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Fra Angelico

Florence, Italy

A humble monk as well as a great painter, Fra Angelico frescoed exquisite sacred scenes for his monastery. It’s said for him painting was a form of prayer and he couldn’t paint a crucifix without crying.

Complete Video Script

[30, Fra Angelico, 1395–1455; frescoes in each monk's cell in San Marco Monastery, Florence] Masaccio influenced the early Renaissance artist Fra Angelico — a humble monk as well as a great painter. Using the fresco technique — where the plaster is put on the wall, then painted while still wet — he decorated the walls of his own monastery, giving each cell a meditation-enhancing scene.

[31] For Fra Angelico, painting was a form of prayer, and it's said he couldn't paint a crucifix without shedding tears. He fused medieval spirituality with groundbreaking Renaissance techniques to achieve a new level of realism…drama…and emotional impact.

[32, Deposition of Christ, 1434, Fra Angelico, San Marco Museum, Florence] His painting of the Deposition (Christ taken down from the cross) was no longer just a symbol of the crucifixion, but featured a real man mourned by both haloed saints and contemporary Florentines, amid a very real setting — one of the first great landscapes ever painted. And this holy scene is not in faraway Jerusalem but on a lawn in Tuscany…among real trees and everyday people…bringing the Bible lesson closer to home.

[33, Annunciation, c. 1450, Fra Angelico, San Marco Museum, Florence] This Fra Angelico scene of the Annunciation — the angel telling Mary she'll give birth to the Messiah — greeted monks at the top of the stairs as they headed to their cells. It's set in an everyday garden, beneath a shady arcade — with receding columns creating a sense of depth…bringing this heavenly scene down to earth.