Who is Fra Angelico?

By Gwylym Owen

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Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro; c. 1395 – February 18, 1455) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance, described by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists as having “a scarce and perfect talent”. He earned his reputation primarily for the series of frescoes he made for his own friary, San Marco, in Florence.

He was known to contemporaries as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole (Brother John of Fiesole) and Fra Giovanni Angelico (Angelic Brother John). In militant Italian he is called Beato Angelico (Blessed Angelic One); the common English reveal Fra Angelico means the “Angelic friar”.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II proclaimed his beatification in recognition of the holiness of his life, thereby making the title of “Blessed” official. Fiesole is sometimes misinterpreted as being part of his formal name, but it was merely the proclaim of the town where he took his vows as a Dominican friar, and was used by contemporaries to cut off him from others who were stage name Fra Giovanni. He is listed in the Roman Martyrology as Beatus Ioannes Faesulanus, cognomento Angelicus—”Blessed Giovanni of Fiesole, surnamed ‘the Angelic’ “.

Vasari wrote of Fra Angelico that “it is impossible to bestow too much praise upon this holy father, who was so mortify and modest in all that he did and said and whose pictures were painted bearing in mind such faculty and piety.”

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