SAINTS

FEB. 18: BLESSED JOHN OF FIESOLE / FRA ANGELICO

(1367-1455)

Today’s saint is considered to be the patron of Christian artists.

John was born in Fiesole, the hilltop town overlooking the great Renaissance city of Florence. While he was still a youth, he was attracted to the religious life, and received into the Order of Friars Preachers (called the Observance), which had been established in the convent at Fiesole. 

He diligently took up all of the duties imposed by the brethren or superiors. The fame of his outstanding artwork, particularly his painting, spread far and wide. Therefore, commissions for his work became more frequent and urgent.

Pope Eugenius IV called John to Rome. While he was painting in the Basilica of St. Peter’s and the Vatican palace, the pope took many opportunities not only to admire the virtue of this outstanding artist, but even more than that, the piety of this religious, his observance of the Rule, his humility, and his memorable spirit that made many people his own.

Nicholas V had an exceptional opinion about brother John. For “he honored and reverenced this man alone, because of the integrity of his life and the excellence of his morals.” Therefore, he commissioned him to decorate his private chapel. When brother John had finished it, it almost seemed a prayer expressed with painted color.

The first great art historian, Vasari, remarked on John, also now known as Fra Angelico, for the beauty and reverence with which he created. Vasari noted that graceful and heavenly character which one can see even in his sacred paintings. Fra Angelico did not paint on any other subjects and were the products of that greatest harmony between his holy life and his creative virtue.

Brother John/Fra Angelico, therefore, by placing his rare natural gifts at the service of art, stands to acquire and to confer on the people of God an immense spiritual and pastoral benefit, by which they might travel more easily to God. According to the Second Vatican Council, this is particularly fitting for sacred art, as we read in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: “Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest expressions of human genius. This judgment applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art.

By their very nature the latter are related to God’s boundless beauty, for this is the reality that these human efforts are trying to express in some way.

To the extent that these works aim exclusively at turning our thoughts to God persuasively and devoutly, they are dedicated to God and to the cause of His greater honor and glory.”

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: Nuns, D. (2019, Feb. 18). Blessed John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico). Dominican Nuns. https://www.marburydominicannuns.org/blessed-john-of-fiesole-fra-angelico/