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Press release

Fra Angelico, Leading Artist of Italian Renaissance, at Metropolitan Museum in First American Retrospective

Exhibition Dates: October 26, 2005 – January 29, 2006
Exhibition Location: The Robert Lehman Wing

The first American retrospective devoted to the work of the great Italian Renaissance artist known as Fra Angelico (1390/5-1455) – and the first comprehensive presentation of his work assembled anywhere in the world in half a century – will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on October 26. More than 50 public institutions and private collections in Europe and America will participate in the landmark exhibition, which commemorates the 550th anniversary of the artist's death. Fra Angelico will feature nearly 75 paintings, drawings, and manuscript illuminations from throughout his career, supplemented by 45 additional works by his assistants and closest followers. Highlights of the exhibition include recently discovered paintings and new attributions, paintings never before displayed publicly, and reconstructed groupings of works, some of them reunited for the first time.

The exhibition is made possible by the Homeland Foundation, Inc.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

"The subtlety and technical sophistication of Fra Angelico's mind and hand are among the characteristics that set him apart from other artists of the Italian Renaissance," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "The exhibition Fra Angelico illustrates the artist's endlessly fertile imagination and incomparable craftsmanship, as well as the reach and continuity of his influence into the second half of the 15th century."

Biography of the Artist
Born in the countryside north of Florence, Guido di Pietro was already an established artist when he joined the Dominican order sometime between 1419 and 1422, taking for himself the name Fra Giovanni. He received commissions for important altarpieces from his own monastery San Domenico in Fiesole, from other Dominican houses in Florence, Cortona, and Perugia, and from religious institutions as far away as Brescia in the north of Italy and Orvieto and Rome to the south. His prominence as an artist was challenged in Florence only by the brief and meteoric career of Masaccio (1401-1428), many of whose innovations Angelico anticipated in his own, still little-understood early works. By the time Masaccio left Florence for Rome in 1427, Angelico was indisputably the leading painter in Tuscany, a position he maintained for nearly 30 years, eclipsing the reputations of such gifted artists as Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469), Domenico Veneziano (about 1410-1461), and even the young Piero della Francesca (about 1406/12-1492).

Known for his pious treatment of religious subjects – which he portrayed with unprecedented psychological penetration and a compelling realism – Fra Giovanni was first called "pictor angelicus," the Angelic Painter, shortly after his death in 1455, a name that came to be rendered in English as Fra Angelico. In 1984, Fra Angelico was beatified – the first step in the process toward sainthood – by Pope John Paul II, who also decreed him the patron of artists.

Exhibition Overview
Much of Angelico's enduring popularity rests on his frescoes – especially those painted in the dormitory cells at the convent of San Marco in Florence – and on altarpieces too large to be safely transported. Instead, the exhibition will bring together a nearly complete selection of his works of smaller scale, presenting the entire range of the development of his genius over the full course of his career. Even in his most intimate creations – illuminated initials in liturgical manuscripts – Fra Angelico remained a monumental artist, conceiving narrative, drama, and human form with a grandeur that belied their physical format. His predella panels (the small painted scenes beneath large altarpieces) are among the most forward-looking and innovative works produced in 15th-century Florence, while his images of the Virgin and Child still retain their inspirational immediacy and presence, as well as their striking beauty.

The exhibition will be arranged chronologically and by attribution. The first decade of Fra Angelico's career, until about 1422, is explored in a group of 17 paintings and drawings, which range from two recently discovered panels that may be his first efforts as an independent artist to his high altarpiece commissioned for the newly founded convent of San Domenico in Fiesole. Thirty-four additional works on panel, paper, and parchment chronicle his rise to prominence in Florence over the next ten years and his development of a distinctive personal style that paved the way for many of the accomplishments of later Renaissance painters in Tuscany. Chief among these are the panels of a monumental tabernacle triptych now divided among museums in Munich, London, and Parma; the only two surviving independent drawings by Angelico's hand; and ten of the 11 known panels from a reconstructed altarpiece painted for the Da Filicaia family chapel in the church of Santa Croce. Finally, the survey of the artist's career concludes with 24 of the finest paintings from the period of his full maturity, including nine fragments from the high altarpiece painted about 1440 for the convent church of San Marco and his last known autograph work, a Crucifixion painted for the Spanish Cardinal, Juan de Torquemada, now in the Fogg Art Museum.

The second half of the exhibition is dedicated to five of Angelico's assistants and followers, each of whom will be introduced in the catalogue by a monographic essay and in the exhibition by a representative selection of works. Five paintings by Battista di Biagio Sanguigni, Angelico's first documented colleague, include two panels from the altarpiece dated 1419, which formerly served as the artist's name-piece (Master of 1419) and three other paintings not previously recognized as his. Zanobi Strozzi, who worked alongside Angelico intermittently for nearly 20 years, is represented by 22 paintings, drawings, and manuscript illuminations culled from every decade of his career. Some of these are new attributions as well; and several are executed in collaboration with other artists, including Fra Angelico himself. Two of the exceptionally rare works by the Master of the Sherman Predella are included, along with a curatorial conjecture for that artist's identification. Five paintings by Francesco Pesellino – perhaps the most influential artist active in Florence at mid-century – commemorate his stylistic debt to Angelico and his brief partnership with Zanobi Strozzi prior to his emergence as an independent master. Finally, the presence of Benozzo Gozzoli in Fra Angelico's shop will be investigated through collaborative works and a selection of paintings from his later career, illustrating the continuity of this tradition nearly to the end of the 15th century.

Catalogue and Related Programs
A fully illustrated catalogue, published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, will be available in the Museum's book shops ($65 hardcover; $45 softcover).

The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the Roswell L. Gilpatric Publications Fund.

A variety of educational programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition. These include a Sunday at the Met – a series of lectures by an international group of scholars – on December 4, a series of gallery talks for the general public, a workshop for teachers, and a workshop for visually disabled individuals (all free with Museum admission).

A special feature on the exhibition, as well as details of the accompanying programs, will be available on the Museum's website (

The exhibition is organized by Laurence B. Kanter, Curator in Charge of the Robert Lehman Collection. Exhibition Design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Sophia Geronimus, Senior Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Rich Lichte, Lighting Designers, all of the Museum's Design Department.

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