Fra Giovanni da Fiesole (Fra Angelico), a Dominican friar, was perhaps the most important painter of Renaissance Florence. He was born Guido di Pietro in Mugello, in 1400, and began the significant part of his career at the Dominican monastery at Fiesole.
While his early panels of triptych altarpieces are indebted to traditional Sienese practice, he was already highly aware of the innovations of Florentine art. His “Annunciation” of about 1432-not to be confused with the later fresco-shows the development of an individual style, mixing an assertively Florentine sense of perspective with graceful proportion and restraint.
Living largely in a state of withdrawal from the world, Angelico presided over a busy workshop in the Dominican Observant house at Fiesole. His worldly fame and reputation meanwhile grew rapidly, partly because-in contrast perhaps to his devotional modesty-his works were strenuously adventurous and advanced, with daring degrees of compositional freedom.
In the late 1430’s, after the shop had moved to the S. Marco monastery in Florence, Angelico made great strides in the use of color, form, and perspective. Instead of showing saints, angels, and a Madonna on separate panels, the central panel of a 1438 altarpiece-commissioned by Cosimo del Medici-surrounds the Madonna with angels and saints, an approach that entered the vocabulary of Renaissance composition as “sacra conversazione”.
In works of the early 1440’s, a realistic and exciting sense of panoramic space pervades Angelico’s pictures, as do delicate and subtle uses of color to express distance and variation in light. His best known and perhaps most thoroughly timeless work is from the series of frescoes he painted in S. Marco monastery, mainly in the early 1440’s.
Some of those frescoes-the “Annunciation”, for example-were painted in the public spaces, as aids to group devotion; others were painted in private cells. In 1447, having been called to Rome, Angelico and his workshop assistants made a richer and even more ambitious set of frescoes for walls and ceilings in the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V. Having served as Prior of S. Domenico in Fiesole, Angelico returned to Rome, where he died in 1455.