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Entries in Florentine Art (8)


Christmas…and Art!

Fra Angelico - Archangel Gabriel Annunciate - 1431-33 - Tempera and gold on panel, 31 x 26 cm - Institute of Arts, Detroit (click photo for larger image)Fra Angelico - Virgin Mary Annunciate - 1431-33 - Tempera and gold on panel, 31 x 26 cm - Institute of Arts, Detroit (click photo for larger image)Throughout December What About Art? will be featuring works centered on the Christmas story—painted by the greatest masters in the history of art. Our first focus will be on the Annunciation, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of her conception of Christ.

Florentine painter Fra Angelico (ca. 1400-1455) was a Dominican friar, originally named Guido di Pietro. Although in popular tradition he has been seen as “not an artist properly so-called but an inspired saint” (Ruskin), Angelico was in fact a highly professional artist, who was in touch with the most advanced developments in contemporary Florentine art. In later life he travelled extensively for prestigious commissions.

Fra Angelico combined the influence of the elegantly decorative International Gothic style with the more realistic style of such early Renaissance masters as the painter Masaccio and the sculptors Donatello and Ghiberti, all of whom worked in Florence. Fra Angelico's representation of devout facial expressions and his use of color to heighten emotion are particularly effective. You can read more about him on this site.

Two panels at the Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan represent the Annunciation at the moment when the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin. She responds in a gesture of humble acceptance, crossing her arms over her chest. In her right hand she holds a small red bound book. She has marked the place by her finger.

The original provenance and function of these two panels is uncertain. Though they are clearly fragments, it has never been ascertained whether they had been cut out of a larger composition, were the subsidiary part of an altarpiece, or constituted the wings of a diptych.

On another note, What About Art? wish a Happy Hanukkah to all of you celebrating this week!


Sandro Botticelli: An Outstanding Genius of Western Art

Sandro Botticelli - Agony in the Garden - c. 1500 - Tempera on panel, 53 x 35 cm - Museo de la Capilla Real, Granada (click photo for larger image)Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was one of the greatest lyrical painters of the Florentine Renaissance. It is to the pure visual poetry of his outcomes that he owes his fame. Botticelli’s manipulations of the visual facts for artistic purposes were as deliberate and creative in his day as Picasso’s were, in the 20 century. 

This is the only one of Botticelli's paintings known to have been exported from Italy during the artist's lifetime. It is recorded as being in the possession of Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castille, in 1504. It was probably brought to the court of Castille by a merchant, accompanied by various other luxury goods.


Paolo Uccello: A Reconciler of Two Distinct Styles

Paolo Uccello - Scenes from the Life of the Holy Hermits - 1460s - Tempera on canvas, 81 x 110 cm - Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence (click photo for larger image)Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) was a Florentine painter whose work attempted uniquely to reconcile two distinct artistic styles—the essentially decorative late Gothic and the new heroic style of the early Renaissance. He was one of the first painters to complete a work in precise linear perspective (rather than intuited perspective).

The subject of this painting is rather unusual. In a rocky landscape with forests and caves populated by animals and monks engaged in a variety of activities, we recognize St Benedict in a pulpit, St Bernard and his vision, St Jerome in penance, and St Francis receiving the stigmata. Such a composition does not adhere to any standardized iconography but appears to be a celebration of monasticism in general. The painting can be defined as a Thebaid, i.e. a depiction of the lives of the holy hermits of the first centuries of the Christian era, who retreated as hermits into the Egyptian desert around Thebes. However, Uccello's painting shows the saints and monks belonging to the religious orders common in Florence.


Fra Filippo Lippi: a Reluctant Friar—a Brilliant Painter

Fra Filippo Lippi - Adoration of the Child with Saints - c. 1463 - Tempera on wood, 140 x 130 cm - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (click photo for larger image)Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) was a Florentine painter in the second generation of Renaissance artists. While exhibiting the strong influence of Masaccio and Fra Angelico, his work achieved a distinctive clarity of expression. Later critics have recognized in Lippi a “narrative” spirit that reflected the life of his time and translated into everyday terms the ideals of the early Renaissance.

From the mid-1450s through the mid-1460s, Filippo Lippi evolved a new presentation of the Virgin and Child that became popular in the second half of the Quattrocento in Florence. The composition and iconography were grounded in two traditions: St Bridget of Sweden's account of her vision of the Virgin adoring the Christ Child lying upon the ground, and early Renaissance Tuscan depictions of the Nativity. Fra Filippo transformed the subject into a distinct devotional image set within an elaborated forested landscape with a rich imagery of sylvan flora, geological features, and atmosphere, which functioned as visual metaphors for the Incarnation, penitence, and eremitical religious devotion.


Fra Angelico: an Inspired Artist-Saint

Fra Angelico - Adoration of the Magi - 1423-24 - Tempera and gold on panel, 63x54 cm - Abegg-Stiftung, Bern (click photo for larger image)Fra Angelico (1400-1455) was one of the greatest 15th-century painters, whose works within the framework of the early Renaissance style embody a serene religious attitude and reflect a strong Classical influence. Fra Angelico exerted a significant influence in Florence, especially between 1440 and 1450, even on such an accomplished master as Fra Filippo Lippi. 

The austerity of this particular painting seems a reinterpretation of Gentile da Fabriano’s magnificent ‘Adoration’ altarpiece. Fra Angelico’s work focuses on the solemnity of Epiphany rather than the splendor of the Magi's entourage or the richness of their garments. The elegance of this work lies in its simplicity.