The Catholic Defender: Blessed John of Fiesole
The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master.
While he was still a youth, he was attracted to the religious life, and asked to be received into a stricter discipline in the Order of Friars Preachers (called the Observance), which had been established in the convent at Fiesole.
He diligently took up all of the duties imposed by the brethren or superiors. It was the fame of his outstanding art work, particularly his painting, that spread far and wide. Therefore, commissions for his work became more frequent and urgent.
Fra Angelico is patron saint of Catholic artists. Shown here are some of his works, the first is a detail from the fresco, Noli Me Tangere, which depicts Jesus appearing to Mary after the resurrection. The Transfiguration and the Annunciation are among his paintings.
The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works.
He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.
Angelico was a tireless worker and finished a great number of paintings in his lifetime, but, thinking it would somehow be against God’s will, he never retouched or reworked any of them. He always prayed when he painted, and he would say, “To paint the things of Christ, one must live with Christ.”
Pope Eugenius IV called him to Rome. While brother John was painting the Basilica of Saint Peter’s and the Vatican palace, Eugenius IV took the most opportunity not only to admire the virtue of this outstanding artist, but even more than that, the piety of this religious, his observance of the Rule, his humility, and his memorable spirit that made many people his own.
Nicholas V had an exceptional opinion about brother John. For “he honored and reverenced this man alone, because of the integrity of his life and the excellence of his morals.” Therefore, he commissioned him to decorate his private chapel. When brother John had finished it, it almost seemed a prayer expressed with painted color.
He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point, Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.
“Whoever does the work of Christ, ought always to stay close to Christ.” This was a motto constantly repeated by Brother John of Fiesole, who was called Beato Angelico because of the highest integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of his paintings, particularly those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Fra Angelico's grave stone in the Dominican Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Rome) the epitaph says:
When singing my praise, don't liken my talents to those of Apelles. Say, rather, that, in the name of Christ, I gave all I had to the poor. The deeds that count on Earth are not the ones that count in Heaven. I, Giovanni, am the flower of Tuscany.
O God, in Your providence You inspired blessed Fra Angelico to portray the beauty and sweetness of heaven. By his prayers and the example of his virtues, grant that we may manifest this splendour to our brothers and sisters. Blessed Angelico, pray for us! Through Christ our Lord, amen.