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Mary Magdalene and Jesus by Fra Angelico (Louvre Museum)

Mary Magdalene and Jesus by Fra Angelico (Louvre Museum)

Fra Angelico was born about 1395 AD in a small town in northern Italy. Like his older brother, he learned to paint when he was growing up. When he was about 20 years old he became a Christian Dominican monk (like Thomas Aquinas before him). But Fra Angelico kept on painting frescos. We call him “Fra” because that is short for “Frater”, the Latin word for “brother”, which is what monks called each other.

Fra Angelico was born about fifty years after Giotto died. He continued Giotto’s project of placing Christian religious people like Jesus and Mary into realistic scenery and clothing. As a Dominican, Fra Angelico had taken vows of poverty, and his paintings show Jesus and the disciples as ordinary, poor people, without the gold backgrounds and rich jewels of Cimabue‘s generation. Fra Angelico’s disciples sit on the ground and talk.

In 1436 AD, Fra Angelico moved to a new friary in Florence, where he met many other artists and saw the work of Giotto‘s student Masaccio. In Florence, Fra Angelico began working to improve his use of perspective – making his fresco paintings look more three-dimensional. Fra Angelico paintings also used clear, cheerful pastel colors that stand out from the darker colors most medieval painters used.

Fra Angelico was famous and successful as a painter all through his life, and painted many pictures not only in Florence but also for the Popes in Rome. He died in Rome in 1455, when he was about sixty years old. Michelangelo was born twenty years later.

Learn by doing: try to draw with perspective
More about medieval Florence

Bibliography and further reading about medieval art:


The cathedral of Florence
The baptistery of Florence
More about Florence
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