(b nr. Vicchio, c.1395; d Rome, 18 Feb. 1455). Florentine painter, a Dominican friar. His nickname means ‘the angelic brother’, and in popular tradition he has been seen as ‘not an artist properly so-called but an inspired saint’ (Ruskin); however, he was in fact a highly professional painter, who was in touch with the most advanced developments in contemporary Florentine art, and in later life he travelled extensively for prestigious commissions.
He is first recorded as a painter in 1417 and by 1423 he had become a member of the Dominican Order at S. Domenico, Fiesole, near Florence, where he took the name Fra Giovanni. He probably began his career as a manuscript illuminator, and his early paintings are strongly influenced by International Gothic. But even in the most lavishly decorative of them all—the Annunciation (c.1432) in the Diocesan Museum in Cortona—Masaccio's influence is evident in the insistent perspective of the architecture. For most of his career Angelico was based in Fiesole (he became prior there in 1450), but his most famous works were painted at S. Marco in Florence (now an Angelico museum), a Sylvestrine monastery that was taken over by his Order in 1436. He and his assistants painted about fifty frescos there (c.1438–45). Many of them are in the friars' cells and were intended as aids to devotion; with their immaculate colouring, their economy in drawing and composition, and their freedom from the accidents of time and place, they attain a sense of blissful serenity. In the last decade of his life Angelico also worked in Orvieto and Perugia, and most importantly in Rome, where he frescoed the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican with scenes from the lives of Sts Stephen and Lawrence (1447–50). These differ considerably from the S. Marco frescos, with new emphasis on the story and on circumstantial detail, bringing Angelico more clearly into the mainstream of 15th-century Italian fresco painting. Angelico died in Rome and was buried in the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, where his tombstone still exists. He painted numerous altarpieces as well as frescos, several outstanding examples being in the S. Marco museum, including a Madonna and Saints (c.1438–40) commissioned by Piero de' Medici for the high altar of S. Marco, Florence. His assistants included Benozzo Gozzoli and he had considerable influence on Italian painting, notably on Domenico Veneziano and Piero della Francesca. Vasari, who referred to Fra Giovanni as ‘a simple and most holy man’, popularized the use of the name Angelico for him, but he says it is the name by which he was always known, and it was certainly used as early as 1469. In Italy he has long been called ‘Beato Angelico’ (the Blessed Angelico), but his beatification was not made official by the Vatican until 1982; in 1984 Pope John Paul II declared him patron of artists.
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)