J. B. SUPINO
ALINARI BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Printed by Barbera—Alfani and Venturi, proprietors Florence.
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Beato Angelico—Proem Page 5
I.—Fra Angelico at Cortona and Perugia (1409-1418) 29
II.—Fra Angelico at Fiesole (1418-1436) 55
III.—Fra Angelico at Florence (1436-1445) 93
San Marco 95
In the Gallery of Ancient and Modern Art 131
IV.—Fra Angelico at Rome and Orvieto (1445-1455) 155
Index to the Illustrations 179
Tradition shows us Fra Giovanni Angelico absorbed in his work, and either caressing with his brush one of those graceful angelic figures which have made him immortal, or reverently outlining the sweet image of the Virgin before which he himself would kneel in adoration. Legend pictures him devoutly prostrate in prayer before commencing work, that his soul might be purified, and fitted to understand and render the divine subject; and again in oration after leaving his easel, to thank heaven for having given him power to make his holy visions visible to other eyes.
But has tradition any foundation in fact? Why not? Through his numberless works we may easily divine the soul of the artist, and can well understand, how the calm and serene atmosphere of the monastic cell, the church perfumed with incense, and the cloister vibrating with psalms, would develop the mystic sentiment in such a mind.
And can we disregard tradition in face of such humility of life, such beauty of work, exquisite refinement of feeling, and sweetness of expression!
Among all the masters who have attempted to imbue the human form with the divine spirit, he is perhaps the only one who succeeded in producing pure celestial figures, and this with such marvellous simplicity of line, that they have become the glory of his art.
Whether it be the Virgin enthroned amidst groups of cherubim sounding heavenly trumpets, or Christ blessing the just and driving away sinners; whether the martyrs supporting their torments with superhuman resignation, the apostles preaching the gospel, or angels free in the air and chanting celestial glories; the same spirit is in them all—at once intense, devout, and utterly pure, in which the fervent believer and the true artist are inseparably blended.
The reason is, that Fra Giovanni put into his work the flame of an overpowering passion; under his touch features were beautified, and figures animated with a new mystic grace. He threw himself entirely into his art which thus became the spontaneous expression of his soul. "It was the custom of Fra Giovanni," says Vasari, "to abstain from retouching or improving any painting once finished. He altered nothing, but left all as it was done the first time, believing, as he said, that such was the will of God. It is also affirmed that he would never take his pencil in hand until he had first offered a prayer. He is said never to have painted a crucifix without tears streaming from his eyes, and in the countenances and attitudes of his figures it is easy to perceive proof of his sincerity, his goodness, and the depth of his devotion to the religion of Christ."
How this devout mind, full of the figurative sacred writings then current, must have overflowed with visions, ecstasies and miracles! And what tremors of awe must he have felt, in putting these visions into colour! His Madonnas, their features suffused with candour and humility, bend with maternal grace hitherto unwitnessed, in loving contemplation of the Son, or—mothers in glory—they bow to receive the homage of the Redeemer. His saints ecstatically gaze at luminous celestial apparitions; his golden winged angels dance lightly beneath the throne of their Lord or sound merrily the most various instruments, singing: laudate Dominum..., laudate eum in sono tubae, laudate eum in psalterio et cithara, laudate eum in timpano et choro...; or else with their fair curly heads downcast they reverently worship the divine majesty. What a feast of light and colour is in these panels, gleaming with azure and gold like a hymn to religion and faith!
"We know from him how the pious imagination of the men of his time pictured the Kingdom of Heaven, with the angels, saints, and blessed ones, and on this account alone his pictures would have been of extraordinary importance in the history of religion. Not to love Fra Angelico would mean to lack the true sentiment of ancient art, for though we recognize the pious naivete of the monk, there is in the heavenly beauty of his figures, and the joy of youthful faith which animates the artist, a charm unequalled in the whole history of Art!"
Whether Fra Angelico ever actually had a master, it is impossible to ascertain. There are critics who affirm that if anyone initiated him in art, imbuing him with his own sentiment and style, it might have been the Camaldolese monk Lorenzo Monaco; but Cavalcaselle justly observes that between Angelico and Lorenzo Monaco there only exists that affinity which in coetaneous artists results from community of thought, social conditions, and religious sentiments. Two monks like the Camaldolese and the Dominican might well show the same ideas, without implying a relation of master and scholar between them.
Both critics and historians, however, agree in the assertion that he began his career in art by illuminating codices and choral books. Baldinucci and Rosini judge that his master in painting was the Florentine Gherardo Starnina, whom Lanzi designates as "a painter of life-like style." But Padre Marchese refuting this opinion observes that "not to mention Vasari's silence on the matter, the fact is very doubtful, because Gherardo passed many years in Spain, and returning to his native land died in 1403, when little Guido of Mugello was only 16 years old, an age which scarcely admits of the first steps in Art." But the date of Starnina's death is now corrected and proved to have been in 1408, so, taking into account the character of our artist's works, nothing need now be opposed to the theory that Fra Giovanni may have profited by the teaching of that master, while living in Florence after his return from Spain; besides it is not proved whether that journey to Spain was ever really taken. Historians, it is true, tell us that Starnina, being obliged to leave Florence after the Ciompi riots (1378), took refuge in Spain, where he lived several years; but it is certain that in 1387 his name was inscribed in the Guild of Florentine painters.
Vasari does not doubt that Fra Angelico, like other artists from Masaccio onwards, acquired his skill by studying the frescoes of the Brancacci Chapel; but besides the fact that the style of those pictures is diametrically opposed to Fra Angelico's, the latter could not possibly have been in Masaccio's school, for as he was born in 1387, he was fifteen years older than Masaccio and already a proved master, when the Carmine frescoes were being painted. Fra Angelico's style is so individual and characteristic, that it might rather be considered as springing from his own disposition, developed under the influence of his time. Studying the works left in Florence by his great predecessors, leading a retired life, and purifying every idea, every inspiration in the fire of religion, Angelico was enabled, by meditation, to perfect the models of the best artists of the "trecento", among whom we should opine that the influence of Orcagna in his frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel of S. M. Novella, was greater even than that of Giotto. Indeed it is evident that what Orcagna began, is carried to the highest development in Fra Angelico, who combined softness and refinement with severity of form, grace of expression with nobility of attitude.
The figure of the Virgin in the fresco of the Judgment in the Strozzi Chapel, so grand and majestic in its simplicity, is again recognisable in the panels of Fra Angelico, imitated with his own especial character and spiritual feeling, full of grace and humility, the soft lines breathing beauty and lightness. The saints who appear to be actually in celestial repose, have also inspired Fra Giovanni; the same gentle and contemplative expression which irradiates the features of the elect is again visible in our painter's figures. In the colouring of both, vivacity is combined with softness, and vigour of chiaro-scuro goes together with transparency of tint.
Nevertheless it is true that in certain respects, Fra Angelico might be said to belong to the same school as Masolino. They are, however, at the antipodes from each other in sentiment and artistic interpretation, for while the saintly Giovanni endeavoured to idealize the human figure and render it divine, Masolino, like most of his contemporaries, followed a style distinctly realistic; yet it may be proved that in technique, both followed the same rules, and worked on similar principles. In fact the similitude between the two painters noticeable in their composition, softness of outline, lightness of figures, and clear harmonious colouring, tends to confirm the great artistic affinity which we have indicated. Both of them used rosy tints in the flesh, with greenish and yellowish shadows, both recall the older artists of the "trecento" in the perspective, which is often incorrect, and out of proportion. But how far superior is Fra Angelico when the work of both in its full aspect is compared!
Fra Angelico has, it is true, conventional forms, and there is a certain sameness in his heads with their large oval countenances; the small eyes, outlined round the upper arch of the eyebrow, and with a black spot for pupils, sometimes lack expression, or have a too monotonous one, and the iris is often lost in the white of the cornea; his mouths are always drawn small with a thickening of the lips in the centre, and the corners strongly accentuated; the colour of his faces is either too pink or too yellow; the folds of the robes (often independent of the figure, especially in the lower part) fall straight, and in the representations of the seated Virgin expand on the ground, as if to form the foot of a chalice. But in his frescoes these faults of conventional manner almost entirely disappear, giving place to freer drawing, more life-like expression, and a character of greater power.
We will not repeat with Vasari that Fra Giovanni perfected his art from the frescoes of the Brancacci Chapel; but we do not doubt that he too felt the beneficent influx of the new style, of which Masaccio was the greatest champion, and that he followed it, leaving behind, up to a certain point, the primitive giottesque forms. There is in his art, the great mediaeval ideal rejuvenated and reinvigorated by the spirit of newer times. Being in the beginning of his career, as is generally believed, only an illuminator, he continued, with subtle delicacy and accurate, almost timid design, to illuminate in larger proportions on his panels, those figures which are often only parts of a decorative whole. But in his later works while still preserving the simplicity of handling, and the innate character of his style, he displays a new tendency, and learns to give life to his figures, not only by the expression of purity and sweet ecstasy, but in finer particularization of form and action which he reproduces in more material style.
His clear diaphanous transparency of colouring is not used from lack of technical ability, but to approach more nearly to his ideal of celestial and divine visions, and succeed in a species of pictorial religious symbolism.
In the midst of his calm and serene compositions Fra Angelico has figures in which a healthy realism is strongly accentuated; figures drawn with decision, strong chiaro-scuro and robust colouring, which show that he did not deliberately disdain the progress made in art by his contemporaries. Indeed we should err in believing that Fra Angelico was unwilling to recognize the artistic developments going on around him, and the new tendencies followed by his eminent neighbours Ghiberti, Brunelleschi and Donatello. It was not so; but he only profited by the movement as far as he deemed possible without losing his own sentiment and character; thus giving a rare example of self-knowledge.
Perhaps he divined that if he had followed the new current too closely, it would have carried him farther than he wished to go; that the new manner would have removed him for ever from his ideal; in a word, that too intense study of the real, would have diminished or entirely impeded fantasy and feeling. He instinctively saw these perils, and therefore kept himself constant to his old style, and while perfecting himself in it, he still remained what he always had been, and what he felt he should be.
Though constrained to repeat to excess the usual subjects, too traditionally drawn, "he often," as Burckhardt writes, "understood how to avoid in the features of his saintly personages that aspect of abstract impersonality, which had hitherto marked them, and to animate them with delicate and individual life. He succeeded in giving a new character to the time-honoured types used in preceding artistic representations. To prove this it is sufficient to cite the St. John Baptist—one of Fra Angelico's finest creations."
He modifies the traditional type of Christ according to his own faith and feeling. Deriving it from Giotto, with improvements gathered from Orcagna, he excels both masters, impressing on it a divine character, and giving to the face of the Man God a sweet gentleness which is truly sublime. These qualities reach the highest grade in the "Coronation of the Virgin" at the Convent of San Marco, and in the picture at Pisa where the Saviour is represented standing upright, in the act of blessing with his right hand, while in the uplifted left he holds a golden cup.
He is represented full face, in all his majesty, his features of an exquisite sweetness and nobility,—a grand figure, which has all the seduction of a vision, such as our Dominican alone could conceive and design.
As he could, in a manner no one had ever done before, give to the figure of the living Christ the expression of infinite goodness, ready for sacrifice; so in his Crucifixions, instead of following the example of his contemporaries, who depicted Christ already dead, with marks of sorrow on His features, and contorted by the spasm of a violent death; he represented Him living, calm and serene, conscious of the sacrifice He completed, and full of joy in dying for man's salvation.
The type of the Virgin, too, though its characteristic construction of features, and short and receding chin, are derived from the Sienese masters, especially from Lorenzetti, in Fra Angelico responds to an artistic idealization chosen by him as approaching more the divinity of her person. The flowing robes of the Virgin show her long and refined hands, but beneath that mantle he draws no feminine figure nor can one even guess at it. All the power of the artist is concentrated in her face
umile in tanta gloria, (humble in such great glory)
on which the artist has impressed such candour, and so lively an expression of ineffable grace, that one is involuntarily moved to devotion.
The divine child with its golden curls, full and sunny face, wide open and sparkling eyes, is in the pictures at Cortona and Perugia depicted with rosy fingers in the act of blessing; in the "Madonna della Stella" He embraces His mother so closely that He almost hides Himself in her bosom; in the great azure-surrounded tabernacle of the Linen Guild, He is smiling; while in the fresco of the corridor at San Marco, He has an ingenuous wondering gaze as He holds forth His little hand,—an expression so natural that it shows a happy grafting of ideal representation, on a conscientious and close study of the real.
Full of character, too, are the heads of his old people, with flowing beards and severe aspect, and those of his saints and martyrs, which were evidently either young novices of the convent, contemporary brethren, or elder companions in the faith, portrayed with sapient and ingenuous realism. But the figures which most brilliantly display his genius, are those diaphanous angels, robed in flowing tunics, resplendent with gold, and of infinite variety. While admiring that multitude of celestial creatures, who praise, sing and dance around the radiant Madonnas, how can we doubt that they have visited his cell, and that he has lived with them in a fraternal and sweet familiarity?
Even when he has to represent scenes of passion, Fra Angelico mitigates the violence of action with softness of sentiment, for anger and disdain never entered his soul; and in their place he prefers to reproduce one character alone in all his figures with their gentle expression. It is his own character, with its angelic goodness of heart, which he incarnates in the divine beauty of all these celestial beings. As in name and art, so in real life he was truly "angelic," for he spent his whole time in the service of God, and the good of his neighbour and the world.
"And what more can or ought to be desired, than by thus living righteously," says Vasari, "to secure the kingdom of heaven, and by labouring virtuously, to obtain everlasting fame in this world? And, of a truth, so extraordinary and sublime a gift as that possessed by Fra Giovanni, should scarcely be conferred on any but a man of most holy life, since it is certain that all who take upon them to meddle with sacred and ecclesiastical subjects, should be men of holy and spiritual minds....
"Fra Giovanni was a man of the utmost simplicity of intention, and was most holy in every act of his life.... He disregarded all earthly advantages; and, living in pure holiness, was as much the friend of the poor in life as I believe his soul now is in heaven. He laboured continually at his paintings, but would do nothing that was unconnected with things holy. He might have been rich, but for riches he took no care; on the contrary, he was accustomed to say, that the only true riches was contentment with little. He might have commanded many, but would not do so, declaring that there was less fatigue and less danger of error in obeying others, than in commanding others. It was at his option to hold places of dignity in the brotherhood of his Order, and also in the world; but he regarded them not, affirming that he sought no dignity and took no care but that of escaping hell and drawing near to Paradise. And, of a truth, what dignity can be compared to that which should be most coveted by all churchmen, nay, by every man living, that, namely, which is found in God alone, and in a life of virtuous labour?
"Fra Giovanni was kindly to all, and moderate in all his habits, living temperately, and holding himself entirely apart from the snares of the world. He used frequently to say, that he who practised the art of painting had need of quiet, and should live without cares or anxious thoughts; adding, that he who would do the work of Christ should perpetually remain with Christ. He was never seen to display anger among the brethren of his order; a thing which appears to me most extraordinary, nay, almost incredible; if he admonished his friends, it was with gentleness and a quiet smile; and to those who sought his works, he would reply with the utmost cordiality, that they had but to obtain the assent of the prior, when he would assuredly not fail to do what they desired. In fine, this never-sufficiently-to-be-lauded father was most humble, modest, and excellent in all his words and works; in his painting he gave evidence of piety and devotion, as well as of ability, and the saints that he painted have more the air and expression of sanctity than have those of any other master."
Fra Giovanni Angelico, whose worldly name was Guido or Guidolino (little Guy), was born in the year 1387; his father was named Piero (surname not known) of Vicchio in the Mugello;—that pleasant valley which boasts of having given birth to Giotto.
Vasari asserts that Guido's brother Benedetto, a miniaturist, was also very clever in a larger style of painting, but the researches of Milanesi quite refute this opinion, and show that Benedetto did nothing more than copy choral books, and that he continued this kind of work till his death.
"The most ancient chronicles of the convent of St. Mark and St. Dominic at Fiesole," writes Milanesi when registering the death of Fra Benedetto brother of Angelico, in the year 1448, "remark simply that he was a very good writer, and that he wrote and annotated the choral books of St. Mark and some of those of St. Dominic." We have only the evidence in Vasari and the "Annali del Convento di San Marco," written after his Lives of the Painters to prove that he was a miniaturist.
In these Annals it is added, with more historical truth, that although Angelico "might have conveniently lived in the world, and besides his own possessions might have gained any income he chose, with the art for which he was famous even in his youth, yet, for his own satisfaction and peace, being by nature steady and good, and chiefly also for the salvation of his soul he preferred to take the vows in the order of the Preaching monks." This happened in 1407.
On the slopes of the smiling hill of Fiesole the foundations of a new convent were being laid by Giovanni Dominici, the great preacher and reformer, who wished in this new monastery to give a model to all the cloistered orders which at the close of the preceding century had greatly fallen from their ancient observances. St. Antonino was among the first to embrace this reform, and after two years Guidolino and his brother followed his example, choosing the robes of St. Dominic.
On being received by the Dominicans they were sent to Cortona, where St. Antonino and others already resided, there being as yet no novitiate at the Fiesole convent. In 1408 they took the irrevocable vows, but it cannot be ascertained whether they still remained at Cortona, or returned at once to their own convent at Fiesole. If the latter, the two brothers must have been involved in the vicissitudes of the Fiesolan convent, which, refusing to acknowledge Pope Alexander V. (who was elected by the Council of Pisa 1409), entered into a fierce contest with the archbishop of Florence. The convent was abandoned by its inmates who fled to Foligno to avoid the rule of Fra Tommaso da Fermo, General of the Order, who had sworn obedience to the new Pope. They were received as guests at Foligno by Ugolino de' Trinci, lord of the city, and Federigo Frezzi, author of the Quadriregio. Here they passed five years, being treated with great benevolence by their brethren, nor did they leave until driven away by the plague in 1414, when they again took shelter at Cortona where they remained till 1418.
When Guidolino entered the convent and took the name of Giovanni, he must have been already expert in art; for the vicissitudes which followed could certainly not have facilitated the study of painting. In fact his works which remain at Cortona are in so youthful a style, and bear the imprint of such freshness as to remove all doubt on this generally accepted assertion.
While staying at Foligno, the Fiesolan refugees propagated that severe form of life and strict observance which Giovanni Dominici had taught in his convent at Fiesole, and brother Giovanni again began his artistic work, for painting was to him like prayer, i. e. his usual way of raising his mind and heart to God. Unfortunately few of these first works have been preserved, but from those few we are assured that he studied in Florence, from which school alone he could have appropriated the noble manner impressed on all his works; and that those who perceive an Umbrian influence in his art, are very far from the truth.
There may be some elements common to both the Umbrian art and that of Angelico; this, however, does not depend so much on the teaching of the school, as on technical affinity; insomuch as Umbrian painting in its lucidity, charm and accuracy of colour, is in some measure derived from the art of illumination, and most probably Fra Angelico took his style from the same source, as even in his most perfect works, he always preserved a remembrance of it.
In fact, his patient diligence and study of detail render his pictures so many miniatures, done in larger proportions; the lucidity of tint, the grace of the ornamental motives, the almost exaggerated minuteness of execution, are decided proofs of the artistic education of Fra Angelico. It is pleasant to imagine him, during his sojourn at Foligno and Cortona, making pilgrimages to Assisi, to draw inspiration from the works of the great masters in the splendid church of San Francesco. There he found his old friends, and might at a glance admire together Giotto, Simone Martini, and Lorenzetto. We should say he admired Simone and Lorenzetto more than Giotto, for the grace of their figures, refinement of execution, and greater richness of the accessories, robes and ornamentation, together with the pleasing brilliance of colouring, all approached more nearly to Fra Giovanni's own artistic sentiment than the style of Giotto.
And even less than the Umbrian painters or miniaturists (if indeed there were any worthy to influence the artistic spirit of our artist) did the landscape of verdant Umbria stir his soul, which even the sweet slopes of Fiesole could not touch.
Doubtless from the heights of the convent at Cortona, which dominates one of the finest views in Italy, the young monk admired the beautiful horizon, and enjoyed the splendour of the verdant plain, and the blue mountains, "enwrapt in mists of purple and gold", as he had often at sunrise and sunset, enjoyed from his Fiesole convent the gentle fields and dales "peopled with houses and olives"; but, after all, these beauties of nature so often displayed before him, were dumb to an artist who was wholly absorbed in visions beyond this world.
The study of the verdant country never occupied his mind; in his paintings, landscape is either an insignificant accessory, or if it occupies a large space in the picture as in the "Deposition from the Cross" in the Florentine Gallery, it shows plainly that it is not the result of special study, of personal impressions, or of love of the place itself. In fact it does not attract or interest the observer at all.
Nor could this be otherwise; the inner life of the spirit, which he lived so intensely, and so vividly transfused in the figures of his Saints, must necessarily have abstracted his mind from his surroundings, to which he therefore gave little attention. In this he was faithful to the Giottesque principle of not enriching the background, except by just what was necessary to render the subject intelligible, and this without pretension, or new research.
His trees rose straight on their trunks, the leaves and branches spreading in conventional style; his rocks have the usual gradations which we find in the old school; the views of distant cities are absolutely fantastic and infantile creations; only the green plain is often illumined, in an unusual manner, by tiny flowerets of many hues, while mystic roses crown the angels' locks, adorn overflowing baskets, or rise on long stalks at the foot of the Virgin's throne in transparent vases.
Such are the characteristics, the spirit and the sentiment that appear in the works of Fra Angelico, who might be considered as the last representative of that school of which Giotto was master; and at the same time the initiator of "Quattrocento" art, whose powerful development irresistibly attracted him. He painted so many pictures for the houses of Florentine citizens, that "I was often astonished," writes Vasari, "how one man alone could, even in many years, do so much and so well." "And we also," justly observes Milanesi, "are not less amazed than Vasari, for although many works have been dispersed or are still hidden, yet a great number still remain both in Italy and other countries, and, what is more remarkable, the greater part are not mentioned by Vasari."
We will follow our artist in his different places of abode, thus establishing the various periods of his life and artistic productions; from the Fiesole hills, where the first seedlings of his fantasy were sown, to green Umbria, where his early works are, works warm with enthusiasm, faith and youthful candour: from Florence, which he enriched with admirable frescoes, and innumerable pictures dazzling with gold and azure, to Rome, where he left his grand pictorial legacy in the oratory of Pope Nicholas V.
FRA ANGELICO AT CORTONA AND PERUGIA.
If, after a study of the pictorial works of Fra Angelico, any one should undertake to make a precise classification of them, he would—although his frescoes are easy enough to classify—find himself confronted by no small difficulty in regard to the panel paintings.
So active and original was the artist, and so grand in his simplicity, that he always remained just what he appeared from the beginning,—the painter of ingenuous piety, mystical ecstasy, and intense religious fervour.
No record is extant of his first visit to Foligno, but in the church of St. Dominic at Cortona we may still admire a triptych with the Virgin and four Saints; an Annunciation; and two "predelle"; one of which is said to have belonged to the picture of St. Dominic, as the scenes relate to the life of that Saint, and the other with some stories of the Virgin, to the Annunciation mentioned above.
To the story of St. Dominic (which had already been treated in a masterly manner by Fra Guglielmo, in the "arca" at Bologna, and by Traini in his picture at Pisa), Fra Angelico has, in some scenes, given a fuller development, but with less dramatic sentiment; exactly the good and bad points which are more clearly shown in his other works. The "predella", divided into seven parts, represents the birth of Saint Dominic; the dream of Pope Honorius III., to whom the Saint appears in act of steadying the falling church; the meeting of the Saint with St. Francis; the confirmation of his rule by means of the Virgin; the visits of St. Peter and St. Paul; the dispute with heretics; the resurrection of the nephew of Cardinal de' Ceccani; the supper of the Saint and his brethren; and lastly his death.
The scene of the resurrection of the young Napoleon, nephew of Cardinal Stefano de' Ceccani, had been already powerfully depicted by Traini; in Angelico's hands it comes out restrained and cold, the acts of amazement in the devotees present at the miracle, who raise their hands in astonishment, are too conventional: and it is precisely in the intermingling of these gestures of sorrow for the death, and wonder for the revivication, that the Pisan artist has brought out his best effects. As we have before pointed out, the calm spirit of Fra Angelico avoided realistic representation; his figures always suggest love, faith and resignation, but are never agitated; like the soul of their author, they are incapable of violent action; therefore when these should be drawn, the representation falls below reality. We shall see instances of this in other works of his.
One of Angelico's most familiar subjects was the Annunciation, and the most interesting of the Cortona pictures, is that of the angel's visit to Mary. Its motive is simple and clear, as it was transmitted from early Christian art; the general lines are unchanged, but the expression greatly so. Fra Angelico did not disturb the religious solemnity of the apparition with useless accessories; faithful to his own sentiment, he has clothed Mary with humility. She sits beneath the portico, the book neglected on her lap, her hands crossed, and her drooping head inclined towards the heavenly messenger. The golden-winged angel with roseate robe also bends before the Virgin, the right hand pointing to her breast and the left to the dove which sheds celestial rays on Mary's head. In the background Adam and Eve are being expelled from the terrestrial Paradise, symbol of the ancient Christian legend which directly connects the story of original sin with that of the Redemption.
This mystic subject, which does not lack grace and freshness in the Cortona painting, finds its fuller development in San Marco at Florence. Here the Madonna is seated on a wooden stool, her head projected forward almost in ecstasy, with hands clasped on her breast, and in similar attitude the angel half kneels before her. The scene takes place before a little grated window in the colonnade of a cloister, utterly bare of ornament, but in this very simplicity lies all the charm and poetry of Angelico.
Before a subject so ideal, so solemn, which reveals in such intensity of faith and feeling how his thought spontaneously turned to the prayer of the Salutation which was certainly on the artist's lips as he painted, or was inspired by some sweet Annunciation hymn such as this, which probably has been often repeated before this entrancing picture:
Alzando gli occhi vidi Maria bella Col libro in mano, e l' angel gli favella.
Dinnanzi a lei si stava inginocchiato Quell' angel Gabriel tanto lucente, Ed umilmente a lei ebbe parlato: "Vergine pura, non temer niente; Messaggio son di Dio onnipotente, Che t' ha eletta e vuolti per sua sposa."
E poi le disse: "In cielo e ordinato, Che siate madre del figliuol di Dio, Pero che gli angeli il padre han pregato, Che con effetto adempia el lor disio; E da parte del sommo e buono Dio, Questa benedizione a voi s' appella."
Queste parole fur tanto infiammate E circundate di virtu d' amore, Che ben parean da Dio fussin mandate, E molto se n' allegra nel suo core: "Da poi che piace all' alto Dio Signore, Io son contenta d' essere sua ancella."
Ella si stava dentro alla sua cella, E grande meraviglia si faceva, Pero che a nessun uomo ella favella, E molto timorosa rispondeva. L' angelo disse allora: "Ave Maria, Di grazia tu se' piena, o chiara stella."
Allor discese lo Spirito santo, Come un razzo di sol l' ha circundata, Poi dentro a lei entro quel frutto santo In quella sacrestia chiusa e serrata; Di poi partori inviolata E si rimase vergine e donzella.
O veri amanti, venite a costei, Quella che di bellezza e madonna: L' aria e la terra si sostien per lei, Del ciel regina e del mondo colonna, Chi vuol veder la donzella gioconda Vada a veder la nunziata bella.
The other predella at Cortona represents various episodes in the life of the Virgin:—the Nativity, Marriage, Visitation, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, Death, Burial and lastly the apparition of the Virgin to the blessed Dominican Reginald of Orleans. Padre Marchese believes that this last scene did not originally belong to the predella; but the doubt is unfounded, for nothing is more natural than the artist's wish to connect the history of the Virgin with his Order, of which she is the patroness.
Cavalcaselle, as well as Marchese, affirms that the scene of the Marriage of the Virgin reproduces that of the picture in the Uffizi at Florence. This may be, as far as the subject and scene go, but in the disposition of the figures, the development of action, the two works have nothing in common. Of course in both there must be the priest who unites the bridal couple, and around them the usual personages in various attitudes of complaisance, surprise, and rejoicing, but the grouping of the figures in the predella at Cortona is more naturally conceived. The women on the right appear to come from the house where they had met to assist at the ceremony; the men stand on the left. The background with its portico, and the walls, above which the trees of a garden project, are shown with more truth and solidity. To give wider scope to the scene Fra Angelico has depicted the marriage in an open space. The picture in the Uffizi, on the other hand, is so conventional both in architecture and landscape that it is impossible to establish a comparison between the two.
The Visitation depicts the wife of Zacharias meeting the Virgin, and lovingly embracing her; a serving maid leaning against the threshold, half hidden by the door, is listening with devotion, while another woman kneels on the ground in the road raising her hands to heaven.
In the Adoration of the Magi we find the usual qualities of composition and feeling. One of the Kings has already rendered homage to the Redeemer, and is talking to St. Joseph, who thanks him with earnest devotion; and while the second falls prone before the divine Child, and kisses His feet with profound emotion, the third prepares himself to render the required homage. All around are elegant little figures of pages and servants, in life-like and natural attitudes.
The last story represents the Assumption of the Virgin, at which, according to ancient tradition, Christ is present and carries in his arms the soul of His mother in the form of a little child.
Padre Marchese wrote that both the Adoration and this Assumption are in every respect similar, or replicas of those in the Uffizi. If anything, the pretty little panels of the Uffizi might be replicas of the Cortona ones; but in Florence the only painting with the scene of the Adoration of the Magi is that in the predella of the tabernacle of the Linen Weavers' Guild. Now, while the Adoration in the Cortona predella is naturally and simply pourtrayed, that of Florence is conventional and stiff, the vacuity of some figures and their actions is very evident—therefore this similitude also reduces itself to mere identity of subject. The Assumption of the Virgin also offers very notable differences. The predella at Cortona is more intense and severe, more simple and hence more grand; while the little panel in the Uffizi shows that the effort to embellish the scene has been too much for the artist, and the intensity of sentiment is greatly lessened, being injured by useless accessories. In that of Cortona, on the contrary, the figures of the Apostles who hold the sheet on which the Virgin reposes are full of expression and natural in action, the steep and mountainous background has severe and grand lines, as if to emphasize the sadness of the scene. Here the artist felt and created, there he merely repeated himself.
The triptych, once on the great altar of the church of San Domenico, now at a side altar on the right, has the Virgin seated in the centre with the Holy Child upright on her knee, his right hand is raised in act of benediction, and with his left he holds a rose. Around the throne are four angels, one of which carries a basket of flowers. In the side panels are St. Matthew, St. John Baptist, St. John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene. Above in the central compartment of the triptych, is the Crucifixion and the two rounds on the sides represent the Annunciation.
In the Chapel of Sant' Orsola in San Domenico at Perugia there was formerly a panel picture now divided into many parts and much damaged. This was painted by Fra Giovanni for the Chapel of San Niccolo de' Guidalotti, and may now be seen in the Vannucci gallery at Perugia.
The Virgin is enthroned with her Son on her knees, His right hand in act of benediction, His left holding a half open pomegranate. At the foot of the throne four angels are standing back, the two first lift up a basket full of white and red roses, the others peep from behind the throne of the Virgin who turns lovingly to her little Son, who is entirely nude, and as rosy as the angels' flowers, and those in three vases at the foot of the throne. On the right of the Virgin are St. John Baptist and St. Catherine; on the left St. Dominic and St. Nicholas. On the predella, which is divided into three parts, were once various scenes from the life of St. Nicholas of Bari, two of these are now to be found in the Vatican Gallery. In a complex composition, they represent the birth of the Saint; his listening to the preaching of a bishop to a congregation of women seated in a flowery field; the Saint saving from dishonour the daughters of a poor gentleman; and the miracle of causing a hundred measures of wheat to rain down and relieve the famine in the city of Nuri. On the upper portion the Saint appears from behind a rock, having been invoked by some devotees to calm a tempest which threatened to wreck their bark.
The portion at Perugia represents the miraculous salvation of three innocent youths, sons of Roman princes; and the death and funeral of the Saint. In the lower part of the picture he is extended on the bier surrounded by monks, women and poor people who weep his loss, while above, his soul is being led to heaven by four angels. The frame of the painting is now divided into twelve fragments, each one containing a small figure of a Saint: they are St. Romuald, St. Gregory, St. Laurence, St. Bonaventure, St. Catherine, St. Peter Martyr, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Peter, St. Stephen, St. Paul and St. John. The last four figures have been mutilated in the lower part, and in these, as well as the others, the colouring is much injured. If it were desired to complete the altar-piece, at present, the gables of the tripartite frame would be missing, but there is no doubt that—as in the Cortona picture—the two small rounds in the Perugian Pinacoteca, representing the Angel of the Annunciation and the Virgin, on gold backgrounds, formed part. Padre Marchese places this panel among the youthful works of the artist, "because it shows more than his other works the manner and technique of Giotto's school." Padre Timoteo Bottonio wrote that it was painted in 1437, but the Dominican author adds that this is not likely, as Fra Giovanni Angelico was at that time in Florence, where the restoration of San Marco was begun, and also the building of the new convent which he adorned with so many marvellous frescoes.
This would actually signify little. As the picture which is said to have been painted for the church of Sant' Andrea at Brescia was naturally done at Fiesole, this one for Perugia might well have been executed at Florence. But though it recalls the most characteristic works of the artist and, for liveliness of colour and accurate study of form, may be considered one of his most remarkable works, we have no hesitation in ascribing it to his first artistic period. In both these altar-pieces the grouping of the figures is still faithful to Giottesque tradition; it was only later, i. e. when Fra Angelico had felt the artistic influences developing around him, that he placed the figures in one picture on different levels, to make a circle round the Mother of Christ.
The type of the Virgin herself in this Perugian picture is similar to that of the Cortona panel; they both have the eyes wide apart, a short, receding chin, and small mouth; characteristics which are also seen in the angels behind the Virgin's throne in the San Domenico picture at Cortona. From an architectural view the throne has here a much more antique shape than in his later designs, where Renaissance forms predominate. As to the picture at Perugia it has been so restored and arbitrarily put together after the panel was divided, that it affords no serious proof of authenticity.
We must therefore conclude that the Perugian one was painted before 1433, for could we possibly admit (as Padre Bottonio wills it) that it was done in 1437, that is only a year before the celebrated painting for the church of San Marco? And seeing that when the Dominicans again obtained possession of their own convent and returned to Fiesole neither Fra Angelico nor his brother Fra Benedetto were among them, we may reasonably suppose that Angelico was then at Perugia, painting the altar-piece for the Guidalotti Chapel; and that he only returned to Florence when he had finished that work, which we may date later than the panel still to be admired at Cortona.
These are the only works known to have been painted by him while he and his brethren had left their beloved Fiesole hills to seek peace and tranquillity in Umbria,—the only records of that period of voluntary exile.
FRA ANGELICO AT FIESOLE.
Whilst Fra Angelico was putting the legends of the Virgin and St. Dominic into colour in Umbria, Giovanni Dominici together with Leonardo Dati, master-general of the Order, was negotiating with the Bishop of Fiesole and Pope Gregory XII. to again obtain possession of the convent founded by Dominici. It was only in 1418 that the Fiesolan bishop acceded to their request, on condition that the Dominicans would make him a present of some sacred vestments to the value of a hundred ducats. This sum, writes Marchese, was taken from the legacy left to the convent by the father of St. Antonino, who died about that time. A rich merchant having died in Florence in the same year, leaving the monks of Fiesole six thousand florins, it was besides decided to enlarge the building. The legal act of free and absolute concession being signed, the father-general at once sent for four of the monks from Cortona, among whom, as we have said, were neither Fra Angelico nor Fra Benedetto. This does not imply that all the others who had left in 1409, might not have returned later, and probably Fra Angelico among them.
It was in this convent from which on the side towards the ridge of the Fiesole hill, he looked on the olives spreading their silvery branches against the blue sky, that Fra Angelico, absorbed in work and prayer, passed the greater part of his life. It is impossible to determine at which of the many works that now adorn the Florentine and foreign galleries, he worked during his stay in Fiesole, where he remained till 1436; certainly he painted the panel pictures for his church, the Tabernacle of the Linen Weavers, and frescoes in some parts of the convent. That convent so dear to him must have awakened in his soul many bitter and sweet memories—whether he thought of the days when he and his brother Benedetto first took their vows, or of the successive vicissitudes when he and the brethren were forced to abandon it.
Vasari asserts that "he painted an Easter candle in several small scenes, for Giovanni Masi, a monk of the convent of Santa Maria Novella; and also some reliquaries which on solemn feast days were placed on the altar," and are preserved to this day in the convent of San Marco. They represent the "Coronation of the Virgin," the "Madonna della Stella" and the "Adoration of the Magi." The Coronation has been too much damaged by useless retouching to be able fully to judge of its merits. It is for this cause perhaps that some people have ventured to doubt its authenticity: "one perceives," writes Cartier, "his religious conception, and desire to follow his model, but the whole composition lacks order and space, the figures are heavy, attitudes embarrassed, proportions short, outlines coarse and the whole painting is strained."
Now this is not absolutely exact. Naturally if we compare this little reliquary with the great "Coronation" at the Louvre, we find the composition more compressed, but it is not confused. True, the types of the Virgin and Redeemer have not that grand simplicity which with sincere enthusiasm we admire in his later panels of the same subject. But possibly we have here the artist's first conception, an idea which he successively developed and perfected till he reached the highest grade of beauty, first in the picture at the Louvre, then in the truly celestial one of the Florentine Gallery.
In the little painting of the Madonna della Stella (of the Star) we have qualities of grace and nobility all Fra Angelico's own. The six adoring angels on the slope of the frame, and the two seated at the base playing musical instruments, not only fully reveal his ability, but might be classed with those of the Linen Weaver's Tabernacle as among the most beautiful and ethereal he ever painted.
The third reliquary which is divided into two parts represents the "Adoration of the Magi," below, and the "Annunciation" above. The Virgin has a book on her lap, her arms crossed on the breast, and head extended towards the celestial messenger who kneels before her; but both figures, though showing Fra Angelico's characteristic sentiment, have exaggerated proportions; the neck is inordinately long, the colouring enamelled, and so brilliant as to give the picture the character of a fine and elegantly illuminated missal. In the "Adoration" the Virgin displays the same defects of proportion, but among the figures of the three Kings and the personages accompanying them, are some of exceptional elegance and exquisite beauty. On the whole the scene may be classed among the finest and most graceful of the works which Fra Angelico has left to us.
There is a kind of reliquary in the Vatican Gallery, which represents the Virgin seated, with the Child on her left arm. Her raised right hand holds the rose, and at her feet kneel St. Dominic and St. Catherine. Cavalcaselle supposes this to have been the fourth of the reliquaries once in Santa Maria Novella, but it more probably belongs to that small painting reproduced by Prof. Helbig, in the Revue de l'Art Chretien, in which Angelico has represented the death and assumption of the Virgin.
The under part of the picture, representing the death of the Virgin, recalls, in the general grouping of figures, the same subject now in the Uffizi Gallery; but in this one, four Apostles are depicted in the act of raising the bier, while the others surround the Christ, who holds in His arms the soul of His Mother in the form of a babe. In the upper part we see the Virgin with upraised arms, being received by the Saviour who extends His hands as if in welcome. The type of the Virgin recalls that of the small panel representing the "Adoration" and "Annunciation." The Christ is, in the foreshortening and character of the face, a repetition of that on the reliquary of the "Madonna della Stella." The figure of the Virgin is incorporeal and insignificant; but the angels who in varied attitudes dance around the throne playing divers instruments, are charming and graceful.
In the ancient refectory of the Fiesolan convent Fra Angelico painted a life-size Christ Crucified, with St. Dominic kneeling below clinging passionately to the Cross. At the sides stand the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist; there is also a figure of the saintly founder, but it was either added later, or else has been badly restored and cannot be taken as Fra Angelico's work. The picture has been removed from the wall, and is now in the Museum of the Louvre; it is damaged in several parts; the delicacy of colouring is lost, the background spoiled, and only the figures of the Saviour, the Virgin, and the head of St. John remain in tolerable condition.
The other fresco in the old chapter-house (this also has been removed from the wall, and is now in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg), represents the Virgin seated, with the Child on her knee, between St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas; all these figures show signs of incompetent restoration, the outlines and drapery having been repainted. Less spoiled perhaps by retouching, but yet in a deplorable condition, is the other painting, a Crucifixion, still existing in the Sacristy of the Convent. The Redeemer with extended arms, has His head drooping straight on the breast, and the legs are stiffened and curve to the right. A crown of thorns encircles the head, which is surrounded by a great aureole; but the head is small; and the face, with its insignificant features, lacks the intense expression which Fra Angelico usually succeeds in putting into similar subjects.
He also painted the altar-piece for the great altar in San Domenico at Fiesole, "which," writes Vasari, "perhaps because it appeared to be deteriorating, has been retouched and injured by other masters. But the predella and ciborium of the Sacrament are better preserved; and you may see infinite little figures which are lovely in their celestial glory, and appear indeed to come from Paradise, nor can those who draw near ever look at them sufficiently."
The picture is now removed into the choir. In the centre the Virgin with her Son, is seated on the throne; six angels stand around her in act of adoration, and two kneel in front with vases in their hands. At the sides St. Thomas and St. Peter are placed on the left; St. Dominic and St. Peter Martyr on the right. The retouching of which Vasari speaks, was done by Lorenzo di Credi in 1501, when the picture was reduced to its present form. We learn this from a record in the MS. chronicle of the Convent of Fiesole, which is quoted by Padre Marchese in his "Memorie." But the panel has suffered other and worse things than this. Other figures taken from an older frame have been substituted for those in the pilasters. Some coarse copies have been put in the place of the three "stories" of the predella, and the original one was sold, together with the ciborium.
The predella, now in the National Gallery of London, is divided into five compartments. In the centre is Christ robed in white, His right hand raised in benediction, and a standard held in His left; at the sides are a crowd of angels—some blowing trumpets, others playing instruments, others again in attitudes of profound veneration—all have robes of pure and brilliant hues with azure wings lightly sprinkled with gold. The side scenes have multitudes of saints, either standing or kneeling in adoration: on the left are patriarchs, bishops, monks and martyrs, each with his own emblem; on the right, a crowd of kneeling feminine saints among whom we can recognise St. Agnes, St. Catherine and St. Helen, and behind them a line of male saints, amongst them St. Cyprian, St. Clement, St. Thomas, St. Erasmus, and others whose names are written on their mitres. Still higher King David, St. John Baptist and the prophets Jeremiah, Zaccariah and Habakkuk. The faces are painted with great delicacy and accuracy, and although they show some variety of lineament, the expression is rather mannered. The outlines of the feminine saints are full of grace and those of the other sex do not lack great dignity. Although the work is of minor proportion, it shows a noteworthy progress when compared with the conceptions of Orcagna.
The greater part of the draperies are rendered with most refined colouring, so delicately toned and judiciously contrasted, that no part of the painting appears either crude, or of exaggerated richness; while the gold used in every part of the background contributes to give great harmony to the whole. In the pictures placed at the end of the predella, the Dominicans are depicted in their white robes and black mantles.
This delightful work, which roused the admiration of Vasari, contains not less than 266 figures and may justly be considered as one of the gems of the collection. Executed with all the delicacy of an illumination, it sparkles with bright but harmonious colours, while the spirit of devotion which penetrates the whole is entirely characteristic of the painter.
Angelico reached greater perfection in the picture of the "Annunciation" of which Vasari says: "In a chapel of the same church is a picture from the same hand, representing Our Lady receiving the Annunciation from the angel Gabriel, with a countenance which is seen in profile, so devout, so delicate, and so perfectly executed, that the beholder can scarcely believe it to be by the hand of man, but would rather suppose it to have been delineated in Paradise. In the landscape forming the background are seen Adam and Eve, whose fall made it needful that the Virgin should give birth to the Redeemer."
This picture (purchased in 1611 by Duke Mario Farnese) is now in the Museum at Madrid. The Virgin is seated on the right under a graceful portico sustained by small columns. Her head inclines a little towards the Angel, in the same attitude as in the Cortona altar-piece and the fresco at San Marco. She holds the book on her knees, and crosses her hands on her breast; while the golden winged Angel, in its rose coloured robe, with an arm curved in similar attitude of reverence, sheds light around, as in the painting at Cortona. High up in the left corner the hand of the Eternal Father sends down a ray of light, in the midst of which the Holy Spirit is symbolized. In the background, as in the Cortona picture, Adam and Eve are being expelled from Paradise.
In the predella are some beautiful "stories" representing the "Marriage of the Virgin," the "Salutation," the "Adoration of the Magi," the "Circumcision of Christ" and the "Death of the Virgin."
"But superior to all the other works of Fra Giovanni, and one in which he surpassed himself, is a picture in the same church (i. e. San Domenico at Fiesole), near the door on the left hand of the entrance: in this work, he proves the high quality of his powers as well as the profound intelligence he possessed of the art which he practised. The subject is the Coronation of the Virgin by Jesus Christ: the principal figures are surrounded by a choir of angels, among whom are vast numbers of saints and holy personages, male and female. These figures are so numerous, so well executed, in attitudes so varied, and the expressions of the heads so richly diversified, that one feels infinite pleasure and delight in regarding them. Nay, one is convinced that those blessed spirits can look no otherwise in heaven itself, or to speak under correction, could not, if they had forms, appear otherwise; for all the saints, male and female, assembled here, have not only life and expression, most delicately and truly rendered, but the colouring also of the whole work would seem to have been given by the hand of a saint, or of an angel like themselves. It is not without sufficient reason therefore, that this excellent ecclesiastic is always called Frate Giovanni Angelico. The stories from the life of Our Lady and of St. Dominic which adorn the predella, moreover, are in the same divine style; and I, for myself, can affirm with truth, that I never see this work but it appears something new, nor can I ever satisfy myself with the sight of it, or have enough of beholding it."
The painting is now in the Louvre at Paris, having been taken from Fiesole during the French invasion of 1812.
Under a rich canopy with inlaid columns and brocade hangings the Redeemer seated on the throne, places the crown on the head of his Mother, who kneels before him, with hands crossed on her bosom. Around them angels are making the air resound with the voice of song, and the music of many instruments. Saints, male and female circle round, some standing, others kneeling, their fixed eyes and ecstatic features denoting their joy in such divine splendour. Among the saints are the great personages of the religious orders, together with bishops and emperors. On the right, among the kneeling female saints are seen St. Agnes tenderly pressing the lamb to her breast, St. Catherine holding her wheel of torture and a palm, St. Ursula clasps the arrow which united her in death to her divine Spouse, St. Cecilia's pretty head is garlanded with flowers, while St. Mary Magdalene turns her back showing the rich locks of hair flowing over her shoulder as she holds the vase of ointment in her left hand. On the opposite side are St. Dominic with the lily and open book, St. Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Anthony and St. Francis. On a higher level St. Louis, with his crown of fiordalise, talks with St. Thomas; while St. Nicholas supports himself with both hands on his pastoral staff.
"It is a clever composition, wonderfully balanced, and the solemnity of style does not at all exclude exuberance of life or infinite variety of ideas.
"The bodies are almost diaphanous, the heads ethereal, the atmosphere and light have a touch of the supernatural. Up to this point the subject is subdued, but the colours lively and pure—among which blue and carmine predominate—gleam with particular splendour."
The predella contains in some small compositions the chief episodes in the life of St. Dominic, excepting the central compartment where Christ is drawn, issuing from the sepulchre between the Virgin and St. John. The compositions are all executed with that love and delicacy which are the glory of the artist, but even these little stories, like the larger panel, have been more or less injured by repeated restorations.
A similar subject now in the Uffizi Gallery at Florence and which Fra Angelico painted for the church of Santa Maria Novella, is still more aerial and celestial, a perfect masterpiece of sentiment and mystic expression.
Here also Fra Angelico clings to that traditional characteristic, peculiarly his own—the art of sacred vision, but with what new life he animates it, and what poetical witchery he throws into this creation of his ascetic fantasy!
His predecessors reproduced with slight varieties the model of Giotto, and the great Florentine painter himself has given us the scene in its most simple reality. High in the central part of Giotto's "Coronation" Christ places the crown on the Virgin, who with hands crossed, bows her head to receive the homage of her Son. But on her face there is no expression of ecstatic joy, modest, indeed "humble in the midst of glory", she droops her eyes, almost as if she dared not rest them on the Saviour. Angels and saints, symmetrically disposed at the sides, fill the whole background of the picture, with heads either raised in admiration or bowed in respect, but in attitudes so similar, that they give a sense of monotony. Then come the saints, some kneeling at the foot of the throne, and others in the side wings of the triptych, reverently bowing to the Mother of God.
Fra Angelico repeats the principal motive, but develops it according to his high ideal, his intense faith, and mystic sentiment. He gives to the Virgin an expression of infinite sweetness; to the angels a truly celestial charm, to the saints a serene expression of beatitude, and to the whole scene the azure divine character of a vision of Paradise.
High in the centre the Redeemer extends his right hand to add a brilliant gem to the crown of the Virgin, who sits near him, with hands crossed in loving reverence. A luminous golden ray from this group engraved on the panel, forms gleaming and resplendent waves in the background of the picture, from which groups of angels stand out, playing all sorts of music, or dancing with hand clasped in hand. Two are prostrated in profound admiration at the base, and shed clouds of incense from their thuribles, while two others draw melody from heavenly harps.
In the lower part of the picture are many saints, who by their charmed faces and feeling of ineffable joy, show how delighted they are with the vision and the heavenly music.
"The greatest eloquence," writes Marchese, "would fail to express the impression which this painting produces. The heart has a language which does not always speak in words, and we can never contemplate this picture without feeling in love with heaven."
Among the works which were undoubtedly done by Fra Angelico during his stay at Fiesole, may be ascribed several different representations of the Last Judgment. He derived the inspiration of the subject directly from Orcagna's fresco in Santa Maria Novella, only Fra Angelico has created a paradise too exclusively modelled on the monastic life. "His ideal," writes Reymond, "is a young neophyte entirely absorbed in prayer—a contemplative being who has renounced earthly life, abdicating his qualities as a man to dream of nothing but the future life. Orcagna, on the contrary, dreams of an ideal in which human life triumphs in all its fulness, and one might say that the beings which people his Paradise are but glorified bodies."
Fra Giovanni painted Hell and Paradise with small figures for the Camaldolese monks of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This is the picture now in the Ancient and Modern Gallery at Florence, of which Vasari writes, "he proved the rectitude of his judgment in this work, having made the countenances of the blessed beautiful and full of a celestial gladness; but the condemned, those destined to the pains of hell, he has depicted in various attitudes of sorrow, and bearing the impress and consciousness of their misdeeds and wretchedness on their faces: the blessed are seen to enter the gate of paradise in triumphal dance, the condemned are dragged away to eternal punishment in hell by the hands of demons."
The representation is faithful to artistic tradition. In the highest part the Saviour calls the elect to Him with His right hand, while with His left He motions away the reprobate: around Him are eight winged cherubim, with whom kneeling angels below join to form a circle. Some are adoring or praying, others hold scrolls in their hands. On the right sits the Virgin in white robes, with hands crossed on her breast and head gently bent: on the left St. John Baptist with hands clasped in prayer. At the sides Patriarchs, Apostles and Prophets, and at the extremities St. Dominic and St. Francis. An angel holds the cross at the feet of Christ, and two others flying, blow their trumpets towards the dead, who rise from the open sepulchres below.
In the base at the left, demons drag the damned ones to Hell; on the right the elect cast glances of love and faith on the Saviour, and in joyous fraternity enjoy the heavenly guerdon. The Elysian Fields of the blessed are truly celestial, gleaming with gold, irrigated by limpid streams, glorious with beautiful flowerets that bloom amid the verdure, the exuberance of nature harmonizing marvelously with the joy of the elect.
And in that midst their sportive pennons waved Thousands of angels, in resplendence each Distinct and quaint adornment. At their glee And carol smiled the Lovely One of heaven That joy was in the eyes of all the blest.
Not unworthy of the divine poet is Angelico's heavenly composition in which as in the Dantesque Paradise is shed
Light intellectual replete with love, Love of true happiness, replete with joy, Joy, that transcends all sweetness of delight.
Together with these verses of Dante, Fra Angelico, while endeavouring to depict the dance of the blessed, may well have called to mind these verses of a sacred laud, which is said to be by Iacopone da Todi and (whether his or not) describes in popular language the celestial carola of the saints:
Una rota si fa in cielo De tutti i Santi in quel zardino, La ove sta l'amor divino Che s'infiamma de l'amore.
In quella rota vano i Santi Et li Angioli tutti quanti; A quello Sposo van davanti: Tutti danzan per amore.
In quella corte e un' alegreza D' un amor dismisuranza: Tutti vanno ad una danza Per amor del Salvatore.
Son vestiti di vergato, Bianco, rosso e frammezzato; Le ghirlande in mezo el capo: Ben mi pareno amatori.
Tutti quanti con ghirlandi, Paren giovin' de trent' anni: Quella corte se rinfranchi, Ogni cosa e piena d'amore.
Le ghirlande son fiorite, Piu che l'oro son chiarite: Ornate son di margarite, Divisate di colore, ecc.
Above from the heavenly Jerusalem stream rays of golden light, and two angels who are passing into the portal, are aerial and luminous, as bright and splendid spirits.
Less original is the representation of Hell, which is copied straight from the fresco in the Pisan Camposanto. Not only the same division of bolge (hell-pits), but even the repetition of motives in the souls that fill them; the only and notable difference is the figure of Lucifer which instead of being in the centre occupies the base of the picture. At the summit "Eriton cruda, che richiamava l'ombre a' corpi sui," is precisely in the same attitude as in the Pisan Camposanto, a figure holding a banner coiled around by a serpent, and near it is a simoniac with his entrails torn out, the identical figure from the Pisan Hell. The back view of the figure which a demon raises to throw into the jaws of a terrible monster is also copied entire from the same fresco.
The bolge and the damned souls which occupy them, are, as we have said, repetitions, but with less intelligence and character than the Pisan fresco.
On the left the slothful and lazy are punished; beneath them in two bolge are the passionate and the gluttonous souls, and below again the luxurious and avaricious ones. The poverty of conception in this "Inferno" is not even compensated by the usual good qualities of refinement; one could almost believe that the artist found it so repugnant to his character to depict brutality and infernal tortures, that he hurried over this part to get rid of it the sooner. The representation of the damned is cold, their struggles with the demons, which at Pisa and in other places is so full of energy, is given here with exaggerated art and becomes ineffectual; in fact this part of the picture is void of feeling, and confirms our previous remarks on the artistic character of the painter.
Another "Last Judgment" is in the Corsini Gallery at Rome;—a triptych, the side panels of which represent the "Ascension" and the "Descent of the Holy Ghost."
This scene is, however, much more simply designed, but cannot be fairly judged now, on account of the retouching and frequent varnishing which disfigure it.
The Saviour seated on the clouds, rests his left hand on a book which he holds upright on his knees, while the right is raised in malediction against the sinners, with an action which recalls the Christ in the Judgment of the Camposanto at Pisa. On the sides are groups of angels, apostles and saints; and the elect are on the right, the wicked on the left below them. "In the picture of the Corsini Gallery," writes Venturi, "the representation was cramped by the narrow limits of the central panel of the triptych. It is evidently a reduced form of preceding compositions, for several angels which terminate the picture above, are here seen only from the waist downwards. The figures of the elect, loving, ecstatic and beautiful, clad in flame-coloured robes, with stars and flowers, as in similar compositions by Fra Angelico, are absolutely sublime, while those of the wicked are almost childish, especially the demons with faces of cats and jackals, with red eyes and mouths, black bodies and clawed feet. How much happier he is in the clear and joyful note of colour in some figures standing before a door on the right! And how much better we recognise his sweet spirit in the features of the blest, with their clear eyes whose pupils are fixed trance-like under lightly drawn eyebrows."
Another panel with a subject analogous to these is in the Berlin Museum, and is considered superior to that in the Florentine Gallery. Although the figure of the Saviour may be slightly wanting in character, the celestial phalanx is full of grace, especially the blessed ones who cross a flower-strewn field to be led by angels up to paradise; they hold each others hands, and dance and sing delightfully and with graceful action and attitudes raise their heads to join in the glory of Colui che tutto move e risplende
Nel ciel che piu della sua luce prende.
Another last Judgment forms one of the thirty-five small pictures which adorned the doors of the presses for the silver vessels etc., in the chapel of the SS. Annunziata. It is generally believed that he painted this during his stay at Fiesole; but as we find it dates posterior to this, we shall speak of it later, and must first record that in 1432 Fra Angelico painted an "Annunciation" for the church of Sant' Alessandro at Brescia, said to be the one on an altar to the right on entering the church. So greatly is it transformed by restorations, that no one in looking at it now would dream that it was by our artist, if indeed it ever were his work. It would appear that the restorer had used other models in repainting the Angel and the Virgin.
On July 11th 1433 the contract was signed between the Consuls of the Arte dei Linaioli (Guild of Linen Weavers) and our artist, for the tabernacle of which they had asked Lorenzo Ghiberti to give a design. The contract says: "We engage Fra Guido, called Fra Giovanni of the Order of St. Dominic of Fiesole, to paint for the said Guild, a tabernacle of Our Lady; to be painted within and without with colours, gold, azure and silver, all of the very finest that can be found, with all his art and diligence, and for all this and his fatigue and work, he shall receive one hundred and ninety gold florins, or any less sum as shall appear to his conscience, and in consideration of the figures that are in the design."
This painting is now to be admired in the Uffizi Gallery where it was placed in 1777; it is too universally known to need a minute description. The Virgin enthroned with the Holy Child is surrounded by twelve angels, the most lovely, graceful and celestial that Fra Angelico ever painted. In the interior of the side panels are St. John and St. Mark, in the exterior St. Peter and St. Mark. The latter, as is well known, was the protector of the Linen Guild: "therefore," says Padre Marchese, "they wished that whether the tabernacle were open or closed, he should be always in their sight."
In this work Fra Angelico shows that his style was derived from Giotto and Orcagna, though his figures with their large heads, are treated like miniatures and become insignificant; the result is cold and void, precisely by reason of this over conscientious execution.
The face of the Virgin lacks expression and sentiment, while the angels depicted on the slope of the frame in act of sounding trumpets, psalters, cymbals etc., have such a sweetness of sentiment that they seem literally rained down from heaven.
FRA ANGELICO AT FLORENCE.
The church of San Giorgio—writes Vasari—"had at this time been given to the monks of San Domenico da Fiesole, but they did not occupy it longer than from about the middle of July to the end of January, because Cosimo de' Medici and Lorenzo his brother had obtained for them, from Pope Eugenius, the church and convent of San Marco, which had previously been occupied by Salvestrine monks, to whom San Giorgio was given in exchange. Moreover, they (Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici), being much devoted to religion, and zealous for the divine service and worship, gave orders that the above-named convent of San Marco should be entirely rebuilt according to the design and model of Michelozzo, commanding that it should be constructed on the most extensive and magnificent scale, with all the conveniences that those monks could possibly desire." And in the year 1436, the said monks made their entry with pomp and solemn fetes, in which the three bishops of Taranto, Treves and Parentino, took part, preceded by the mace-bearers of the Signoria who were sent to give greater magnificence to the scene. Fra Cipriano, Vicar general of the new congregation of the "Osservanza," took possession of the convent in the name of that Order.
"The first part completed," continues the Aretian biographer, "was that above the old refectory and opposite to the ducal stables, which had formerly been erected by the Duke Lorenzo de' Medici. In this place twenty cells were made, the roof was put on, and the various articles of wood-work brought into the refectory, which was finished as we see it in our day."
"The library was afterwards erected, it was vaulted above and below, and had sixty-four bookcases of cypress wood filled with the most valuable books. The dormitory which was in the form of a square, was next built, and finally the cloister was completed, with all the other truly commodious apartments of that convent, which is believed to be the most perfectly arranged, the most beautiful and most convenient building of its kind that can be found in Italy, thanks to the skill and industry of Michelozzo, who gave it up to its occupants entirely finished in the year 1452. Cosimo de' Medici is said to have expended 36,000 ducats on this fabric; it is added that while it was in course of construction, he gave the monks 366 ducats every year for their support."
In 1439, two years after the building was begun, the principal chapel was finished, and the work of restoring and embellishing the church was commenced. This was completed in 1441.
While the architect was engaged in restoring the church of San Marco, Fra Giovanni was probably commissioned to paint the altar-piece for the great altar. Vasari writes of it: "But exquisite and admirable above all is the picture of the High Altar in that church; for besides that the Madonna in this painting awakens devotional feeling in all who regard her, by the pure simplicity of her expression; and that the saints surrounding her have a similar character; the predella, in which are stories of the martyrdom of St. Cosmo, St. Damian, and others, is so perfectly finished, that one cannot imagine it possible for any thing to be executed with greater care, nor can figures more delicate, or more judiciously arranged, be conceived." Unfortunately the picture, now in the Academy of the Belle Arti, is in such bad condition that we are not able to confirm Vasari's judgment, for the tints have faded, in some parts leaving the undercolouring exposed, in others it is corroded even down to the white of the plaster ground work.
The Virgin is enthroned, holding on her lap the child, whose right hand is uplifted to bless, while the left holds a globe. Beside the throne are groups of angels, in front on the right St. Dominic, St. Francis and St. Peter Martyr; on the left St. Laurence, St. Paul and St. Mark; above them kneel Sts. Cosmo and Damian, protectors of the Medici family, placed here in homage to the liberality of the Medici towards the Order.
In the predella, now divided, were represented various stories relative to the lives of Sts. Cosmo and Damian, which may be recognised in two little pictures (Nos. 257-258, Catalogue of 1893) at the Belle Arti, and in those now at the Gallery at Munich (Nos. 989, 990, 991).
In the first of the two at Florence, the saints have cut off the leg of a sick man, and placed that of a negro in its stead. In the second is represented their burial together with the brethren. In those at Munich the scenes are:—the saints constrained by the judge Lisia to sacrifice to idols; the saints thrown into the sea and saved by angels, while the judge is liberated from two demons by their prayers; and lastly their crucifixion, while stones and arrows are aimed against them, but rebound on the executioners.
Other similar subjects are represented in six "stories" divided into two panels (No. 234, Catalogue of 1893) in the Belle Arti. In the first the saints are seen exercising the healing art without receiving payment; they cure Palladia, who in her gratitude prays St. Damian in the name of God to accept a gift, her brother being wrathful not knowing the cause. In the second the judge Lisia obliges the saints and their three brethren to sacrifice to idols; in the third the angels save them from drowning; in the fourth they are condemned to be burnt alive, and sing psalms in the midst of the flames; in the fifth is the stoning; and lastly the decapitation.
These works, however, do not always show equal execution, therefore we might judge that the artist sometimes availed himself of the hand of an assistant.
From the records remaining to us, it does not appear that Fra Giovanni worked at any other pictures for his church, so it is probable he gave all his attention to adorning the convent, which on account of the works he has left there, may fairly be considered one of the finest monuments of Italian art.
It was not the first time that Fra Angelico had painted large mural frescoes. As he had already shown at Fiesole his mastery in that more minute style, which was to find more complete expression in the Roman pictures, so the convent of San Marco gave him scope to prove his genius also in this freer branch of art. In the cloisters, the corridors, the cells, and the rooms in which the monks met together, we find specimens of his artistic work, and in these various pictures all his favourite personages reappear one by one in larger proportions, but without losing that original grace and sentiment with which his smaller works are imbued. Indeed these show that he had studied from the life with independence and sincerity of purpose, and could render it with greater facility and decision.
A very noteworthy change in the character of Fra Angelico's art may be observed in these mural paintings. He must have perceived, after painting the tabernacle for the Linen Weavers' Guild, that a deeper study of the real was necessary to give life to his figures, especially when these should assume larger proportions.
To give intelligent expression even to dreams, visions and ideality of thought, a material and technical part is necessary; the mind may wander free in fantasy, through indefinite space, but it needs a firm hand to render the conception evident; and the clearer the expression is, the greater ability in the creation of his works does it show in the artist. Thus Fra Angelico, placing his figures in ideal surroundings, believed at first that refined thought was sufficient to make a perfect picture, and he illuminated his little figures with superficial delicacy, surrounding them with azure and gold, and so idealized them that they are more like diaphanous apparitions than human beings.
But he soon learned that by merely enlarging these little pictures, he could not succeed in giving them even that individuality to which he was led by natural taste and mode of life. In fact, what a difference lies between the figures of the Linen Weavers' Tabernacle painted in 1433, and those of the picture in the church of San Marco done in 1438! The first: void, weak and without expression; the second: full of life and character; and note that this difference strikes the eye even now, notwithstanding the difficulty of comparison owing to the wretched condition to which the panel at San Marco is reduced.
In this cloister, therefore, where the pictures assume larger proportions and more importance, and the figures greater character and individuality of form, more solidity of artistic execution,—it is here we perceive that far as he still was from the world and worldly things, yet with earnest study and thought he had not failed to avail himself of the progressive development of art around him to improve his style and give more grandeur to his design.
We do not know whether the cause which influenced his mind was, that in coming down to Florence from the Fiesole cloister he was brought into more immediate contact with other styles of art, and artists who followed a different, even opposite method. The distance of his convent from the city was not, however, so great as to have prevented his visiting the immortal works which enriched Florence, or to diminish the relations of friendship or acquaintance which he surely had formed with his greater colleagues. In fact, Fra Angelico and Ghiberti must have already consulted together about the Tabernacle of the Linen Guild; and the works which the pious monk sent from Fiesole to the churches and convents of Florence could not have been unknown there, any more than the works of the other artists in the city were to him.
Certain changes independent of external causes sometimes take place naturally, we might say spontaneously, in strong artistic temperaments. Fra Angelico felt and understood as he continued his work, that something was wanting in him before he could succeed in giving reality to his thoughts and sentiment; he necessarily perfected his studies, and investigated truth more conscientiously—the result was the new style, a natural consequence of artistic individual progress.
Opposite the entrance in the pretty cloister of the Florentine convent we may admire the figure of the crucified Christ who turns His eyes to St. Dominic kneeling below, and embracing the cross with both hands, while raising his head to meet the glance of the Saviour. In the five lunettes of the doors in the cloister, Fra Angelico has represented St. Peter Martyr, St. Dominic, Christ issuing from the sepulchre, Christ in the dress of a pilgrim, and St. Thomas Aquinas. The figure of the crucified Saviour is nobly beautiful in its simple and intelligent outline, firm design and life-like colouring. That of St. Peter Martyr is full of character; it is a half figure holding with his left hand the palm of martyrdom and a book which he rests on his side; the first finger of the right hand is placed on his mouth, indicating the silence of the cloister. St. Dominic has the book of his rules in one hand and the discipline, or rope for scourging in the other, as though to demonstrate that both moral and material influence should govern a religious community. The "Christ of the resurrection" shows His wounds, and St. Thomas Aquinas holds his book of theology in both hands.