Fra Angelico and Purity of Vision

St Francis and a bishop; St John th Baptist and St Dominic. By Fra Angelico
St Francis and a Holy Bishop; St John the Baptist and St Dominic. By Fra Angelico

Today is the feast-day of Blessed John of Fiesole, otherwise known as Fra Angelico, Dominican friar and patron saint of artists. I usually think of him as the painter of Annunciations and Crucifixions, though my own particular favourite is his Noli Me Tangere at San Marco, Florence. Vasari wrote of him

It is impossible to bestow too much praise on this holy father, who was so humble and modest in all that he did and said and whose pictures were painted with such facility and piety.

I like too his epitaph, inscribed on his tomb at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome:

When singing my praise, don’t liken my talents to those of Apelles.
Say, rather, that, in the name of Christ, I gave all I had to the poor.
The deeds that count on earth are not the ones that count in heaven.
I, Giovanni, am the flower of Tuscany.

There I think we have the essence of the Christian artist, above all the religious artist: the pure gaze, directed at Christ, which enables the onlooker to share something of his vision . . . and perhaps will inspire us to share his charity also.

Note on the illustration
Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro, Fra Giovanni da Fiesole) (Italian, about 1395/1400 – 1455)
Saint Francis and a Bishop Saint, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Dominic, late 1420s, Tempera and gold leaf on panel. 
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Used under the Open Content Programme, with permission and with thanks.

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