Fra AngelicoHe was baptised Guido di Pietro, and known as Fra Giovanni after becoming a friar. The epithet Angelico (‘Angelic’) is first documented fourteen years after his death. He is usually called Il Beato Angelico in Italian (although he was not actually beatified until 1984). He was probably born near the little fortified town of Vicchio in the Mugello, northeast of Florence. Vasari’s statement that he was 68 when he died in 1455 is now discounted, and it is now thought that he was born in about 1395 or 1400 rather than 1387. Nothing is known of his family origins or artistic training. He could have been a pupil of Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina, as suggested by Filippo Baldinucci (1681), or of Lorenzo Monaco, whose altarpiece of the Deposition he finished (San Marco Museum). He is recorded as a painter on 31 October 1417, when he applied to join the confraternity of San Niccolò, which met in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. In 1418 he was one of four friars who re-established the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole (which had been abandoned in 1409). In 1436 the Dominicans of Fiesole took over the convent of San Marco in Florence, and Fra Angelico and his assistants undertook the famous fresco decoration of the cloister, chapter house, corridors and cells. For the last ten years of his life he was chiefly in Rome, where he probably painted four fresco cycles (only one of which survives). He died there on 18 March 1455, and was buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where his tomb slab (with a charming Latin epitaph said to have been composed by Pope Nicholas V) still remains.
Fra Angelico was entirely a painter of religious pictures. To the popular imagination, he was humble, pious and cloistered – Vasari’s saintly friar who ‘never took up his brush without offering a prayer and who could not paint a crucifixion without tears streaming down his cheeks’. In reality, though, he was no naïve or reactionary painter. While retaining a medieval spirit of piety and a Gothic quality reminiscent of Lorenzo Monaco, he was thoroughly aware of the technical innovations of Brunelleschi, Ghiberti and Masaccio. He used the new rules of perspective to construct convincing spatial settings for his sacred stories and introduced a new realism in the treatment of landscape. But he did so without abandoning the traditional virtues of graceful line, clear bright colour, late Gothic decorativeness and minute attention to detail.
His output was very considerable: Vasari expresses astonishment that ‘one man alone could have done so much perfect work’. There is no reliable information concerning his assistants at Fiesole (if indeed he had an organised studio at this time); but it is clear that later – at Florence, Orvieto and Rome – he relied extensively on assistants and collaborators to meet the burgeoning demands of his Dominican, Medici and papal patrons. Zanobi Strozzi (1412-68), a pupil of the miniaturist Battista di Biagio Sanguigni, appears to have acted as an assistant (or sub-contractor) from around the mid-1430s, engaged mainly in illumination and panel painting. His works tended at one time to be confused with those of another of Angelico’s assistants, Domenico di Michelino (1417-91). Benozzo Gozzoli was a pupil of Angelico according to Vasari; he is usually identified by modern art historians as his main assistant at San Marco; and he is documented as working with him as a consotio (associate or partner) on frescoes in Orvieto and Rome. While comparatively little remains from Angelico’s years in Rome, his Florentine works are still numerous. These can be seen mainly in the San Marco convent (a museum since 1919), where altarpieces and other panel paintings have been gathered from Florentine churches and the incomparable series of around fifty frescoes survives almost complete on the walls.
Altenburg. Lindenau Museum.
St Francis before the Sultan. Wood, 28 x 31.
During an audience with the Sultan of Egypt, St Francis demonstrates the strength of his faith by offering to walk through fire with any of the local imams. The episode is said to have taken place in 1219 at Damietta during the Fifth Crusade. The panel belonged to a five-part predella showing scenes from the Life of St Francis. Three other parts are in Berlin and one is in the Vatican. It has been established by X-ray analysis of the wood grain that the Altenburg panel was at the right end of the predella. According to Henderson and Joannides (Arte Cristiana, 1991), the predella belonged to a triptych painted around 1429 for the chapel of the Compagnia di San Francesco in the church of Santa Croce in Florence. The three main panels of this altarpiece are still in Florence (San Marco Museum). Purchased in Rome in 1845 for Baron Bernhard von Lindenau by Emil Braun, First Secretary of the German Institute of Archaeology in Rome.
Three panels of Saints. Wood, each 39/37 x 14/15.
Each slender panel shows a saint standing on a small blue cloud against a gold background. The saint reading has always been identified as Jerome, the monk in a hooded habit holding a birch rod and book is often called St Bernard but might be St Benedict, and the pilgrim-saint has been doubtfully identified as Roch. According to early nineteenth-century sources, the panels came from the convent of San Marco. They must have decorated the pilasters of a dismantled altarpiece – almost certainly that painted in about 1438-42 for the high altar of the church of San Marco, although they have also been associated in the past with the Annalena Altarpiece (the main panels from both altarpieces are now in the San Marco Museum). Panels of St Anthony Abbot in Chicago, St Romuald in Minneapolis, St Thomas Aquinas in the Cini Collection (Venice) and two Dominican Saints in Florence (San Marco Museum) are identical in size and almost certainly came from the same altarpiece. Purchased in Rome by Emil Braun for Baron von Lindenau in 1844.
Madonna. Wood, 74 x 61.
Cut down; a fragment of an angel holding up a corner of the background curtain is in the Wadsworth Atheneum at Hartford (Conn.). A mature work, probably of the late 1430s or 1440s. Often ascribed at least partly to Angelico’s workshop; but the picture is damaged and heavily retouched. The decorative engraving of the gold cloth of honour behind the Virgin and of the cushion on which she sits is remarkable. Until 1869 the picture was in the Quandt collection in Dresden; it entered the Rijksmuseum in 1923 from the Augusteum in Oldenburg.
Antwerp. Museum voor Schone Kunsten.
St Romuald appearing to the Emperor Otto. Wood, 22 x 27.
Usually ascribed to Angelico’s workshop or to a follower. Once supposed to be a panel from a predella, but now thought to be a fragment from a rectangular Thebaid painting, showing a series of scenes of saints associated with monastic history. Panels at Chantilly, Cherbourg, Philadelphia and a French private collection have been identified as other parts of the same painting, which was sawn up (possibly in the late eighteenth century) and the fragments restored to look like individual pictures. The presence of St Romuald suggests that the Thebaid could have been painted for a Camaldolese church. The Antwerp fragment, once in the collection of the Comtesse de Lozz at Florence, was acquired by the museum in 1825.
Assisi. San Francesco. Treasury.
Franciscan Saint. Wood, 13 x 10.
The inscription identifying the saint as Antoninus must be a later addition. The saint wears a Franciscan habit and could be either Anthony of Padua or Francis himself. This small diamond-shaped painting probably belonged to the frame – most likely the base of a pilaster – of an early altarpiece or devotional tabernacle. Bequeathed with the collection of the art historian Frederick Mason Perkins in 1955.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Madonna with Four Angels ('Madonna of Humility'). Wood, 35 x 29.
The Madonna is sitted on a pavement of coloured marble. Two angels hold up a cloth of honour, richly decorated in gold, and two more angels sit in the foreground playing a portable organ and a lute. The background is a hedge of flowers. This delicate little panel is catalogued by Rossi (1979) as an early work (about 1420), executed with workshop assistance. For Pope-Hennessy (1974) it is merely ‘in the style of Fra Angelico’, Boskovits (1995) gives it tentatively to the young Benozzo Gozzoli, while for Spike (1997) it is ‘possibly autograph’. Bequeathed with the collection of Guglielmo Lochis in 1859.
*Last Judgement. Centre panel, 103 x 65; wings 103 x 28.
The centre panel represents Christ as Judge. Enthroned in a mandorla of cherubim and seraphim, he raises his right hand in a gesture of retribution. The court of heaven is seated in tiers on either side, with the Virgin Mary, St Peter and St Paul in the front row on Christ's right. On earth below, a line of empty graves divides the Saved, who are greeted by angels, from the Damned, who are seized by devils. In the left-hand panel, angels lead the Saved (mostly Dominican saints) upwards through a flowery meadow towards Paradise. The right-hand panel represents the mountain of Hell. Inscriptions indicate the zones designated for the Proud, Avaricious, Lustful, Wrathful, Envious, Lazy and Greedy. The work was originally a single panel, which has been divided into a triptych. It repeats the subject of the famous picture painted for Santa Maria degli Angeli and now in the San Marco Museum. There is a third version (the central panel of a triptych) in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome. Usually regarded as a late work of about 1447-48, executed by Fra Angelico in Rome with the help of his workshop. Formerly in the collections of Cardinal Fesch (who is said to have acquired it from a baker) and the Earl of Dudley; bought from the latter by the Berlin Museum in 1884. An exact copy on copper (now in Turin) by the Netherlandish painter Bartholomaeus Spranger was commissioned in 1567 by the Dominican Pope Pius V to hang over his tomb. Spranger's copy (116 x 148) suggests that the Berlin panels have been cut down slightly.
Three Scenes from the Life of St Francis.
Two of the panels (the Meeting of St Francis and Dominic and the Apparition of St Francis at Arles, each 26 x 31) were acquired by the gallery in 1823; the third (the Death of St Francis, 29 x 70) was formerly in the Fuller-Maitland collection in London and was presented to the gallery by Wilhelm Bode in 1909. The three panels are evidently from the same predella, to which also belonged single panels at Altenburg and the Vatican. The Death of St Francis, over twice as long as the other four panels, would have been in the centre, between the other two Berlin panels, with the Vatican and Altenburg panels at the two ends. Previously associated with the Bosco ai Frati Altarpiece (San Marco Museum) and with the Pontassieve Madonna (Uffizi), the panels are now thought to have originated from the Santa Croce Altarpiece (about 1429), the main panels of which are in the San Marco Museum. The predella panels are rather broadly (if not coarsely) painted, and their execution is sometimes ascribed at least partly to assistants.
Madonna. Wood, 70 x 51.
St Dominic appears at the left edge of the picture, St Peter Martyr at the right. Damaged: the Virgin and Child were heavily repainted by the restorer Helmut Ruhlmann; the two saints are better preserved. Usually thought to be quite early, about contemporary with the Linaioli Triptych of 1433-36. Acquired in 1821 with the Solly collection.
Boston. Gardner Museum.
*Burial and Assumption of the Virgin. Wood, 58 x 36.
At the bottom of the panel, the twelve apostles have miraculously assembled to mourn the Virgin. She lies on a bier covered with cloth of gold, which rests in turn on a catafalque, also covered in gold cloth. Christ, in the centre, takes her soul, represented as a fair-haired child. An apostle on the right holds the palm (shining like 'the morning star') that an angel had brought to the Virgin when announcing her coming death. At the top of the panel, Christ or God the Father, robed in intense blue and ringed by blue cherubim, opens his arms to receive the Virgin, as she ascends in glory to the music of angels. This exquisite little painting is one of four reliquary panels from the church of Santa Maria Novella at Florence. The other three are in the San Marco Museum. The Boston panel had left the church by 1847, and was in the English collections of the Rev. John Sanford and Lord Methuen prior to its purchase (from Colnaghi through Bernard Berenson) by Mrs Gardner in 1899. The original frame (which, like those of the other three reliquary panels, presumably contained a predella) is lost. There was a tendency at one time to ascribe only the design to Fra Angelico and the execution (particularly of the Burial in the lower part) to an assistant (or Zanobi Strozzi). But recent American critics have accepted the work as wholly autograph. It may date from the early 1430s. It was cleaned for the exhibition (Fra Angelico: Heaven and Hell) held at the Gardner Museum in 2018, when it was reunited with the other three reliquaries.
Boston. Museum of Fine Arts.
*Madonna, Saints and Donor. Octagonal panel, 30 x 29.
Saints Peter and Paul are on the left. The knight on the right was identified as St George by Stefano Orlandi (1964), who explained his presence by the fact that the Dominicans of Fiesole took over the convent of San Giorgio sulla Costa in the Oltrarno for a year in 1435. The kneeling donor on the left would then be Tonnero de’ Castellani, the parish priest of San Giorgio, who renounced his benefice in order that the Dominicans could take possession of the church. This ingenious theory has been doubted. Kanter (2006), for example, thinks that the little octagonal panel is a later work of Fra Angelico’s Roman period. He sees the hand of Benozzo Gozzoli. On the reverse of the panel was a Head of Christ (private collection). The panel’s original purpose remains a mystery. Formerly in the collections of Baron Triqueti and Mme Lee-Childe in Paris and Edward Aynard in Lyon; given to the museum in 1913 by Mrs W. Scott Fitz.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
Dead Christ. Paper, 36 x 27.
This drawing – one of very few attributed to Fra Angelico – is meticulously executed in brown ink and wash, heightened with white lead. As with the drawing of Christ on the Cross at Vienna, brilliant red paint is used to represent the blood flowing from the wounds in Christ's hand, side and feet. The dead Christ, suspended unsupported in space, is identical in pose to the figure in Fra Angelico's famous Deposition altarpiece, painted for the Strozzi Chapel in the church of Santa Trinita and now in the San Marco Museum. The drawing, then in a Spanish collection, was published in 1931 (by Lionello Venturi in L'Arte) as a preparatory study for the painting. However, it seems more likely to have been executed later, as an image for private devotion. In 1938, the drawing was bought by a British collector, Captain Norman Colville, on the recommendation of Kenneth Clark, who called it 'possibly the finest of all existing drawings by Fra Angelico'. Fra Angelico's authorship of the drawing was subsequently doubted by Degenhart and Schmidt (in their 1968 Corpus of Italian Drawings) and by Pope-Hennessy (in his 1974 monograph). It appears, however, that these opinions were based only on photographs. Acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2003 from Colville's estate.
Cambridge (Mass.). Fogg Art Museum.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 88 x 36.
The Virgin and St John stand at the sides of the cross; a Dominican cardinal kneels in front. Prof. Noel Valois of Paris, a former owner of the picture, identified the donor as Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468), a distinguished Spanish jurist who was created cardinal in 1439 and became Master of the Papal Palace. Probably the centre of a small portable triptych. A panel of Saint Sixtus in a private collection has been identified as one of the wings. A late work: it could have been painted in the early 1450s, when Angelico and Torquemada were both living in the monastery of Santa Maria sopra Minevra in Rome. Acquired in 1921.
Chantilly. Musée Condé.
St Mark; St Matthew. Wood, 36/32 x 11.
Both Evangelists hold books and quill pens; St Mark is identified by the winged lion at his feet and St Matthew by the tiny angel whispering in his ear. As first suggested by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864), these two small panels probably belonged to the pilasters of the altarpiece painted in the 1420s for the high altar of the church of Fra Angelico’s own friary of San Domenico di Fiesole. Two other such panels – representing St Michael and St Nicholas of Bari and now in the Fondation Rau in Rielasingen-Worblingen (Germany) – have inscriptions on the back stating that they came from San Domenico. It has been doubted whether the four panels are the work of Fra Angelico’s own hand. The main panel of the altarpiece (partly repainted by Lorenzo di Credi) is still in the church, while the predella is in the National Gallery, London. Acquired by the Duc d’Aumale in 1879 from Frédéric Reiset.
Saint Benedict in Ecstasy. Wood, 19 x 28.
Also acquired in 1879 with the Reiset collection. When the panel was cleaned in 2003, it was found that the heavenly host in the upper part was an old restoration. From the same series as panels at Antwerp, Cherbourg and Philadelphia. Once assumed to have been predella panels, they are now believed to be fragments of a Thebaid painting. Another, larger fragment (28 x 39), showing Hermit Monks in a Landscape, was discovered in 2001 in a French private collection and has been loaned to the Musée Condé. All five panels were reunited for an exhibition held at Chantilly in 2014. They are usually ascribed to Angelico’s workshop or following.
Cherbourg. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Conversion of St Augustine (?). Wood, 20 x 32.
Alternatively called the Penitence of St Julian the Hospitaller. Probably by an assistant or follower. Pope-Hennessy (1974) suggested that it came from the same predella as panels in Antwerp, Chantilly and Houston. The connection with the Houston panel, which is of higher quality, has been disputed, and it is now believed that the Cherbourg, Chantilly and Antwerp panels were fragments of a Thebaid rather than predella panels. Two more fragments (one at Philadelphia and the other in a French private collection) have been identified recently. Donated in 1835 by the museum's founder, the French painter and art critic Thomas Henry.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Saint Anthony Abbot. Wood, 39 x 14.
The venerable monk, standing on a cloud, is identified as Anthony Abbot by his Tau-shaped staff. One of a series of small panels of saints. Seven others are known to survive – three at Altenburg, two in Florence (San Marco Museum), and one each in Minneapolis and Venice (Cini Collection). They probably decorated the pilasters of the San Marco Altarpiece, the main panel of which is in the San Marco Museum. Acquired in 2001.
Cortona. Museo Diocesano.
**Annunciation. Wood, 219 x 227.
The finest of three similar Annunciations by Fra Angelico and his workshop; the others are in Madrid and San Giovanni Valdarno. The scene is set in a corner loggia supported by Corinthian columns, with the Virgin framed in the right-hand arch and Gabriel framed in the left-hand one. Gabriel’s words to Mary are from St Luke’s Gospel: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.’ Mary’s reply (‘I am the handmaiden of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me’) is written upside down. In the left distance, the angel expels Adam and Eve from Paradise. The predella (sometimes ascribed largely to an assistant or the young Zanobi Strozzi) contains five scenes from the life of the Virgin: the Marriage of the Virgin; Visitation; Adoration of the Magi; Presentation in the Temple; and Death of the Virgin. Berenson claimed, in his Florentine Painters, that the Visitation shows the earliest landscape that can be identified in Italian painting (a view of Lake Trasimene from Cortona). On the pilaster bases are two tiny Dominican scenes: the Birth of St Dominic and Vision of the Dominican Habit. The Renaissance tabernacle frame, with fluted Corinthian columns, is largely original, and may have been inspired by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Usually dated to the early 1430s, the altarpiece is thought to be the earliest to survive intact in such a frame. From the church of San Domenico at Cortona; it may have stood originally over one of the altars on the rood screen. The probable patron was Giovanni di Cola di Cenno, a Cortonese merchant who endowed a chapel in the church dedicated to the Annunciation.
*Madonna and Saints. Wood, 218 x 238.
A triptych: the Virgin and Child enthroned with Angels in the centre (a near replica of the central panel of the altarpiece at Perugia); Saints Matthew and John the Baptist on the left; and John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene on the right. The central pinnacle of the Gothic frame represents Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist, and medallions in the side pinnacles show half-figures of the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation. The predella contains figures of saints and scenes from St Dominic’s life: St Peter Martyr; Pope Innocent III's Vision of Dominic supporting the Church; Dominic meeting St Francis; Dominic's Vision of the Apostles Peter and Paul handing him a Book and Stick; Michael the Archangel; Dominic raising Napoleone Orsini; Dominic disputing with Heretics; St Vincent Martyr; Dominic and his Companions fed by Angels; Death of St Dominic; and St Thomas Aquinas. The altarpiece was commissioned by Giovanni di Tommaso, one of Cortona’s richest citizens, for the church of San Domenico at Cortona (the chapel to the right of the high altar). It has been recently suggested that the predella (whose subjects are unrelated to the saints in the main panels) and the central panel (which does not continue the horizon line of the side panels) may originally have belonged to another altarpiece – possibly one intended for the high altar of the church. Restored after damage in the Second World War; it was badly affected by mould and the paint layers had to be detached and transferred to a new panel. Usually classed as a work of the 1430s (though recently Kanter and Palladino (2005) dated it as late as 1440-45 and ascribed it to a collaborator working from Angelico’s design).
Cortona. San Domenico.
Madonna and Saints. Detached frescoed lunette, 145 x 240.
The Madonna, holding the globe, is represented between the kneeling SS. Dominic and Peter Martyr. Painted in the lunette above the main entrance to the church. The lower part has been lost to exposure. Detached from the wall in 1966. The sinopia is in the Museo Diocesano.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Angel; Virgin Annunciate. Wood, each 33 x 27.
Possibly the ‘two small images painted by Beato Giovanni Angelico … representing the Blessed Virgin and Annunciate Angel’ given by the convent of San Domenico di Fiesole to Cardinal Desiderio Scaglia in 1622. Sold in Paris with the collection of Baron Dominique Vivent-Denon in 1836, and then in the Duke of Hamilton’s collection at Glasgow; given to the Detroit Institute by Edsel Ford in 1925.
Virgin and Child with Four Angels. Wood, 16 x 10.
This tiny, delicately painted panel came to public notice only in 1956, when it was acquired as a Fra Angelico by the Art Institute. It may always have been a complete picture, rather than half a diptych or a wing of a triptych. It is probably comparatively early (late 1420s?). Previously in the collection of Baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris.
Dublin. National Gallery of Ireland.
*Attempted Martyrdom of SS. Cosmas and Damian by Fire. Wood, 36 x 46.
The Roman Prefect Lysias (in the centre of the balcony) orders the saints and their three brothers to be burnt at the stake; but the flames spread outwards, leaving them unharmed and forcing the executors to flee. The panel is one of a series of eight representing the legend of Cosmas and Damian that were painted in 1438-42 for the predella of the San Marco Altarpiece. The main panel of the altarpiece (very ruined) is now in the San Marco Museum, and the other predella panels are divided between Florence (San Marco Museum), Munich, Paris and Washington. The Dublin panel is specifically recorded for the first time in 1848, when it was in the Lombardi-Baldi collection, Florence. Acquired by the museum at Christie’s in 1886.
Annunciation. Wood, 28 x 44.
It has been shown that the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin were originally two pinnacles, reconfigured as a single panel at an early date. The painting was acquired by the gallery in 1846 from Baron von Rumohr’s collection. Catalogued as a work of Angelico’s school and largely ignored even in the specialist literature, it received attention when it was included in the 2009 Fra Angelico exhibition at the Musei Capitolini in Rome.
*Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 114 x 113.
Christ, seated on a bank of cloud, places a jewel in the Virgin's crown. The blaze of heavenly light behind them is represented by an elaborately engraved gold background. A host of angels on either side sound long trumpets, play musical instruments and dance on clouds. Some fifty saints form a semi-circle below. The two bishop saints standing in the left foreground are possibly Egidius and Zenobius. St Francis and St Dominic are seen behind them. The female saints on the right include Mary Magdalene (with her jar of ointment), Agnes (with her lamb) and Lucy (with her lamp). This famous picture originally hung as an altarpiece on the choir-screen of the church (Sant’Egidio) of the Florentine hospital of Santa Maria Nuova (where it is recorded by Antonio Manetti and by Vasari). It may date from the early or mid-1430s. It had entered the Uffizi by 1704; from 1825 to 1948 it was at San Marco. Two other Coronations by Fra Angelico are only distantly related to it in composition: one, a large altarpiece from San Domenico di Fiesole, is in the Louvre; the other, a small reliquary panel from Santa Maria Novella, is in the San Marco Museum.
*‘Pontassieve Madonna’. Wood, 132 x 57.
The panel was probably the centre of a polyptych. It came to notice only in 1909, in the Prepositura di San Michele Arcangelo at Pontassieve (about 15 km from Florence). The inscription along the bottom refers to three donors of the altarpiece, who were members of the Filicaia family (landowners at Pontassieve). It has been exhibited at the Uffizi since 1949. Very late (about 1450) according to Pope Hennessy (1974) and Bonsanti (1998), but comparatively early (about 1429-30) according to Kanter (2006).
Thebaid. Wood, 75 x 208.
This delightful panel was attributed to the youthful Fra Angelico in 1940 by Roberto Longhi, who identified it as the ‘small wooden panel … by the hand of Fra Giovanni depicting many stories of Holy Fathers’ recorded, with a valuation of fifteen florins, in a Medici inventory drawn up after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492. Longhi’s attribution has only recently been widely accepted. The main alternative attribution, proposed by Gamba and Procacci in the early 1930s, is to the Late Gothic painter Gherardo Starnina. The panel once belonged to Ignazio Hugford, an Anglo-Florentine painter and collector of ‘primitives’, and was acquired by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany by 1780. There is an earlier version, ascribed to Mariotto di Nardo or Orcagna’s workshop, which is divided between the Esztergom Museum (Hungary) and a British private collection. The Uffizi picture was presumably painted as a faithful replica. Yet another (fragmentary) version at Budapest is ascribed either to Fra Angelico or to Giovanni Toscani.
Florence. San Marco Museum.
*‘Linaioli Triptych’. Wood, 528 x 269.
On the much-restored central panel the Virgin and Child are represented over life-size. The twelve charming little angels playing musical instruments on the cornice of the frame have been endlessly reproduced. On the inner faces of the shutters are St Mark and St John the Baptist, and on the outer faces St John the Evangelist and St Peter. In the predella are scenes of the Epiphany, St Peter preaching (with St Mark writing his gospel) and St Mark’s martyrdom (which shows the saint being dragged through the streets of Alexandria in a hailstorm). The marble frame, with triangular pediment and sculptured relief of God the Father, was designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The triptych was commissioned from Fra Angelico for the guild hall of the Arte dei Linaioli (Linen Weavers’ Guild) on 11 July 1433 for the extremely high price of 190 florins in gold (‘or less according to the dictates of his conscience’). Payments continued until 1436. The triptych was dismantled and moved to the Uffizi in 1777 on the suppression of the guild oratories, and was transferred to the new San Marco Museum and recomposed shortly after the First World War. Restored in 2010.
*Deposition. Wood, 176 x 185.
Painted for the Strozzi Chapel (sacristy) of Santa Trinita, Florence. It was intended as a pendant for Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi, unveiled in 1423. Vasari says that the figure of Nicodemus is a portrait of Michelozzo, architect of San Marco. But Michelozzo is more likely to be the middle-aged man in the blue cloak and black hood standing on the other ladder. The man in the red cap holding the symbols of the passion is perhaps Palla Strozzi, and the kneeling figure in the foreground the Beato Alessio degli Strozzi. The carved frame is decorated with figures painted by Angelico of Dominican and Vallombrosan saints. But the three paintings of Resurrection subjects on the Gothic pinnacles are the work of Lorenzo Monaco. In addition, three panels by Lorenzo Monaco, now in the Accademia, with scenes from the lives of St Onofrio and St Nicholas, were probably painted for the predella. It is assumed that the altarpiece was started by Lorenzo Monaco, left unfinished at his death in the mid-1420s, and resumed by Angelico some years later. The Deposition was formerly thought to date from the 1440s. However, an analysis of Lorenzo di Palla Strozzi’s account books (published in 1984 by Roger Jones in Rivista d'Arte) suggests that the altarpiece was installed in 1432.
*‘Annalena Altarpiece’. Wood, 180 x 202.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned between Saints Peter Martyr, Cosmas and Damian (left) and John the Evangelist, Lawrence and Francis (right). A gilded curtain behind the figures screens a series of marbled niches. The altarpiece came from the Dominican convent of San Vincenzo d’Annalena. The convent was founded in 1450, but the altarpiece may be earlier. (William Hood has suggested that it may have been painted originally for the Medici Chapel, dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian, in San Lorenzo.) The almost complete predella, formerly in the Cappella di San Luca in SS. Annunziata and now also in the San Marco Museum, shows six episodes in the Legend of Cosmas and Damian, the Medici’s patron saints. (A seventh scene, showing the Healing of Deacon Justinian, is in the Kunsthaus, Zurich.) The predella panels are clearly inferior to those of the same subject painted for the San Marco Altarpiece (two of which are still at San Marco, with others dispersed among the museums of Munich, Dublin, Paris and Washington), and have been often ascribed to Zanobi Strozzi (who may also have had a hand in the main panel). The altarpiece was taken to Paris after the suppression of the convent in 1810. It was transferred to the Accademia in 1846 and thence to the San Marco Museum. It was damaged on 19 September 2014, when windows in the museum were smashed by hailstones during an extreme storm. A restoration was completed at the end of 2016.
*35 Small Panels. 39 x 39.
The panels show scenes from the Life of Christ, the Pentecost, the Coronation of the Virgin and the Last Judgement. They decorated the doors of the chest for church silver – known as the Armadio degli Argenti – in the church of Santissima Annunziata at Florence. Originally in a small oratory to the left of the entrance, the chest was moved to the Chiostro dell’Antiporto and later to the Feroni and Galli Chapels inside the church. It is said to have been commissioned in 1448 by Piero de’ Medici. But, as Fra Angelico was in Rome in 1448 and 1449 working for Nicholas V, it is generally assumed that he did not begin work on the panels until about 1450, when he returned to serve as prior of San Domenico at Fiesole. The silver chest was moved to the Accademia in about 1785 and sawn apart in 1814. Some of the panels are ascribed to assistants, including the young Benozzo Gozzoli. Three (the Marriage at Cana, the Baptism and the Transfiguration) have long been attributed to the young Alessio Baldovinetti.
Panels from a Triptych.
Centre panel (189 x 81): Madonna and Child enthroned with the Trinity in the pinnacle of the frame; the damaged side panels (170 x 79): Saints Jerome (Benedict or John the Evangelist?) and John the Baptist and Saints Francis and Onofrio with the Angel and Virgin Annunciate in the pinnacles. The triptych was identified by Henderson and Joannides (Arte Cristiana, 1991) with an altarpiece mentioned in a tax return made in 1429 by the Compagnia di San Francesco. The Compagnia – a penitential confraternity that met in a chapel in the cloister of Santa Croce – pleaded for relief from taxes on account of the money it owed to ‘Frate Guido’. It is unclear from this cursory notice whether the altarpiece was already completed in 1429 (with payment made in arrears) or had been only commissioned (the confraternity needing to set aside funds for future payment). Panels showing scenes from the life of St Francis, distributed between the Berlin, Altenburg and Vatican museums, are thought to have belonged to the predella. The altarpiece was evidently broken up at some early date. The side panels are on loan from the Certosa di Galluzzo.
*Lamenation. Wood, 105 x 164.
In addition to the Maries and St John the Evangelist, the group grieving over the dead Christ includes St Dominic (left) and St Catherine and the Beata Villana (right). This damaged, (but still poignant) panel was painted for the Confraternità di Santa Maria della Croce al Tempio, the church where those condemned to death spent their last night before execution. A document discovered in 1955 established that it was commissioned by Fra Sebastiano di Jacopo di Rosso Benintendi on 13 April 1436, but it does not appear to have been finished until 1441 (the date inscribed on the hem of the Virgin’s robe). Fra Sebastiano Benintendi had been a Dominican friar (hence the inclusion of St Dominic in the picture), he had a special devotion for St Catherine, and he was nephew of the Beata Villana. Transferred to the Accademia in 1786 and thence to the San Marco Museum in 1919.
Crucifixion; Coronation of Virgin. Wood, 28 in dia.
These two small tondi are also from the church of Santa Maria della Croce al Tempio. They were transferred in 1786 to Cappella di San Luca in SS. Annunziata and thence to the Accademia. Their execution is usually ascribed at least partly to assistants.
*Bosco ai Frati Altarpiece. Wood, 200 x 174.
The Virgin and Child, with two angels at their sides, are enthroned between Saints Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse and Francis (left) and Cosmas and Damian and Peter Martyr (right). The predella shows the Pietà with half-length figures of Peter, Paul, Bernardino and other saints. Since Bernardino was not canonised until 1450, the altarpiece must date from late in Angelico’s career. It was painted for the high altar of the Franciscan convent of San Buonaventura at Bosco ai Frati (near Cafaggiolo in the Mugello), a foundation sponsored by Cosimo de’Medici. Transferred to the Florentine Galleries by 1810.
*Last Judgement. Wood, 105 x 210.
The Saviour, in a mandorla of seraphim and a circle of cherubim, presides over the judgement of souls. To his right is Paradise: saints and angels lead the blessed in a dance through the celestial garden. To his left is Hell: demons drag the doomed (including bishops and kings, monks and nuns) to the fires. Below is a cemetery with the graves open. This famous panel is from the former Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli. According to Vasari, it occupied a position to the right of the high altar, used by the priests during the celebration of mass. Its function as a chair back helps to account for its curious lobed shape. It has been associated with a documented commission of August 1431, but this identification has been doubted and some recent critics have suggested a dating around the mid-1420s. A restoration in 2019 – the first since 1955 – removed surface dirt and closed gaps that had opened up between joins in the panel.
*San Marco Altarpiece. Wood, 220 x 227.
The saints at the sides of the enthroned Madonna and Child are (left) Dominic, Francis and Peter and (right) Mark, John the Evangelist and Lawrence. Cosmas (possibly a portrait of Cosimo de’Medici) and Damian kneel in the foreground on a precious Oriental carpet. At the bottom edge is a small picture-within-a-picture of the Crucifixion. Painted for the high altar of the church of San Marco. It is undocumented, but is presumed to have been executed between 1438 (when the Medici purchased patronage rights to the high altar and Domenico Veneziano wrote his famous letter to Piero de’ Medici angling for the commission) and 6 January 1443 (when the refurbished church was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV on the Feast of Epiphany). It must have been one of the first Renaissance pala – an altarpiece with an unsegmented main panel. It remained over the high altar until 1677, when the church was remodelled. In 1758 it is recorded hanging in a passageway outside the sacristy. By 1810 it had been broken up. Most of the smaller panels, from the predella and the pilasters of the frame, are now dispersed among foreign museums. The principal panel was returned to the San Marco Museum from the Accademia in 1919. At some unknown date, possibly in the early nineteenth century, it was disastrously cleaned with caustic soda. The whole surface is abraded, but the faces are particularly affected. The full extent of the damage was revealed in 1955 when repainting was removed. A recent restoration was completed in 2019.
*Healing of the Deacon; Burial of SS. Cosmas and Damian. Wood, 37 x 45.
Two panels from the predella of the San Marco Altarpiece. Seven other panels, from what must have been an unusually extensive predella, are at Munich, Dublin, Paris and Washington. Of the nine panels, eight depict scenes from the legend of Cosmas and Damian, patron saints of the Medici. The panels still at San Marco were placed at the right-hand end of the predella. One shows the burial of the martyred saints and their three younger brothers, which is attended by a camel with a scroll issuing from its mouth instructing the gravediggers to bury the twins side by side. (The scene is set in the Piazza San Marco, with the convent apparently still under construction.) The other panel illustrates the saints’ most picturesque medical miracle: they cut off the gangrenous leg of the sleeping Deacon Justinian and transplant a healthy one from the corpse of a newly buried Ethiopian.
Two Dominican Saints. Wood, each 38 x 13.
The figures originally stood on ultramarine clouds. One has been tentatively identified as St Vincent Ferrer on the strength of a very faint and very fragmentary inscription on the halo. These two small upright panels are believed to have come from the pilasters of the San Marco Altarpiece – the main panel and two predella panels of which are also in the museum. They were discovered in 2006 in the Oxford home of Miss Jean Preston, a retired curator of manuscripts, whose father had acquired them for £100 each in California in 1965. When they were sold in April 2007 for £1.7 million at Duke’s of Dorchester, the Italian Government was outbid by the Florentine antiquarian Fabrizio Moretti. But later in the same year they were bought jointly by the Polo Museale Fiorentino and Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze for 3.6 million euros. After cleaning, they have been exhibited at the San Marco Museum. Other pilaster panels of saints from the altarpiece are in Altenburg (three), Chicago, Minneapolis and Venice (Cini Collection).
*‘San Pietro Martire Triptych’. Wood, 137 x 168.
The Virgin, enthroned against a cloth of honour of gold brocade, rests a large lidded jar on her right knee. The Child, standing on her other knee, holds an apple in his left hand and raises his right hand in blessing. The four standing saints – smaller than the Virgin and Child – are Dominic (with lily and book), John the Baptist (pointing to the Child), Peter Martyr (with martyr's palm and blooded head) and Thomas Aquinas (displaying an open book and with a sunburst on his chest). In the side pinnacles are small quatrefoil medallions depicting the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation, and in the centre pinnacle God the Father releases the dove of the Holy Spirit. In the interstices between the pinnacles are scenes of the preaching and martyrdom of St Peter Martyr. The triptych was painted for San Pietro Martire – a new Dominican convent founded in 1419 in a former palazzo near the Porta Romana in Florence. The convent church was small and seems only to have contained one altarpiece. After the convent was demolished in 1557, the nuns took the picture with them to their new home at San Felice (where it was noted by Vasari). Removed in the early nineteenth century and exhibited at the Pitti Palace and then the Uffizi. It is Angelico’s earliest (approximately) datable work: a small outstanding payment is recorded in March 1429, but the altarpiece could have been finished several years earlier. The influence of Masaccio is evident in the roundness of the modelling of the figures.
*Three Tiny Tabernacles.
According to Biliotti (1570-1600), these were three of four panels painted by Angelico for the Dominican Fra Giovanni Masi, who was sacristan of Santa Maria Novella in 1424 and died in 1434. One (60 x 30) depicts the Virgin and Child (Madonna della Stella), a second (42 x 25) the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi, and a third (42 x 25) the Coronation of the Virgin. The fourth in the series, representing the Burial and Assumption of the Virgin, is in the Gardner Museum at Boston. Described as ‘reliquaries’ by Vasari, who says they were ‘placed on the altar on most solemn Feast Days’. Their execution is sometimes ascribed partly to assistants. In 1754 the four panels are recorded still together in the sacristy of the church. By 1847 the Boston panel had disappeared. The three remaining panels were transferred to San Marco in 1868. The four panels were shown together in an exhibition (Fra Angelico: Heaven and Hell) held at Boston in 2018. All four were cleaned for the occasion. The Annunciation and Adoration is exeptionally well preserved, while the Coronation is the most damaged.
Marriage of the Virgin; Death of the Virgin. Predella panels, 19 x 50.
These panels are usually presumed to have belonged to the predella of the Santa Maria Nuova Coronation of the Virgin in the Uffizi, with which they were at one time exhibited. They were presented to Cosimo II by Marchese Botti in 1629, entered the Uffizi in 1704 and were transferred to the San Marco Museum in 1924.
Naming of the Baptist. Wood, 26 x 24.
The elderly Zacharias, who had been struck dumb for doubting the angel messenger, writes down what his son's name is to be on a tablet and immediately regains the power of speech (Luke: 1, 63-64). Along with the panels of the Marriage and Death of the Virgin, this panel was once supposed to have belonged to the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin. It seems rather to have originated from the same predella as panels of St James freeing Hermogenes in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, the Meeting of Saints Dominic and Francis at San Francesco and the Burial of the Virgin at Philadelphia. A fifth panel, representing the Appearance of St Agatha to St Lucy, in a New York private collection has also recently been associated with the series. The five panels were brought together in 2008-9 for an exhibition at the Kimbell Museum. They are usually dated around 1427-30. There is no firm evidence as to what altarpiece the predella may have formed part. Kanter (2005) suggests that the Pontassieve Madonna in the Uffizi might have been the central panel, but this cannot be confirmed.
Convent of San Marco.
The convent, originally an ancient foundation of the Silvestrine order, was given to the Dominicans of Fiesole in 1436 by Pope Eugenius IV and rebuilt by Michelozzo between 1438 and 1444 at the expense of Cosimo de’Medici. The incomparable series of frescoes by Fra Angelico, chiefly on events in Christ’s life, survives intact, apart from a Crucifixion in the refectory, which was destroyed when Sogliani painted his frescoes there in the 1530s. While there is general agreement that Angelico was responsible for the conception of the entire series and supervised the production of all the frescoes, views differ on the extent to which he was responsible for the actual execution of individual scenes. At one extreme, Miklós Boskovits (writing in the catalogue to the 2002 Benozzo Gozzoli exhibition at Montefalco) has argued for his authorship of the whole cycle – except the decorative border around the great Crucifixion in the Chapter House. But most critics have discerned the intervention of several – perhaps four or five – different painters, including the young Benozzo Gozzoli. Cleaning between 1976 and 1983 of the frescoes in the corridors and cells removed much old repaint and revealed the original luminosity of the colours.
Cloister of St Antoninus.
On the wall opposite the entrance is a fresco (340 x 206) of the Crucifixion, with St Dominic at the foot of the cross. There are also frescoes (much damaged) in the five lunettes (108 x 145). Above the door of the chapter house: St Dominic, with a scourge and book, representing the discipline of the Dominican order. Over the door of the sacristy: St Peter Martyr. The saint, finger to his lips, imposes the rule of silence. (The cloister was the only space in which talking was permitted.) Above a door to the right of the entrance: St Thomas Aquinas. Above the entrance to the refectory: Pietà. Above the door of the forestiera (pilgrims hospice): Christ as a Pilgrim, with staff and goatskin, being welcomed by two Dominican brothers.
**Crucifixion and Saints. Fresco, 550 x 950.
This great fresco, entirely covering one wall, was probably finished by August 1442, when it is recorded that the chapter house was used for a meeting. On the left: the fainting Virgin, supported by the Maries and St John the Evangelist; the Baptist and St Mark (representing Florence and the convent); and St Lawrence and SS. Cosmas and Damian (patrons of the Medici). St Cosmas is said by Vasari to be a portrait of the sculptor Nanni di Banco. On the right: St Dominic kneels at the foot of the cross; behind him St Augustine and St Zanobius (?); St Jerome, St Francis, St Bernard, St John Gualbert kneel; St Benedict and St Romuald stand behind them; while at the end are Peter Martyr (kneeling) and Thomas Aquinas. In the semi-circular upper border are lozenges containing the traditional symbol of the pelican feeding its young with its own blood in the centre, the Erythrean Sibyl, and nine half-length figures of Old Testament prophets holding scrolls. In the lower border are sixteen medallions with illustrious Dominicans (including Fra Angelico’s contemporaries Giovanni Dominici and St Antoninus), who are joined to the founder of the order, St Dominic in the centre, by the branches of a tree. The fresco (which remains attached to the wall) was restored in 1967-74 and again in 2011-14.
*Frescoes in the Corridors.
At the head of the staircase: the Annunciation (230 x 297), one of Angelico’s most famous works. As in the panel paintings at Cortona and Madrid, the Virgin receives the angel in a portico; through the arches is an enclosed garden, a symbol of her virginity, with tall cypresses beyond its wooden paling. On the lower border is a painted Latin inscription bidding the brothers to say an Ave to the Virgin. On the opposite wall: a fresco (239 x 168) by Angelico’s workshop of St Dominic embracing the Cross, almost a repetition of the fresco in the cloister. In the long passage: a painting (195 x 273) of the Virgin and Child with Eight Saints – Dominic, Cosmas and Damian, and Mark (left) and John the Evangelist, Thomas Aquinas, Lawrence and Peter Martyr (right). It is known as the ‘Madonna of the Shadows’ because it shows the shadows cast by the light from the window at the end of the hall. Probably entirely by Angelico, it is not a true fresco like all the others in the convent, but was finished a secco in tempera.
**Frescoes in the Cells. Mainly about 180 x 150.
There are some forty frescoes, chiefly scenes from Christ’s life, in the forty-five small monastic cells. To judge by the number of giornate of plaster, each fresco took between four and seven days to execute.
Several of the frescoes in the eleven cells along the outer wall of the east corridor were probably painted wholly or very largely by Fra Angelico himself, including: Cell 3, Annunciation (St Peter Martyr contemplating the scene from the cloister on the left); Cell 6, Transfiguration (the Virgin and St Dominic kneeling in profile on little clouds at the sides); Cell 7, Mocking of Christ (the Virgin and St Dominic seated with their backs to the scene); and Cell 10, Presentation in the Temple (Peter Martyr kneeling on the left and either the Beata Villana or Prophetess Anna standing on the right). The other subjects are: Cell 1, Noli me Tangere (the greens of the trees and flowery meadow have been restored); Cell 2, Lamentation (one of the best preserved of the series); Cell 4, Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saints (St Dominic and St Jerome stand on the right); Cell 5, Nativity (a crowned female saint, possibly Catherine, kneeling on the left and St Dominic on the right); Cell 8, Holy Women at the Sepulchre (St Dominic kneeling on the left); Cell 9, Coronation of the Virgin (Saints Paul, Thomas Aquinas, Benedict, Dominic, Francis and Peter Martyr kneeling in adoration on heavenly clouds); and Cell 11, Madonna and Child between Saints Augustine (or Zenobius) and St Thomas (inferior to the rest, perhaps only the figure of St Augustine/Zenobius executed by Angelico himself).
Cells 12-14 (occupied by Savonarola when he was prior in the 1490s) in the far corner of the south corridor contain no frescoes, as they were originally used as a classroom and cloths stores. The seven small cells (numbers 15-21) along the inner side of the south corridor were intended for the giovanati, the young friars who had just passed through the Noviciate. Each contains a fresco of St Dominic at the Foot of the Cross. The kneeling saint is shown in a sequence of different devotional poses – praying with joined palms, grasping the cross with both hands, praying with clasped hands, meditating with arms crossed over his chest, covering his face with his hand, scourging himself and extending his arms like Christ on the cross. The well-preserved frescoes are in Angelico’s late style, but their execution is now generally ascribed to his assistants.
The frescoes in the nine cells (numbers 22-30) along the inner wall of the east corridor tend to be simpler and more repetitive in composition and more archaic in style than those on the opposite side. They have been usually ascribed by modern criticism mainly to assistants after Angelicio’s designs. However, Angelico’s own hand has sometimes been seen in particular figures, such as those of St Dominic in the Crucifixions in Cells 23 and 25 and the Way to Calvary in Cell 28 and that of the grieving Virgin in the Man of Sorrows in Cell 26.
The thirteen cells (numbers 31-43) along the two sides of the north corridor were intended for lay brothers and guests. Their frescoes tend to be more rapidly executed, with less attention to detail. They are generally now thought to have been delegated mainly to assistants, though with Angelico still responsible for the compositions. Several of the frescoes have often been attributed wholly or partly to the young Benozzo Gozzoli, including the Agony in the Garden in Cell 34 and the Crucifixion with Saints and the Epiphany in the more commodious double Cell 38-39 (which was occupied by Cosimo de’Medici in retreat and where Pope Eugenius stayed in 1442-3 on the occasion of the consecration of San Marco).
San Marco Missal (codex 558). Parchment, 48 x 34.
The missal, which contains thirty-three illuminated initials, was probably produced in the 1420s or early 1430s for San Domenico di Fiesole. (According to Vasari, Angelico painted several manuscripts for the convent.) In the early nineteenth century it belonged to Pietro Leopoldo Ricasoli, Prior of the Order of Santo Stefano, and was then acquired by Grand Duke Leopoldo II. Only a facsimile of the missal is on public display.
Angelico’s work as an illuminator seems to have diminished after the mid-1420s. But there is documentary evidence that he was in charge of book production at San Marco and that miniatures had to be submitted to him for inspection. The illuminations of two Psalters produced for San Marco have been recently attributed to him as late works. (These include an initial ‘D’ with King David.) They have been dated about 1450.
Florence. Badia. Chiostro degli Aranci.
St Benedict requesting Silence. Detached frescoed lunette.
Painted originally on the ground floor, over the entrance into the refectory. Damaged in the late nineteenth century by an attempt to remove it from the wall, and subsequently repainted. Detached in 1956, it now hangs inside the refectory vestibule. Described as a work of Fra Angelico by Vasari. The attribution has often been doubted by modern critics, but has been supported recently by Anne Leader (July 2007 Burlington Magazine).
Upper Loggia. Scenes from the Life of St Benedict. Frescoes, roughly 220 x 305.
The cycle, now incomplete, begins in the east corner of the north loggia and runs anti-clockwise until the first bay of the south loggia. Of the thirteen scenes, the fourth was redone by Bronzino in the mid-1520s and the last two are by a distinctly second-rate painter (dubbed the ‘Totila Master’). The other ten have been usually ascribed either to an anonymous ‘Master of the Chiostro degli Aranci’ or to an otherwise unknown Portuguese artist called Giovanni di Consalvo, who is documented as having received small payments for ‘colours’ from the Badia between September 1436 and February 1439. Giovanni di Consalvo appears to have been connected with Fra Angelico, and it is possible that he was only a minor assistant on the project. Anne Leader (July 2007 Burlington Magazine) has suggested, on the stylistic evidence of the boldly drawn sinopie, that the ten frescoes were designed by Angelico, who would have delegated the execution to his workshop team. All the frescoes were detached and restored in 1956. They were restored again in 2017-18.
Florence. San Domenico di Fiesole.
*Madonna and Saints. Wood, 212 x 237.
Fra Angelico’s earliest surviving large altarpiece, probably painted around the mid-1420s for the high altar of the church. St Barnabas, who appears in the picture together with St Dominic and the Dominican saints Thomas Aquinas and Peter Martyr, was the name saint of Barnaba degli Algi (d. 1418), who left funds of 6,000 florins towards the building and furnishing of San Domenico. The picture was originally a Gothic triptych with a gold background, but was converted into a Renaissance altarpiece in 1501 by Lorenzo di Credi, who raised its height and added the blue sky. Credi also repainted most of the costumes, including the Virgin’s blue mantle. The picture was removed from the high altar in 1610, and now stands in the first chapel on the left. The pilaster figures came from another altarpiece (and have been attributed to Rossello di Jacopo Franchi or Lorenzo Monaco). The predella was sold in about 1827, and is now in the National Gallery, London. A partial copy by Michele Micheli, a copyist who helped to arrange the sale, takes its place. Two small roundels in London and New York, and four standing saints in Chantilly and Rielasingen-Worblingen (Fondation Rau) may also have belonged to the altarpiece. Angelico painted two other altarpieces for the church: the Annunciation (Prado) was on the right altar and the Coronation of the Virgin (Louvre) was on the left altar opposite it.
*Crucifixion. Fresco, 363 x 212.
This fresco, which is situated in the Sala del Capitolo of the convent, was discovered under whitewash in 1882. The attribution to Angelico was doubted by Pope-Hennessy, but is accepted by most scholars. An early dating (middle to late 1420s) is usually suggested. The figure of Christ resembles that in Masaccio’s small Crucifixion of 1426 (from the Carmine Altarpiece and now in Naples).
Virgin and Child. Detached fresco, 116 x 75.
This fresco was originally over the entrance to the church. It was moved, probably in 1587, with the entire section of wall on which it was painted, to a place over a doorway on the ground floor of the convent. It was crudely repainted in 1858, and as a result was never seriously considered a work of Angelico until 1960, when a well-preserved sinopia was discovered behind it.
Florence. Oratorio di San NIccolò del Ceppo (3 Via de' Pandolfini).
Crucifixion with St Nicholas of Bari and St Francis. Wood, 210 x 186.
This little known work was originally an altarpiece. The group of figures – Christ on the cross between the kneeling St Nicholas and St Francis – was cut out of the panel in 1611, when the picture was moved from the high altar of the oratory to the sacristy. The attribution to Fra Angelico was made only in 1909 (by Giovanni Poggi). Damaged in the 1966 flood. Restored in 2016-18. The figure of St Francis is a nineteenth-century copy: the original figure was acquired in 1912 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Nativity; Agony in the Garden. Wood, each 26 x 16
Nothing is known of the provenance of these two tiny panels before they entered the Pinacoteca in the late nineteenth century with the Missirini collection. Their backs are painted to imitate porphyry, and they may have formed the wings of a small portable folding triptych. Critical opinion has differed both on attribution and dating. For Longhi (1940) they were autograph ‘Masaccesque’ works of 1425-30. Pope-Hennessy changed his mind, judging them late studio works in the 1952 edition of his book on Fra Angelico but as autograph works of about 1433-34 in the 1974 edition. Salmi (1958) described them as ‘fully mature works’, while Spike (1997) puts them as early as ‘circa 1428’. They were included as autograph works of the late 1420s in the 2005-6 Fra Angelico exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, New York; but William Hood expressed scepticism about the attribution in his exhibition review in the February 2006 Burlington Magazine.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum.
St James the Great freeing Hermogenes. Wood, 26 x 24.
The story is told in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend: St James orders Philetus, a Christian convert, to free the repentant magician Hermogenes, who had been bound by the very devils he had conjured up to entrap the saint. Hermogenes requests the saint’s staff for protection against the devils. This exceptionally well-preserved panel appears to be from the same predella as the Naming of the Baptist in the San Marco Museum, the Burial of the Virgin in Philadelphia, the Meeting of St Dominic and St Francis in San Francisco, and the Appearance of St Agatha to St Lucy in a private American collection. By the early nineteenth century, the panel was in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte. It later passed through the Paris collections of the Comte de Portalès- Gorgier (by 1841), the Comte Lafond (from 1865) and the Duc des Cars (until 1933). By 1947 it was in a private collection in Switzerland. Acquired by the Kimbell Museum in 1986.
Madonna. Wood, 37 x 28.
The Madonna, enthroned in a tabernacle, is encircled by twelve angels. There are other versions in the Bandini Museum at Fiesole (attributed to Andrea di Giusto) and the Vatican (attributed to the school of Angelico). The Frankfurt panel is probably a very early work, and may have been the centre of a small triptych painted for a private patron. Acquired in 1831 from F. Benucci.
Houston. Museum of Fine Arts.
St Anthony Abbot tempted by Gold. Wood, 20 x 28.
According to St Anthanasius’s biography, St Anthony, seeking solitude in the wilderness after his torments, found gold in his path. Avoiding it, as if it were fire, he hurried towards a mountain where he discovered the deserted fortress in which he made his hermitage. Probably a predella panel. A panel representing the Funeral of Saint Anthony Abbot (donated to the Prado, Madrid, in 2016) is almost identical in size and is likely to have belonged to the same altarpiece. Opinion has been divided on whether the painting is a work of Fra Angelico himself, his studio or his school. (Kanter (2005) sees it as ‘a typical work of Zanobi Strozzi of about 1445’.) Once in the collection of Marczel von Nemes at Munich, it was bought in 1930 by Percy S. Straus, who donated it to the museum.
Liepzig. Museum Der Bildenden Künste.
Saint John the Baptist. Wood, 10 x 18.
A small fragment, showing just the saint’s head and shoulders. Bequeathed in 1944 by Fritz von Harck of Leipzig.
Livorno. Museo Civico.
Head of Christ crowned with Thorns. Wood, 55 x 39.
This extraordinarily naturalistic image of Christ – red-eyed and bleeding from his wounds – may have been inspired by Netherlandish examples. On deposit from the church of Santa Maria del Soccorso in Livorno. It was given to the Cappella Addolorata of the church by Silvestro Silvestri in 1837. Formerly ascribed to the ‘School of Giotto’, it was recognised as a work of Fra Angelico in 1928 by Roberto Longhi. Longhi dated it 1430-35, but most recent critics have judged it a late work (about 1450).
London. National Gallery.
The centre panel (32 x 73) shows Christ with the banner of the Resurrection surrounded by angels, cherubim (blue) on the left and seraphim (red) on the right. The two inner panels (each 32 wide) show the Virgin, Baptist, Apostles, other saints and patriarchs, and the two outer panels (22 wide) Dominican friars. In all, the side panels contain more than 260 kneeling figures. While the panels are generally of exquisite execution, some of the figures, particularly in the left-hand panel, have sometimes been ascribed to assistants. The five panels, originally painted on a single plank of wood, formed the predella of the high altarpiece of Fra Angelico’s own friary of San Domenico, near Fiesole. While Vasari skates over the main panel of the altarpiece, merely observing that it had been ‘retouched by other artists’, he praises the predella (‘the host of little figures that can be seen there, in Celestial Glory, are so exquisite that they really seem to be in Paradise and one could stand gazing at them for ever’). The main panel (drastically modified by Lorenzo di Credi around 1501) is still in the church, though now moved to a side altar. The predella panels were sold in about 1827 to the dealer Metzger for 700 scudi. They were bought for 900 scudi by Vincenzo Valentini, the Prussian Consul at Rome, whose nephew sold them (after long export negotiations) to the National Gallery in 1860 for the huge price of £3,500. Exceptionally well preserved. Restoration in 1999-2001 removed old darkened retouchings and greying varnish.
The Vision of the Dominican Habit. Wood, 24 x 30.
On the left, the Virgin reveals to the Blessed Reginald, ill in bed, the habit that Dominicans should henceforth wear; on the right, she appears to the praying St Dominic. Though often assumed to have been part of a predella, the evidence of a hinge on the left edge suggests that it was part of a cupboard door or the wing of folding triptych. Sometimes ascribed to the studio of Angelico or to a follower. However, Laurence Kanter (2005) accepts it as a fully autograph (abraded) work, and suggests that it formed part of one wing of a triptych – the central panel of which, he posits, was the Virgin of Humility with Saints at Parma. Presented to the National Gallery by the barrister Sir Charles Archer Cook in 1919.
Saint Romulus (?). Wood, 16 in dia.
The bishop is tentatively identified as St Romulus, a patron saint of Fiesole, by a fragmentary inscription (the letters 'OLVS' written on the right-hand side). This small roundel is probably from the frame of the high altarpiece of San Domenico di Fiesole. It was once owned by Langton Douglas, the art critic, and was bequeathed to the National Gallery by Lady Lindsay in 1912. There is a similar roundel (probably representing St Alexander) in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. They are sometimes ascribed to an assistant.
London. British Museum.
Prophet David. Parchment, 20 x 18.
This delicate drawing is executed in brown ink and purple wash on the rough side of a sheet of vellum. The Old Testament prophet, crowned as King of Israel and wearing antique armour, is seated on a stone bench playing a psaltery (a medieval stringed instrument resembling a zither). The sheet appears to have been a page from a psalter. On the other side, there is a list of hymns and psalms to be recited at different times of day. The David is one of very few drawings attributed to Fra Angelico. Berenson called it 'the only drawing by Fra Angelico which leaves no grounds for doubt'. Pope-Hennessy attributed it to Zanobi Strozzi in the first (1952) edition of his monograph but to Fra Angelico in the second (1974) edition. First recorded in 1866 at a Sotheby's sale, when it was purchased as a work of Fra Angelico by the Scottish laird and art collector John Malcolm of Poltalloch. Malcolm's superb collection of Old Master drawings and prints was sold to the British Museum in 1895.
London. Royal Collection.
Christ Blessing. Wood, 28 x 22.
Probably from the central pinnacle of an altarpiece. It is thought to have been flanked by two Adoring Angels in Turin. The three fragmentary panels have sometimes been associated with the high altarpiece of San Domenico di Fiesole. However, Kanter (2005) suggests that they may have formed the central pinnacle of a rather later altarpiece, of uncertain provenance, which had the Pontassieve Madonna in the Uffizi as its main panel. Sometimes ascribed to Angelico’s workshop (or Zanobi Strozzi). Acquired by William Blundell Spence in Florence, and purchased by Queen Victoria for £50 in 1854. It has been on loan to the National Gallery.
Saint Peter Martyr. Wood, 26 x 9.
The Dominican saint, identified by his bloody head wound, is shown full-length, standing on clouds. Probably from the frame of an altarpiece. Purchased by Prince Albert from the dealer Ludwig Metzger of Florence in 1845. Currently exhibited in the Cumberland Bedchamber at Hampton Court.
London. Courtauld Institute Galleries.
Predella in three parts. Seven tondi, each 12 in dia.
The tiny tondi represent the dead Christ and six saints (Catherine of Siena (?), Dorothy or Cecila, Mary Magdalene, John the Evangelist, Catherine of Alexandria and Agnes). There is an old tradition that this was the predella to Starnina’s lost altarpiece from the Carmine in Florence. It was attributed to Fra Angelico as an early work by Roberto Longhi in 1940. Umberto Baldini (1970) suggested that it was the predella (showing ‘very small figures’ according to Vasari) to the altarpiece painted by Fra Angelico for San Pietro Martire before 1429 (now in the San Marco Museum). It was first recorded in the nineteenth century in the Woodburn collection; bought by Thomas Gambier Parry in 1863, and bequeathed by his son to London University in 1966.
Los Angeles. Getty Museum.
St Francis and a Bishop Saint (Nicholas or Zenobius?); St John the Baptist and St Dominic. Wood, each 53 x 23/24.
The wings of a portable triptych, painted with fictive porphyry on the back. The Virgin Annunciate and Angel at Yale have been identified (by Laurence Kanter in 2001) as the pinnacles of the two wings. (X-rays have shown that the wood grain of the panels is continuous.) The central panel and its pinnacle (probably a Redeemer Blessing) have not been traced. Probably early. Acquired in 1992.
*Annunciation. Wood, 164 x 190.
On the left, Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise. A swallow perches on the iron rod spanning the arch above the Virgin’s head. In the predella are five small scenes (23 x 35) from the Life of the Virgin: Marriage; Visitation; Adoration of the Magi; Presentation in the Temple; and Dormition. Possibly the earliest of the Annunciations by Angelico and his workshop. Often dated to the middle or late 1420s, it must have been painted before October 1435, when the chapel for which it was painted in San Domenico di Fiesole was dedicated. Bought for 1,500 ducati in 1611 for the Duke of Lerma by Duke Mario Farnese, the Dominicans needing the money from the sale to meet the cost of erecting a steeple. The Duke of Lerma gave it to the Dominican church in Valladolid. The picture then disappeared from view for almost 250 years. It was rediscovered in the Monastero de las Descalzas in Madrid and transferred to the Prado in 1861. The picture is well preserved for one of its age and size – though damage has been caused by a vertical crack running through the figure of the angel and a candle burn in the area of Adam's sheepskin tunic. A restoration, the first since 1943, was carried out in 2018-19. The removal of dirt and old repaint (particularly thick on the Virgin's blue mantle and the damaged figure of the angel) has enabled the clear, luminous colour and the miniaturistic detail (including the meticulous description of the flora in the Garden of Eden) to be better appreciated.
*Virgin and Child with Two Angels. Wood, 83 x 59.
Often called the Madonna of the Pomegranate from the fruit held by the Virgin and touched by the Christ Child. The figure types are very like those in Fra Angelico's Madonna in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection at Madrid. The influence of Masaccio is suggested by the roundness of the modelling, and the picture is generally dated quite early (mid-1420s to 1430s). Acquired in Florence by the 14th Duke of Alba in 1817, and bought by the Prado from the 17th Duke of Alba for €18 million in January 2016. Exceptionally well preserved.
Funeral of Saint Anthony Abbot. Wood, 20 x 29.
The dead saint, laid out on a bier outside a church, is blessed by a priest and mourned by monks. His soul (upper centre) ascends to Heaven on a cloud. Probably a panel from a predella. The Houston St Anthony Abbot Tempted by Gold, which is almost identical in size, is likely to have come from the same predella – which could have belonged to an altarpiece painted for the hospital church of Sant'Antonio at Florence (founded to treat sufferers from ergotism or 'St Anthony's fire'). The painting was previously considered a work of Fra Angelico's circle or school, but, following recent analysis and restoration, it has been attributed by the Prado to the master himself. Acquired by the 14th Duke of Alba in 1817, at the same time as the Madonna of the Pomegranate, and donated to the museum by the 17th Duke in January 2016.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*Madonna and Angels. Wood, 100 x 49.
The picture may (on the evidence of an uncorroborated nineteenth-century source) have belonged to the Gondi family; if so, it might be one of the three pictures by Angelico that Vasari mentions in the possession of Bartolomeo Gondi. In the nineteenth century it was in the Belgian royal collection (it is said to have been given by George IV to Princess Charlotte on the occasion of her marriage in 1816 to Leopold I). It later belonged to J. Pierpont Morgan, New York. Most critics have accepted the attribution to Angelico, though Pope-Hennessy gave it only to his workshop. Datings range widely – from the mid-1420s to the late 1440s. It has been exhibited at Barcelona in recent years – first at the Monestir de Pedralbes and since 2004 at the newly restored Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. There is another version (in which the Virgin is turned to her left rather than posed frontally) in a private collection in Switzerland, and a variant with smaller figures (variously attributed to Angelico, a follower or the young Benozzo Gozzoli) at Bergamo.
Minneapolis. Institute of Arts.
Saint Romuald (?). Wood, 40 x 13.
Long believed to be St Benedict, the subject has been recently identified – on the evidence of his white habit – as St Romuald of Ravenna, founder of the Camaldoli branch of the Benedictines. A panel from the pilaster of an altarpiece – almost certainly that painted in 1438-42 for the high altar of San Marco. Seven other such panels of standing saints are known (three at Altenburg, two in the San Marco Museum, one at Chicago and one in the Cini Collection, Venice). An old (late eighteenth-century?) inscription on the back of the Minneapolis panel gives Fra Angelico as the artist and the provenance as San Marco. The panel once belonged to the Duke of Wellington, who gave it to his doctor Thomas Penegrine. It remained with Penegrine’s descendants until 1962, when it was sold at Sotheby’s.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
*Entombment of Christ. Wood, 38 x 46.
The Virgin and St John the Evangelist kiss the hands of the dead Christ, who is supported by Joseph of Arimathea in front of the cave tomb. The centre panel of the predella of the altarpiece painted in 1438-42 for the high altar of the church of San Marco. All eight other panels from the predella – three in Munich, two in Florence (San Marco Museum), and one each in Dublin, Paris and Washington – depict scenes from the legend of Saints Cosmas and Damian. The Entombment was bought by Crown Prince Ludwig in 1818.
*Three Scenes from the Legend of SS. Cosmas and Damian. Wood, 38 x 45/6.
Three of the eight predella panels from the San Marco Altarpiece illustrating the Cosmas and Damian legend. In one panel, the two saints and their three younger brothers appear before the Roman Prefect Lysias, who orders them to sacrifice to the pagan gods. In another, they pray to deliver Lysias from devils sent by the pagan gods to torment him. In the background, they are thrown from a cliff into the sea, but are saved by angels from drowning. The third panel shows another thwarted attempt at martyrdom, in which they endure crucifixion, stoning and being shot with arrows. The three panels were still in Florence in 1817, when they were apparently restored by a Professor Luigi Scotti. They were bought for the Bavarian Royal Collection in 1822 from a Berlin dealer.
Virgin Annunciate; Angel. Wood, each 32 x 19.
Fragments cut from the pinnacles of the wings of a tabernacle. The pinnacles were arched, and the panels have been converted into rectangles by modern additions to the right top corner of the Angel and the top left corner of the Virgin. Bought in Florence in 1808 with a preposterous attribution to Guido da Siena, the two small panels were catalogued under Fra Angelico or his workshop from the late nineteenth century, but they were rarely exhibited and until recently almost completely ignored in the literature on the artist. They were included in the 2005-6 Fra Anglico exhibition in New York, where it was proposed that they belonged to the same tabernacle as the Madonna and Four Saints in Parma and the Vision of the Dominican Habit in London.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
Two Episodes from the Life of St Dominic. Wood, 33 x 42.
On the left, Pope Innocent III dreams that Dominic is supporting the collapsing Latern Basilica. On the right, Dominic, praying in St Peter’s, has a vision that St Peter and St Paul are instructing him to go forth and preach. This panel, badly abraded and cut down on the right, is doubtless from a predella. An even more damaged panel at Stuttgart, showing Dominic and his Companions being fed by Angels, was almost certainly from the same predella. Kanter (2005) argues that a somewhat longer panel of the Crucifixion and Saints in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is likely to have been in the centre. Formerly in the London collection of Edwin A. Abbey; acquired in 1937.
Virgin Annunciate; Angel. Wood, 18 x 18/14.
This small Annunciation, made up in the nineteenth century into a single rectangular composition, originally formed the pinnacles of the wings of a triptych; the Virgin would have decorated the right wing and the Angel the left wing. The wings have been shown, by technical examination of the panels, to be those now in the Getty Museum at Los Angeles. Acquired in 1959 with Rabinowitz collection (where they were ascribed to the young Filippo Lippi).
Head of a Saint. Wood, 19 x 18.
This small square panel – representing the head of a saint looking intently downwards – is thought to be a fragment of an unknown early work of Fra Angelico. The saint could have been Joseph in a Nativity or Joseph of Arimathea in a Lamentation. The panel was bought at Sotheby's in 1995 by the Chicago-born art dealer and collector Richard L. Feigen, who donated it to the Yale Gallery in 2018. The saint's gold halo is ornately tooled with floral motifs.
Two Apparitions of Saint Michael. Wood, 42 x 91.
The unusual subjects are from the Golden Legend. On the right, the Archangel Michael appears on Monte Galgano, where a miraculous wind turns back an arrow aimed at a runaway bull hiding in a cave. On the left, the Archangel appears at Mont Saint-Michel to save a pregnant woman from drowning. This damaged panel clearly came from a predella. It was acquired by the New York collector Maitland Griggs at Sotheby's, London, for £760 in 1929 as a work of Gherardo Starnina, and was bequeathed to Yale in 1943. After many years in storage, it was recently restored and ascribed to Fra Angelico, as a very early work, by Laurence Kanter, Chief Curator of the Yale Gallery. The attribution – though speculative – has been adopted by the museum.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Crucifixion and Saints. Wood (twice transferred), 34 x 50.
The Saints are Monica (?), Augustine (?), Dominic and Thomas Aquinas (kneeling), Mary, the Magdalene (grieving at the foot of the cross), John the Evangelist, Francis and Elizabeth of Hungary (?). The panel was described by Crowe and Cavalcaselle when it was in the collection of the Marquis de Gouvello, Paris, as ‘a picture … which may at one time have been a good example of Angelico, but now injured by retouching and repainting’. In 1951 it was cleaned and a modern background with a blue sky was removed. The surface is badly abraded, and two angels that hovered beside the cross and two palm trees in the background have almost entirely disappeared. Best preserved are the two saints on the left of the scene. The picture has sometimes been identified with the ‘Christ on the cross with nine figures’ recorded in 1492 as hanging in the Anticamera di Piero di Lorenzo in the Palazzo Medici. However, it is perhaps more likely to have been the central panel of a predella. Kanter (2005) suggests that two very damaged panels at Yale University and Stuttgart, showing scenes from the Life of St Dominic, could have come from the same predella. Bequeathed by Benjamin Altman in 1913.
Saint Alexander (?). Wood, 16 in dia.
St Alexander, a martyr bishop, is a patron saint of Fiesole. This small, half-length roundel clearly formed a pair with the Saint Romulus (?) in the National Gallery, London. They may have belonged to the frame of the high altarpiece painted by Angelico for his own convent of San Domenico di Fiesole. First recorded in 1856 in the collection of the wealthy poet Samuel Rogers of London, and later owned by the art historian Langton Douglas; bequeathed to the museum by Lucy G. Moses in 1990.
‘Griggs Crucifixion’. Wood, 64 x 49.
This little panel – perhaps originally the central pinnacle of an altarpiece – is called after Maitland F. Griggs, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1943. The attribution has long been controversial. Once thought to be a work of Masolino, it was ascribed by Richard Offner (1933) to an anonymous Florentine follower of Gentile da Fabriano and Masaccio, whom he christened the ‘Master of the Griggs Crucifixion’ after this painting. While other pictures formerly grouped under this hypothetical artist are now recognised as works of Giovanni di Francesco Toscani, the Crucifixion has been attributed to Fra Angelico as an early work, close in date to the predella from the high altarpiece from San Domenico di Fiesole (now in London). The attribution has won support among Italian critics, but is not unanimously accepted. The gilded letters on the bridal of the horse on the right (Fr Ihones or Fra Giovanni) could be interpreted as a signature.
Orvieto. Cathedral. Cappella Madonna di San Brizio (Cappella Nuova).
The ceiling decoration is the only work by Angelico so well documented that it can be precisely dated. On 14 June 1447, Angelico contracted to paint the whole chapel with the assistance of Benozzo Gozzoli, Giovanni di Antonio (Angelico’s nephew) and Giacomo di Polo. He agreed to go to Orvieto each year for three months in the summer until the work he had undertaken in Rome was finished. By 28 September 1447 two sections of the ceiling were finished, and Angelico and his three assistants were paid 103 fiorini d’oro. One section represents Christ as judge of the world. The other shows sixteen prophets in majesty. Much of the actual painting seems to have been done by Benozzo Gozzoli, the ageing Angelico perhaps being reluctant to climb the high scaffolding. (A mason died in a fall when the work was in progress.) Angelico was then recalled to Rome and never returned to Orvieto. The frescoes were completed some fifty years later by Signorelli. A major restoration of the chapel was completed in 1996.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
The Virgin and Child enthroned with St Dominic and Angels in the centre panel (45 x 27); St Peter and St Paul in the wings (45 x 15). The centre panel is better preserved than the wings (the faces of the two saints are especially worn and retouched). It has sometimes been suggested that they do not belong together and/or that they were painted by a different hand. Kanter (2005), who thinks the small folding triptych was painted in Rome in the late 1440s, considers the centre panel to be by Fra Angelico and the wings by Benozzo Gozzoli. Presented in 1850 by Fox-Strangways.
**Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 211 x 211.
Christ, enthroned under a Gothic canopy at the top of a flight of brilliantly coloured marble steps, crowns the kneeling Virgin Queen of Heaven. Angel musicians sound trumpets and play lutes, fiddles, tambourines and drums. Some forty saints stand at the sides or kneel in the foreground. Many are identified by their attributes or by inscriptions on their haloes. Those on the left include Andrew (with cross), Peter (with keys), the shaggy-haired John the Baptist, Bartholomew (with knife), John the Evangelist (writing his Gospel) and Dominic (with lily and book). Those on the right include the balding Paul, James the Great (with pilgrim's staff), Peter Martyr (with head wound), Lawrence (with his gridiron) and his fellow deacon Stephen (with martyr's palm). Those kneeling (seen mainly from behind) include Louis IX of France (with fleurs-de-lys crown), Thomas Aquinas (with rays of light emanating from his book), Nicholas of Bari (wearing a bishop's cope embroidered with Passion scenes), Mary Magdalene (in red robes holding a jar of ointment), Cecilia (crowned with flowers), Agnes (with her white lamb), Catherine of Alexandria (with martyr's palm and spiked wheel) and Ursula (crowned and holding an arrow). To Vasari’s eyes, this was the finest of three altarpieces painted by Angelico for his own friary of San Domenico di Fiesole. (One, a Madonna and Saints partly repainted by Lorenzo di Credi, is still in the church and another, an Annunciation, is in the Prado.) The Coronation was situated over a side altar to the right of the rood screen. It is usually viewed as a comparatively early work (before October 1435 when the church and its three altars were consecrated), although Pope-Hennessy (1974) judged it late (about 1450). The main panel was taken to Paris in 1812. The predella was purchased in Florence in 1830. It contains a Man of Sorrows, in the centre, with six scenes from the Life of St Dominic (Pope Innocent III’s Vision of Dominic supporting the Latern Basilica; SS. Peter and Paul appearing to Dominic; Dominic saving Napoleone Orsini; the Miracle of the Book; Dominic and His Companions fed by Angels; and the Death of Dominic).
*Beheading of Saints Cosmas and Damian. Wood, 37 x 46.
After several thwarted attempts at martyrdom (represented by panels at Dublin and Munich) the two saints and three younger brothers are finally beheaded. Fra Angelico has staged the grisly episode (which reputedly took place at Cyrrhus in Syria) in a typically Tuscan landscape. One of a series of eight scenes representing the Legend of Saints Cosmas and Damian from the predella of the altarpiece painted in 1438-42 for the church of San Marco. According to a label on the back, the panel was given by the Florentine Accademia in 1817 to a certain Prof. Nicola Tacchinardi. It was acquired by the Louvre in 1882.
*Crucifixion. Fresco, 363 x 212.
St Dominic grasps the cross; the Virgin and St John at the sides. From the former refectory of San Domenico di Fiesole. Acquired by the Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini in 1879 and sold by him to the Louvre in 1881. The fresco was restored by Francesco Mariani as early as 1566; the heads of the Virgin and St John are particularly repainted.
Christ Blessing. Wood, 12 in dia.
This small roundel is likely to have come from the central pinnacle of an altarpiece – possibly that painted for San Domenico in Perugia and now in the gallery there. On permanent loan from the Fondation de France.
Two Angels. Two panels, each 37/39 x 23/20.
These two small, fragmentary and damaged paintings have sometimes been ascribed to Angelico himself and sometimes to his workshop. They must originally have belonged to some larger structure, and it has been suggested that they formed part of the shutters of the ciborium mentioned by Vasari in the church of San Domenico di Fiesole and now in the Hermitage at St Petersburg. The right-facing Angel entered the Louvre in 1909, having passed through the hands of the Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini and the French architect Victor Gay. The left-facing Angel was acquired on the Florentine art market in about 1885 by the French collector Georges Rampin and remained in private ownership until 2002.
Beheading of Baptist and Herod’s Feast. Wood, 21 x 32.
A predella panel from an unidentified altarpiece. Often classed as a studio work (or ascribed to Zanobi Strozzi), it has been recently claimed as a comparatively early autograph Angelico (around 1430?). Its surface is somewhat abraded. Once in the collection of the wealthy English poet Samuel Rogers, it was bequeathed to the Louvre in 1878 by the Parisian collector Horace His de La Salle.
Parma. Galleria Nazionale.
*Madonna and Four Saints. Wood, 129 x 68.
At the bottom, St Dominic and St Francis meet in the foreground; SS. John the Baptist and Paul kneel behind at the sides. The Madonna is usually accepted as by Angelico but the four saints are sometimes ascribed to an assistant. Probably a comparatively early work of the late 1420s or early 1430s. Kanter (2005) thinks that it was probably the centre of a large tabernacle with folding wings. As well as losing its frame, the panel has suffered much from abrasion. (Without their glazes, the cushion on which the Virgin sits and the floor on which the four saints kneel appear merely as flat gold.) Acquired in Florence by the Marchese Alfonso Taccoli Canacci in 1786, following the suppressions of confraternities there by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo.
Perugia. Galleria Nazionale.
*Polyptych. Central panel: 130 x 77; side panels 95 x 73.
The Virgin is seated on a golden throne. The Child, standing on her lap, holds an open pomegranate. They are attended by four angels, two bearing baskets of red and white roses and two peering around the sides of the throne. Three brass vases at the foot of the throne are also filled with roses. In the side panels are pairs of saints: John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria, on the right, and Dominic and Nicholas of Bari (conceivably a portrait of Pope Nicholas V), on the left. In the pilasters are twelve small figures of saints, and above, in two medallions, the Angel and Virgin Annunciate. The central pinnacle must also have contained a medallion – possibly the Christ Blessing in the Louvre. In the one remaining predella panel are two scenes from the Life of St Nicholas: the freeing of three innocent youths condemned to execution by a corrupt Roman Prefect (left) and the death of the saint, whose soul is borne heavenwards by angels. Two other panels from the predella are in the Vatican Pinacoteca.
The altarpiece was painted for the Guidalotti Chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas of Bari, in San Domenico at Perugia, perhaps under the terms of the will of Bishop Benedetto Guidalotti (died 1429), a renowned jurist close to Pope Martin V. A Dominican chronicle of 1578 ascribes it to the year 1437. But some recent critics have argued for a later date (sometimes on the grounds of the supposed resemblance of the figure of St Nicholas to portraits of Nicholas V, who was not elected Pope until 1447). The hand of Zanobi Strozzi has been seen in some of the minor panels. The entire altarpiece appears to have remained intact until 1812, when it was broken up by order of the Napoleonic administration. The three main panels remained in Perugia. Two panels from the predella were sent to Rome and never recovered. The other predella panel was sent to the Louvre in Paris but was ultimately returned. All the parts remaining in Perugia were transferred to the gallery in 1863, and they were reassembled in a modern neo-Gothic frame in 1922. In spite of these vicissitudes, the altarpiece is one of Fra Angelico’s best-preserved major works.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (John G. Johnson Collection).
Saint Francis. Wood, 70 x 49.
A fragment of a panel of the Crucifixion with SS. Nicholas of Bari and Francis. The panel, with a nineteenth-century copy of the head and torso of St Francis, is still in the Sacristy of the Compagnia di San Niccolò da Bari del Ceppo in Florence. Acquired by John G. Johnson, on Berenson’s recommendation, in 1912. It was mounted on a rectangular panel, and a new hand had been added to suggest that St Francis was praying. In 1992 the false background and repainting were removed.
Burial of the Virgin. Wood, 26 x 52.
According to the Golden Legend, the twelve apostles were miraculously assembled at the scene of the Virgin's death. John the Evangelist, on the right, holds the illuminated palm (shining like 'the morning star') that an angel had brought to the Virgin when announcing her coming death. In the sky, angels surround God the Father as he welcomes the Virgin into heaven. This little painting was often ascribed to Angelico’s studio before 1987, when Everett Fahy (in Apollo) identified it as the centre panel of an important predella, which also included panels in Florence (San Marco Museum), Fort Worth and San Francisco. In the late eighteenth century the Burial of the Virgin was in the hands of the painter and dealer Ignazio Hugford of Florence. It was engraved in 1791 as Giotto’s Dormition of the Virgin, described by Vasari in the church of the Ognissanti. It was attributed to Fra Angelico by Waagen in 1837, when it was in the collection of William Young Ottley; sold in London as ‘School of Angelico’ in 1847; and acquired by Johnson in 1900.
Episode from the Life of St Gregory or Pope Celestine V. Wood, 28 x 20.
Usually called the Papacy offered to St Gregory the Great. (The saint was horrified at the news of his election and contemplated flight.) Alternatively, the subject could be Pope Celestine V, who abdicated after five months in favour of a monastic life. Bought by Johnson in 1913 from Ludovico de Spiridon as a work of Angelico’s school. As first recognised by Strehlke (2004), the painting is a companion to panels at Antwerp, Cherbourg and Chantilly. The four panels (and a fifth in a French private collection) are thought to be fragments of a Thebaid, executed by an assistant or follower of Angelico, possibly in the early 1430s. Restored for an exhibition held at Chantilly in 2014.
Pisa. Galleria Nazionale di San Matteo.
Salvador Mundi. Linen, 193 x 78.
From the convent of San Domenico at Pisa. A processional banner, and very worn. Long attributed to Fra Angelico (eg. by Berenson in his 1896-1963 Lists), but rather neglected in the literature on the artist. Considered ‘perhaps in part an autograph late work’ by Pope-Hennessy (1974). Diane Cole Ahl, in her 1996 monograph on Benozzo Gozzoli, thought it might be a late work of Benozzo, who worked in Pisa for many years.
Virgin of Humility (‘Madonna di Cedri’). Wood, 102 x 58.
The Virgin sits on a gold-patterned red carpet. The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above her head. The small tondo in the gable depicts Christ blessing and displaying an open book inscribed with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. The panel was possibly always an independent picture and not, as sometimes supposed, the centre of a triptych. The two coats-of-arms on the border are probably those of the married couple that commissioned the work; one is that of the Giugna family of Florence, the other is illegible. According to an inscription on the back, the panel was given in 1791 by Giovanni degli Alessandri to the Chiesa di Cedri (Pisa). It was transferred from the church to the museum in 1952 and published by the museum's director, Giovanni Paccagnini, as a work of Domenico Veneziano. In the same year, Roberto Longhi ascribed the picture to 'an anonymous painter influenced by Fra Angelico and Masolino'. The attribution to Fra Angelico was made in 1973 by Carlo Volpe. Volpe dated the picture to the mid-1420s, but a number of recent critics have considered it to be even earlier (about 1420). There are obvious similarities with Lorenzo Monaco's many paintings of the Virgin of Humility.
Princeton. University Art Museum.
Saint Jerome. Wood, 23 x 17.
The small panel was once owned by the poet Robert Browning, who described it as ‘that St Jerome with a sad eye’. Browning acquired it from the Gaddi family as a work of Taddeo Gaddi, the follower of Giotto. It was later ascribed to Masolino, the young Masaccio and Giovanni Toscani. The attribution to Angelico, as a very early work, was made by Longhi in 1940, but has gained wide support only recently. The coats-of-arms on the shields in the lower corners have been identified as those of the Florentine Gaddi and Ridolfi families, and it has been suggested that the picture was painted in 1424 to commemorate the marriage of Agnolo di Zanobi Gaddi and Maddalena Ridolfi. However, this evidence on dating is weakened by suspicion that the shields are later additions.
Riggisberg (near Berne, Switzerland). Abegg-Stiftung.
Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 63 x 54.
This well-preserved panel was probably originally part of a small diptych or altarpiece, but nothing is certainly known of its history before 1931, when it was published as a work of Fra Angelico in Lionello Venturi’s catalogue of the collection of Marczell von Nemes at Munich. It has sometimes been called a studio work (eg. by Pope-Hennessy in his 1974 monograph). However, following a persuasive analysis by Miklós Boskovits (published in a 1976 pamphlet entitled Un ‘Adorazione dei Magi’ e Gli Inizi dell’Angelico), it has been generally accepted as an autograph youthful work.
Rome. Galleria Nazionale (Palazzo Corsini).
Centre panel (55 x 38): Last Judgment, closely related in composition to the version in Berlin. Wings (56 x 18): the Ascension and Pentecost. Probably a late work of the middle or late 1440s, executed with studio assistance. The central panel and wings are unlikely originally to have belonged together: they are described separately when first recorded, in 1750, in the collection of Cardinal Neri Maria Corsini; the apostles in the Ascension and Pentecost are unlike those in the Last Judgement; and all three panels appear to have been cut down both at the top and sides. The figure of St Sixtus, seated to the right of Christ, has been identified as a portrait of Pope Eugenius IV. Restored for the 2009 Fra Angelico exhibition at the Musei Capitolini.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
Stigmatisation of St Francis. Wood, 28 x 33.
From a predella showing scenes from the life of St Francis. Three other scenes are at Berlin and another at Altenburg. The predella probably belonged to the triptych painted around 1429 for the chapel of the Compagnia di San Francesco in the church of Santa Croce in Florence.
*Legends of St Nicholas of Bari. Two predella panels, each 33 x 63.
The two panels belonged to the predella of the altarpiece painted for the Guidalotti Chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas, in the church of San Domenico at Perugia. The other parts of the altarpiece, including a single predella panel, are in the gallery at Perugia. The two predella panels were despatched to Rome in Napoleonic times and retained for the new Vatican Pinacoteca. One panel, originally on the left of the predella, illustrates three episodes from the saint’s early life: he demonstrates his extraordinary precocity by standing upright in his washbasin just after his birth; he listens to a bishop’s sermon; and he gives bags of gold as dowries to three poor girls in order to save them from prostitution. The other panel, from the centre of the predella, shows two posthumous miracles of the saint: he persuades sailors shipping produce to Rome for a ration of one hundred measures of grain to relieve starvation during a famine and he appears in a vision to rescue a ship during a storm.
Madonna, Angels and Saints. Wood, 23 x 18.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned, with nine angels at the sides and St Dominic (holding a lily and book) and St Catherine of Alexandria (crowned and holding a martyr's palm) kneeling in front. The Virgin holds a white rose. The poses of the Virgin and Child are very similar to those in the Madonna at Amsterdam. The small, refined Vatican panel is usually attributed to Angelico, although Pope-Hennessy (1952 and 1974) gave it to Zanobi Strozzi. Datings range from the mid-1430s to late 1440s. First recorded in the collection of Count Bisenzio at Rome; later in the Dudley House collection; bought by Pope Pius IX in 1877.
Rome. Vatican. Chapel of Nicholas V.
This small room (22 feet high by 13 wide), converted from a small fortified tower, was chosen by Pope Nicholas V for his private chapel. It was decorated by Fra Angelico in about 1447-49 with cycles illustrating the Lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence. The Pope had a special interest in the two deacon-saints, whose relics were allegedly preserved in the early Roman basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. In the three lunettes are six scenes from the Life of St Stephen: Ordination and Giving Alms to the Poor; the Saint Preaching and Addressing the Council of Jerusalem; and the Expulsion from the City and Stoning. Below are five scenes from the Life of St Lawrence: Ordination (the Pope a portrait of Nicholas V), the Saint receives Treasure from Sixtus II to Distribute to the Poor (also with a portrait of Nicholas V); the Saint giving Alms; the Saint before the Emperor Decius; and Martyrdom (partly destroyed by a sixteenth-century window). The four Evangelists are represented on the ceiling enthroned in a starry blue sky, with four full-length figures of saints (Augustine, Ambrose, Leo and Gregory the Great) on the narrow inner faces of the arches standing in fictive Gothic niches and four more (Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, John Chrysostom and Athanasius) similarly represented on the pilasters. Angelico appears to have entrusted some of the execution to his experienced collaborator Benozzo Gozzoli (who is recorded in Angelico’s workshop at this time, together with Angelico’s nephew Giovanni di Antonio and three other assistants). The contribution of Gozzoli and the other assistants was probably concentrated mainly in the upper (and less visible) parts. The existence of several drawings by Gozzoli (including two for the ceiling Evangelists) suggest that he may have contributed to the design as well as the execution of some figures. The altarpiece, a Deposition, was replaced by a picture by Vasari and lost centuries ago. The frescoes were damaged by fire and vandalism during the Sack of Rome (1527) and have suffered from cracking caused by movement in the walls. They have been restored many times – first at the end of the sixteenth century and again in 1712, 1815 and 1947-51. A major modern restoration was completed in 1997.
Rome. Palazzo di Venezia.
Head of Christ. Fresco, 37 x 30.
The fragment may come from the Chapel of the Sacrament in the Vatican Palace, which was decorated by Fra Angelico in 1446-47 with scenes from the Life of Christ. The chapel was destroyed in the early sixteenth century to make an antechamber for the Sistine Chapel. The fragment, with the head of the young Christ, is usually ascribed to Benozzo Gozzoli. From the monastery of Santa Chiara in Piperno (now called Priverno), where it was discovered early in the twentieth century.
Rome. Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
Madonna and Child. Canvas, 254 x 130.
Angelico painted the high altarpiece and another altarpiece of the Annunciation for the church, and frescoed the cloister with scenes from the Life of Christ. All these works are lost. He died in the adjoining Dominican monastery, and his tomb slab (now protected by a bronze fence of 1975) is in the north transept. The picture is described in a seventeenth-century source as a work of Angelico of 1449. However, the attribution has often been doubted, with some critics seeing the hand of Benozzo Gozzoli. Painted on canvas, it may have been a processional standard. The paint surface has suffered considerable damage, with some losses.
Rotterdam. Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum.
Virgin and Child enthroned with Two Angels. Wood, 104 x 54.
This tabernacle is said to have been sold by the Mayor of Fucecchio (a small town west of Florence) in about 1918. It was acquired by Van Beuningen in 1932. It was once ascribed to the Marchigian painter Arcangelo di Cola da Camerino (eg. by Berenson), and later described as the work of an anonymous Florentine (eg. by Pope-Hennessy in his 1974 monograph). But an attribution to the young Fra Angelico, first suggested by Roberto Longhi as long ago as 1928, has gained increasing acceptance. It may date from around 1420. The panel was badly restored, probably in the nineteenth century, and the Virgin’s blue mantle and the red and green silk robe of the angel on the right were previously covered in thick dark repaint. Cleaning for the 2005-6 Fra Angelico exhibition in New York has revealed its unexpected quality. The moulding of acanthus leaves is not original.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
*Small Tabernacle: Christ Blessing and Angels. Wood, 94 x 40.
As first suggested by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, this is the ciborium of the Holy Sacrament described by Vasari in San Domenico di Fiesole. It apparently stood in front of the predella of the high altarpiece (the predella now in the National Gallery, London). It has been suggested that the Angels in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin, and Two Kneeling Angels in the Louvre could have formed parts of the shutters. The tabernacle was once in the Valentini collection at Rome and later with Stefano Bardini of Florence. It was given to the Hermitage in 1911 by the heirs of Count Stroganoff.
Madonna with Saints Dominic and Thomas Aquinas. Fresco, 196 x 187.
From the Dormitorio of San Domenico di Fiesole, on the wall at the head of the stairway. Detached in 1879, when the convent was closed, and acquired by the Florentine painters Alessandro Mazzonti and Cosimo Conti, who sold it in 1882 to the Grand Duke Serge of Russia. The fresco may date from the late 1420s or early 1430s. It is extensively repainted.
Madonna with Four Angels. Wood, 80 x 51.
The Madonna sits on a cushion on a richly embroidered carpet; two musician angels kneel in the lower corners and two praying angels hover at the sides. Previously ascribed to Gentile da Fabriano and to the minor Marchigian painter Arcangelo di Cola da Camerino, it was attributed to Fra Angelico by Roberto Longhi in 1928. The attribution was rejected by Pope-Hennessy (1952 and 1974), but the panel is now usually accepted as one of the artist’s earliest and most Gothic paintings (datings range from about 1415 to the mid-1420s). Transferred to the Hermitage from the Stroganov Palace in 1922.
San Diego. Museum of Art.
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints. Wood, 43 x 22.
The saints are Anthony Abbot (a venerable monk with tau-shaped staff), John the Baptist (gesturing towards the Christ Child), Paul (with sword) and Peter (with key). In the pinnacle, the dead Christ in the tomb is flanked by the grieving Virgin and St John the Evangelist. Little is known of the history of this small, gold-ground panel, which was donated to the museum in 1946 by the sisters Anne and Amy Putnam. It was formerly ascribed to Lorenzo Monaco. An attribution to Fra Angelico – as a juvenile work of the early 1410s – was published only in 2005 (by Laurence Kanter in the catalogue of the major Fra Angelico exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York). The attribution is speculative; but it has been adopted by the museum, and the panel was included in the exhibition, Fra Angelico and the Rise of the Florentine Renaissance, held at Madrid in 2019.
San Francisco. Young Memorial Museum.
Meeting of St Francis and St Dominic. Wood, 26 x 27.
First recorded in 1843 in the collection of Artaud de Montor, Paris, as by Baldovinetti. From the same predella as the Naming of the Baptist in the San Marco Museum, the St James freeing Hermogenes in Fort Worth, and the Burial of the Virgin in Philadelphia. A fifth panel, representing the Appearance of St Agatha to St Lucy, is in an American private collection. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress from Contini Bonacossi in 1934.
San Giovanni Valdarno. Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Annunciation. Wood, 157 x 163.
An altarpiece of two arched panels, framed together. The Prophet Isaiah looks down on the Virgin from a central roundel. The floor and walls of her chamber are covered with variegated marble. Through the arches on the left are glimpsed her fenced garden (symbolising her virginity) and, in the top left corner, the tiny figures of Adam and Eve being expelled by the angel from Paradise. The predella contains other scenes from the Virgin's life (Marriage; Visitation; Adoration of Magi; Presentation in the Temple; and Dormition). The altarpice is from the convent of San Francesco at Montecarlo, near San Giovanni Valdarno. It is another version of the famous picture at Cortona. Before its restoration in 1984, it was usually considered the work of assistants such as Zanobi Strozzi, but (apart from the predella) it has recently been attributed largely to Angelico himself. Paul Joannides (Arte Cristiana (1989)) has argued that it is the Annunciation commissioned from Angelico for the church of Sant’Alessandro in Brescia, for which he was paid nine ducats in 1432 but which was never delivered for some reason. It was left unfinished, so the theory goes, and completed for San Francesco in the 1440s. The frame is modern and the predella (with scenes similar to those at Cortona) is not quite complete. During the War, the art historian and secret agent Rodolfo Siviero prevented the picture being looted by Hermann Goering by hiding it with the friars at San Francesco in Piazza Savonarola, Florence.
St Dominic and His Companions Fed by Angels. Wood, 35 x 48.
When St Dominic and his forty friars at San Sisto in Rome were short of food, two angels appeared in the refectory with aprons full of bread. The subject also occurs in the predella to Fra Angelico’s Coronation of the Virgin in the Louvre. The Stuttgart panel is ruined – the lower quarter of the paint surface is completely gone and the rest is extremely abraded. It almost certainly belonged to the same predella as another damaged panel, showing two other episodes from St Dominic’s life, at Yale (New Haven).
Turin. Pinacoteca Sabauda.
*Madonna of Humility. Wood, 100 x 60.
Curtains of gold brocade are tied back to reveal the Virgin seated on a sumptuous red cushion. The scroll held by the Child gives two quotations from John's Gospel: 'I am the light of the world' (8: 12) and 'I am the true vine' (15: 1). The background architecture – a semi-circular niche (exedra) with fluted columns of pietra serena – is in the new Renaissance style of Brunelleschi. The top of the panel, now arched, has been cut down. The attribution to Angelico was commonly doubted before the panel was cleaned in 1951, but is now generally accepted. Probably a late work, painted in Rome in the 1440s. Once in the collection of Prince Michele Demetrio Boutourlin at Florence and later that of Barone Ettore di Garriod; acquired by the gallery in 1852. A copy, attributed to Andrea di Giusto, in the Berenson Collection at Villa I Tatti is (falsely?) dated 1435 on the frame.
Two Angels. Two panels, each 25 x 13.
Fragments from a dismantled triptych or polyptych; Salmi (1958) suggested that they could have belonged to the shutters of the small tabernacle made for San Domenico di Fiesole and now in St Petersburg. However, Kanter (2005) thinks that they may rather have formed part of the central pinnacle of a large altarpiece – which also included the Redeemer Blessing in the British Royal Collection as another fragment of the central pinnacle, the Pontassieve Madonna in the Uffizi as the main panel, the two panels of the Annunciation in Detroit as fragments of the side pinnacles, and predella panels in the San Marco Museum, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Fort Worth.
Venice. Fondazione Cini.
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Wood, 39 x 14.
The Dominican saint, standing on a purple cloud, holds a quill pen and open book. One of eight known pilaster saints from the San Marco Altarpiece. Others are at Altenburg, Florence (San Marco Museum), Chicago and Minneapolis. In the Cini collection since the 1950s.
Christ on the Cross. Paper, 29 x 19.
This highly finished drawing is executed in brown ink and yellow wash, with vivid red paint used to represent the blood flowing from the wounds in Christ's hands, side and feet. The drawing is closely related to the various frescoes of the Crucifixion painted by Fra Angelico (and his assistants) in San Marco, and is even more closely related to a small Crucifixion on the pinnacle of the triptych at Cortona. The Albertina has catalogued the drawing as a work of Fra Angelico since 1892. The attribution has not always been accepted. It was rejected in both the 1903 and 1938 editions of Bernard Berenson's influential Drawings of the Florentine Painters. It was also rejected in the 1952 and 1974 editions of Pope-Hennessy's monograph on Fra Angelico. However, more recent opinion has favoured the attribution, and the drawing was included in the major Fra Angelico exhibition held in 2005-6 at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Washington. National Gallery of Art.
*Predella panel. Wood, 37 x 48.
On the left Palladia is miraculously cured by Cosmas and Damian, and on the right she gives Damian a gift in the name of Christ. The first of eight scenes from the Legend of Cosmas and Damian illustrated in panels from the predella to the San Marco Altarpiece; other panels from the predella are in Munich (the second, third and fifth in the sequence of scenes), Dublin (fourth), the Louvre (sixth) and the San Marco Museum (seventh and eighth). The Washington panel is specifically recorded for the first time in 1841, when it was in the collection of the Comte de Pourtalè-Gorgier in Paris. It had reached America by 1924, when it was in the collection of Albert Keller, President of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Corporation. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1944 from Duveen.
Entombment. Wood, 89 x 55.
In poor condition: abraded, retouched and discoloured. The general composition is similar to that of the small Lamentation painted by Fra Angelico in the early 1450s for the Annunziata Silver Chest (San Marco Museum). Possibly the painting of the ‘Dead Christ with many saints who are carrying Him to the tomb’ attributed to Fra Angelico in a Medici inventory of 1492. Sometimes ascribed to Angelico himself, sometimes to a follower, and sometimes considered to have been started by Angelico and finished by another artist (eg Pesellino, Filippo Lippi or Jacopo del Sellaio). In the 2003 catalogue of early Italian paintings at Washington, it is classed as ‘attributed to Fra Angelico’ and dated about 1450. In the early twentieth century, the painting was in Florence with the dealers Stefano Bardini and Luigi Grassi. Acquired by Duveen in 1923 and shipped to New York, where it was bought by the banker Henry Goldman. After Goldman's death in 1937, it was acquired by Kress, who gifted it to the National Gallery in 1939.
Madonna with Two Angels. Wood, 63 x 47.
Very damaged and repainted (especially the Christ Child and the heads of the Virgin and the angel on the right), and cut down at the top (which was probably originally arched and where there may have been a third angel holding up the cloth of honour). This is the only Madonna attributed to Angelico (or his studio) in which the Virgin contemplates the Child lying across her lap. The attribution has been disputed. (Listed as autograph by Berenson (1963), but ascribed by Pope-Hennessy (1974) to Zanobi Strozzi and catalogued by Shapley (1979) as a studio work.) However, Miklós Boskovits (in an entry in the 2003 catalogue of the early Italian paintings at Washington) ascribes the apparent weakness in drawing and modelling to the panel’s repainted condition, and accepts it as an authentic work of about 1430. Acquired by the German entrepreneur and art collector Edward Steinkopff in Italy in the late nineteenth century, and inherited by his daughter, Lady Seaforth of Brahan Castle in Scotland. Sold in the mid-1930s and shipped in 1936 to New York, where it was acquired by Andrew Mellon.
*Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 137 in dia.
This splendid tondo has a complicated attributional history. In the mid-seventeenth century (and probably much earlier), it was ascribed to Fra Angelico. During the nineteenth century, it was sold with attributions to Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi and Filippino Lippi. From the late nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century, it was normally regarded as an early work of Filippo Lippi, painted under Fra Angelico’s influence. Since its acquisition by the Washington gallery in 1952, it has been catalogued as a joint work of Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi. The Madonna’s face and the line of small figures on the steep path beside the walls of Bethlehem (upper right) are the parts most clearly in Fra Angelico’s style, while the foreground figures are recognisably in Lippi’s manner. These stylistic variations are not easy to explain, since it is not plausible to suppose that two such celebrated artists should have collaborated on the same panel painting. The most popular theory (originally published by Bernard Berenson in an essay of 1932 in the Bollettino d’Arte) is that the picture was begun in Fra Angelico’s workshop, left unfinished for some reason and completed later by Lippi. Alternative theories are: that it was started by Lippi and completed in Fra Angelico’s workshop (Ruda); that it was started and substantially completed by Angelico but later altered or ‘modernised’ by Lippi (Kanter); and that it was entirely painted in Angelico’s workshop with the perceived stylistic variations being attributable to the use of assistants (Beck). Some critics have suspected the involvement of Benozzo Gozzoli. A tondo of this subject is listed as a work of Fra Angelico in an inventory of the Palazzo Medici drawn up after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492. What is certainly the Washington tondo is recorded by 1643 in the possession of the Guicciardini family of Florence, whose entire collection was acquired in 1810 by François-Honoré Dubois, commissioner of police in Napoleonic Florence. By 1826 it had reached England, and in 1874 was acquired by the wealthy textile merchant Sir Francis Cook for his great collection at Doughty House in Richmond. It was one of twenty-five important pictures from the Cook collection sent to America for safekeeping in 1941. Bought by the Kress Foundation in 1947 (on the recommendation of Bernard Berenson) for ‘a very substantial sum’ on the eve of its scheduled return to England.
Zagreb. Strossmayer Gallery.
St Francis receiving the Stigmata and Death of St Peter Martyr. Wood, 24 x 44.
Left: St Francis, praying in front of his chapel at La Verna, is given the five wounds (stigmata) on his hands, feet and side by a seraph taking the form of the crucified Christ. Right: the Dominican inquisitor Peter of Verona, dying from the wounds inflicted by the Cathar assassin Carino of Balsamo, writes on the ground with a finger dipped in his own blood the words Credo in Unum Deum (from the Nicene Creed). Three crowns descend from heaven – the white one (now invisible) represents the saint's virginity, the red one his martyrdom and the gold one his preaching. This curious panel is presumably from a predella. Only Pope-Hennessy (who accepts comparatively few works as fully autograph) denies the attribution. It has recently been dated around 1436-37. Bought by Bishop Strossmayer from Filippo Angeli in Florence in 1873 for 6,600 francs.
Miracle of the Deacon Justinian. Wood, 20 x 22.
The doctor saints Cosmas and Damian replace the deacon’s diseased leg with a healthy one taken from an Ethiopian’s corpse. From the predella of the Annalena Altarpiece. The main panel and six other predella panels (all showing scenes from the Legend of SS. Cosmas and Damian) are in the San Marco Museum. Formerly in the Spencer-Churchill collection at Northwick Park. It had become separated from the rest of the altarpiece by 1840, when it was sold in London with the Duke of Lucca’s collection. Sometimes ascribed to Zanobi Strozzi.