Brother John

Brad Miner | February 17, 2020

Tomorrow is the 565th anniversary of the death of the Early Renaissance artist Fra Angelico*.

He was born (c. 1395) Guido di Pietro and grew up in the Rupecanina neighborhood of Vicchio, a town within the Republic of Florence. We don’t know who taught him (or his brother, Benedetto) the craft of painting and manuscript illumination (Benedetto’s specialty). But Guido was already a well-established artist by the time he entered the Dominican monastery in nearby Fiesole sometime in the 1420s, at which point he took the religious name Fra Giovanni, i.e. Brother John.

Only after his death would he become, as the Martyrologium Romanum has it, “Blessed Giovanni of Fiesole, surnamed ‘the Angelic,’” thus Fra Angelico, angelic brother. Even to secular art historians, he is Pictor Angelicus, akin to that earlier Dominican, the Doctor Angelicus, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Note that “Blessed.” Brother Giovanni was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1982. His cause will not advance, of course, unless people offer prayers to him and his intercession results in miracles. But his piety was such that, even as he lived, he was known by the sobriquet, angelic. St. John Paul also declared Fra Angelico the patron of Catholic artists in 1984.

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