Beato Angelico, an artist of his day, a mystic out of time

A conference was held yesterday at the Biblioteca del Complesso di San Marco in Florence, curated by Mgr. Timothy Verdon, entitled Angelico inedito, artista del suo tempo, mistico fuori tempo (Angelico unpublished, an artist of his time, a mystic out of time). The American scholar, author of numerous publications on the history of sacred art, exhibited some unpublished observations of Fra ‘Giovanni da Fiesole’s work, universally known as Fra Angelico.

The unpublished Beato Angelico presented by Timothy Verdon resumed observations already treated by him in an important monograph dedicated to the Dominican painter, published in 2015 for 24 ore cultura.

The stylistic traits that earned Fra ‘Giovanni the name of “angelic” such as refinement and diaphanous luminosity, meant that in the tradition of studies his work was read only as a’ dialogue ‘between the Lorenzo Monaco’s legacy and the masaccesque novelties. But Angelico was much more: as Archbishop Verdon recalled, the use of anachronisms such as the use of the gold background was not simply a late Gothic heritage for the artist but an expression of theological messages referred to the concept of light which the painter of San Marco proved to be a profound connoisseur.

Not just “angelico”

Other characters of Angelico’s art highlighted by Verdon demonstrate the concrete interest that the painter had for the artistic and cultural context of early fifteenth century in Florence, where he – an aspect that has not pointed out yet by the tradition of studies – paid attention both to sculpture, with Donatello in particular, and both in architecture, especially the Brunelleschian one that in that period was reviving a classic vocabulary that we find with precise references in the Angelico’s paintings .

If these figures are already enough to surprise the most passionate observer of Dominican friar’s  painting, we are surprised to agree with Verdon that Beato Angelico was even one of the most ‘dramatic’ painters of his day. If we carefully observe the quotes in his paintings, we can find references to his most dramatic contemporary sculptor – Donatello – or even references to sacred representations that periodically took place in contemporary Florence, not to mention the attention paid by Angelic in reproducing even the crudest details, such as the blood of the martyrs mixed with the earth in the Martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian, a painting now preserved in the Louvre.

In the end, it can be said that the aspects highlighted by Msgr. Verdon in the conference in San Marco suggest new interpretative ideas that will help to read in an unprecedented way the work of one of the greatest artistic Renaissance personalities in Florence as Beato Angelico.