The Italian Almanac

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Italian Art - October 30

Renaissance genius and patron saint of artists Fra Angelico is set to wow New York with the first major American exhibition of his work. The Metropolitan Museum has combed 50 collections all over the world to serve up 75 works by the master and several more by his pupils. The show spotlights Angelico's pellucid, ethereal altar panels, his otherworldly Madonna and Childs and the intricate decorativeness of his smaller works.

"Fra Angelico's subtlety and technical sophistication are among the characteristics that distinguish him from other artists of the Italian Renaissance," said the Met's director, Philippe de Montebello. "The show illustrates the artist's fertile imagination and incomparable skill as well as the influence he exerted over the second half of the fifteenth century." As far as we know, Fra Angelico (1395-1455) only painted religious subjects during his long career. They achieve a rare equilibrium of form and purity of colour, conveying a sense of serene spirituality and graceful understatement.

Fra Angelico is credited with renewing devotional painting by combining the spatial solidity and realism of early Renaissance groundbreaker Masaccio with the stylised preciosity of earlier painters. He is famed above all for a fresco cycle of masterpieces in Florence's San Marco convent, including the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. He received commissions from monasteries all over Tuscany but also from as far away as Perugia and Rome.

Born Giovanni da Fiesole, Fra Angelico became a Dominican friar when he was already an acclaimed artist. People started calling him 'angelico' shortly after his death. He was beatified in 1984 by Pope John Paul II, who made him patron saint of artists.