
the spirit of the Renaissance in the air, and desired no more than
leisure in order to respond to it. He remembered the clever artist,
whose work had charmed him in the days of his Florentine exile, and sent
an invitation to Fra Angelico to come to Rome and decorate one of the
chapels in the Vatican. In those days one travelled in Italy, even more
slowly than one does to-day by the Italian express trains--strange as
the statement may seem to moderns who know the country well--and by the
time that the friar had received the summons and had responded to it,
Eugenius IV. would appear to have relinquished the keys to his
successor. Happily the new Pope Nicholas V. was a scholar, a gentleman,
and a statesman, as responsive to the new ideas as his predecessor in
office. He gathered the best men of his time to the Vatican, which he
proposed to rebuild, and he entered upon a programme that could scarcely
have been carried out had he enjoyed a much longer lease of life than
Providence granted. Unfortunately he had no more than eight years to
rule at St. Peter's, and that did not serve for much more than a
beginning of his great scheme. He was succeeded by Tomaso Parentucelli,
that ardent scholar whom Cosimo di Medici had appointed custodian of the
collection of MSS. that he gave to San Marco in Florence when the
Dominicans took possession. As it happened Parentucelli himself was in
the last year of his life when he ascended the throne of St. Peter, and
his schemes, whether for the aid and development of scholarship or art,
saw no fruition. But for all that Nicholas V. ruled for no more than
eight years in Rome, he did much for Fra Angelico, who painted the
frescoes in the Pope's private studio, and decorated a chapel in St.
Peter's that was afterwards destroyed. This loss is of course a very
serious one, and suggests that those who ruled in the Vatican were
not always as careful as they might have been of works that would
have outlived them so long had they been fairly treated. It is
very unfortunate that art should suffer from the caprices of the
unintelligent. When Savonarola, also a Dominican monk, roused the
Florentines to a sense of their lapses from grace a few years after Fra
Angelico's death, they made a bonfire in the streets of Florence of art
work that was considered immoral. To sacrifice great work in the name of
morality is bad enough, to destroy it for the sake of building
operations is quite unpardonable.

In Rome the summer heat is well-nigh unbearable. Even to-day the
voluntary prisoner of the Vatican retires to a villa in the far end of
his gardens towards the end of June, and none who can leave the city
cares to remain in it when May has gone, and the Tiber becomes a thread,
and fever haunts its banks. Fra Angelico felt the burden of the summer
and wished to suspend his work for a while. It so happened that he
received an invitation from Orvieto to decorate the Duomo there during
the months of June, July, and August. The first arrangement was that he
should go there every summer to escape the dog-days in Rome, but for
reasons not known to us the visit did not extend beyond one year, and
the frescoes that he had painted were seriously injured by rain, and
were not completed until Luca Signorelli took them in hand half a
century later. The little work that is attributed to the painter's brush
to-day in Orvieto need not detain us here.

The frescoes in Rome represent the summit of Fra Angelico's achievement,
but they have not escaped the somewhat destructive hand of
nineteenth-century German criticism; one eminent authority having
declared that they are not by Fra Angelico at all, but have been painted
by pupils, Benozzo Gozzoli receiving special mention in this connection.
It is not necessary to take this criticism too seriously. The hands may
be the hands of Esau, but "the voice is Jacob's voice." The artist may
have received some assistance from pupils, the backgrounds may owe
something to another hand; there was no feeling, ethical or artistic, to
keep assistants from coming to the aid of their master, but the whole
composition and the whole feeling of the frescoes proclaim the friar.
The subjects are incidents in the life of St. Stephen and St. Lorenzo,
ending, of course, after the inevitable fashion of the time, with a
representation of the martyrdom. For once these martyrdoms have a
suggestion of reality. In the early days of Fra Angelico's work his
representations of martyrdoms and suffering were so naïve that they
could hardly do more than provoke a smile. His idea of hell was very
simple, and when he wished to be very bitter indeed--to express his
anger at its fullest--he peopled the nether world with brothers of the
great rival order of St. Francis. For the founder of that order,
Angelico had the greatest love and admiration; who indeed could refuse
to pay such tribute even to-day? But all the brethren did not live up to
the rule of their founder, and the Dominican painter's rebuke seems very
quaint in our eyes, though doubtless it made a great sensation when it
was administered.


This is a fresco from the Cloisters of San Marco and represents St.
Peter, a saint whose appeal to the artist was very great The fact that
the saint has his finger to his lips may be taken as the artist's method
of emphasising the rule of silence of his Order. In fact the St. Peter
Martyr is generally called the "Silenzio," and like so many of
the artist's pictures must be taken to have a special spiritual

In Rome the painter's feeling for natural beauty reaches the height of
its expression, indeed one feels that every department of his work is at
its best and highest there. After his departure from the Eternal City,
the frescoes finished, and himself on the shady side of his sixtieth
year, the intervening centuries descend like a cloud, blotting out the
greater part of the record. The cloud lifts for a moment to show us
"Beato" Angelico, Prior of the Dominican Monastery at Fiesole, to which
more than forty years ago he had claimed admission as a novice, and then
he is back again in Rome in the chief convent of his order, Santa Maria
Sopra Minerva. There the light that had burned so brilliantly for nearly
half a century, illuminating the most alluring aspects of the Christian
faith, paled and went out. The body was laid to rest in the convent
Church, near the tomb of St. Catherine, and it is said that the epitaph
was composed by the Pope. Thereafter the order of St. Dominic produced
no great personality until it gave to the world a man of very different
stamp in Fra Girolamo Savonarola.



In art as in music and literature the path of the innovator is beset by
difficulties, and if, among all the movements that claim our attention
to-day, that of the Renaissance in fifteenth-century Italy is the most
fascinating, it is because the difficulties were conquered so
brilliantly. The century seemed to breed a race of men that enjoyed the
inestimable advantage of knowing what they wanted, and were determined
to succeed. It did not matter that the paths they trod were new. Each
man had mapped out a line of development for himself and went
strenuously along his chosen road, quite certain that he would find the
goal of his ambition at the journey's end. Curiously enough when the
paths were those of conquest there was always a road leading from them
to patronage of the arts. This may be because art in those days was
largely devoted to the service of the Church, and when a man had
acquired all that theft or conquest could give him, and realised that he
could not hope to wage successful war upon time, he began to think of
his latter days. Few men of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries could
approach death with confidence, and they sought to put something to
their credit against the Day of Judgment. To beautify religious houses,
to build houses for Holy Brotherhoods, these were the simplest and most
obvious ways of placating the Recording Angel, and to the uneasiness of
rich and unscrupulous men the Church owes not a few of her most
remarkable monuments. Moreover, even the tyrants wished to have some
enduring memorial. Cosimo di Medici, who gave San Lorenzo and San Marco
to Florence, remarked to his historian Bisticci, "Fifty years will not
pass before we are driven out of Florence, but these buildings will
remain." After all we can forget and forgive the superstition and
self-glorification that gave so much enduring wealth to the great cities
of Italy.

Doubtless there were many failures among the Renaissance artists; it is
hardly an exaggeration to say that in painting alone there are scores of
men belonging to the Quattrocento who have left us nothing but their
names. Victory was to the fittest; they alone survived and left the
impress of their genius upon their own and succeeding generations. If we
look for a moment to Fra Angelico's contemporaries we see at once that
it was an age of great men. Filippo Brunelleschi was born ten years
before Angelico, and lived until the year 1446. He designed the dome of
the Cathedral of Florence, the Cloisters of San Lorenzo, the Sagrestia
Vecchia, the Church of St. Lawrence, and other works too numerous to
mention. Donatello, whose work to this hour is "all a wonder and a great
desire;" Ghiberti, to whom Florence owes the gates of the Baptistery;
Michelozzo, who built the Medici Palace and the Convent of San Marco,
and was associated with Luca della Robbia in making the bronze gates of
the Sacristy of the Duomo, belong to the same period, and were
intimately associated with Brunelleschi in much of the work that makes
Florence one of the show-places of the world to-day. Luca della Robbia
was born when Fra Angelico was no more than twelve years old. Masolino,
Masaccio, and Fra Filippo Lippi were among the painters of Fra
Angelico's own time, while, when he was approaching middle age, Gian
Bellini and Andrea Mantegna were growing up, and when Fra Angelico died,
Florence was full of great artists who were destined to carry on his
work. Of course, the literary activity was as great as the activity of
the artists; one recalls with a thrill of emotion that Petrarch and
Boccaccio were only just numbered among the dead--their work held all
its earliest freshness. If at first sight these matters seem to be
outside the scope of a brief consideration of Fra Angelico's life and
work, second thought will justify the inclusion even in these narrow

Every artist is in a sense an echo of his environment and, although Fra
Angelico must have passed the greater part of his life within monastery
walls, yet the evidence of his pictures must convince all who look with
discerning eyes, that he was profoundly influenced by the life that went
on around him. The artistic and literary movements of the time affected
him deeply and, in his own modest way he was constantly striving to
enlarge the boundaries of his art, to develop its achievements in a
manner that must have made even his early pictures appear as dangerous
as the works of artists like Manet and Degas seemed to their
contemporaries. Had he lived in other times, had his lines been cast in
some quiet city to which no echo of the new movement in art and letters
could penetrate, Fra Angelico might still have painted interesting
pictures; but he would not have got beyond his earliest manner, indeed
he might not have attained to what is best in that. It would have been
so very easy for a narrow-minded superior to say that the innovations
were wrong, that the human figure in all its beauty must not be
expressed by a painter when presenting Virgin and Child, that the old
formal way was the right one. There could have been no appeal against
such a judgment. Doubtless many a budding genius has been nipped in this
fashion by short-sighted authority. How happy then was the friar with
time and place united in his service.



Fra Angelico has placed artists and laymen in his debt, and as far as
the latter are concerned the cause is obvious enough. A certain
conviction of the truth of every story he had to tell shines like a
bright light through all his pictures; they are a force for the
development and strengthening of belief. Even to-day one finds among the
crowd of tourists that "does" San Marco in half-an-hour or more, a few
visitors whose interest is of another kind, while there is no lack of
admirers for the work to be seen in the Uffizi, though much of it
belongs to the earliest part of the artist's life. So it happens that
the pictures have a well-defined literary and spiritual value, and it
is not surprising to think that the Church has granted posthumous
honours to the man whose work has brought so much honour in its train.
Artists acknowledge a great debt to the friar, but a debt of another
kind. As Professor Langton Douglas has pointed out in his admirable and
exhaustive work upon Fra Angelico, the friar, with his contemporaries,
Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, are the fathers of modern landscape. The new
movement was continued and developed by Verrocchio and Da Vinci on the
one side, and by Perugino and Raphael on the other. Then again Fra
Angelico made a definite movement towards portrait painting, by giving
the likeness of some of his friends and patrons to saints and martyrs.
This was yet another of the daring innovations that marked the opening
of the Quattrocento and, to realise how much it stood for we must
consider for a moment the comparative barrenness of modern art, which in
the hands of its most popular artists has little or nothing that is new
to say to us. Indeed it may be remarked with regret that great praise
often attaches to the man who goes back to the fifteenth and sixteenth
century, although a little reflection would enable every thoughtful
person to see that an art, forced to fall back upon traditions of the
past, is far from being in a flourishing condition.

    The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London
    The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh

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