PROVINCE OF THE ASSUMPTION
Saints, Blesseds and Servants of God
St Dominic's gift
who does Christ's work must stay with Christ always."
This is the motto eagerly repeated by Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, granted the epithet "Blessed Angelico" because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He was born in Vicchio, in the Mugello, towards the end of the 14th century and was baptized Guido or Guidolino. Of a sentiment oriented towards religious life, when still a youth he asked to be accepted among the preaching friars who lived in in the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole and who, because of their strict tenor of conduct, were called observants. He completed his novitiate in Cortona in 1408 and made religious profession in Fiesole with the name of "Fra Giovanni da Fiesole". When the convent was confiscated by the followers of the so-called "Pisan obedience", Fra Giovanni was sent to Foligno and later returned to Cortona.
Ordained priest, after 1418 he went back to Fiesole where he exercised the office of Vicar and Prior. Having moved into the convent of San Marco in Florence, then united with that of Fiesole, he was nominated economist. While he performed with utmost diligence the tasks entrusted to him by the Friars and Superiors, the fame of his distinguished art spread. For this reason also works of the brush were commissioned from him with a frequent pressing rhythm. Among his earliest works cannot be forgotten the Annunciation of Cortona, the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the convent of Fiesole; the Deposition of Christ executed for the Church of the Holy Trinity in Florence; paintings which, if we are to believe Vasari, seemed to come from the hand of a saint or an angel. In the convent of San Marco, in the years 1438-1445, Fra Giovanni lived with St Antoninus Pierozzi, Prior of the convent and later Archbishop of Florence. And with the brush he decorated the cells, the hall of the Chapter Room, the corridors, the colonnade, the church altarpiece. Pope Eugenius IV, having participated in 1443 in the opening of the church in the convent of San Marco, expressed great admiration of his art and in 1445 had him come to Rome to paint a chapel in the temple of St Peter, and another chapel in the Vatican Palace, the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. "This chapel", says an anonymous author, "was a true Paradise, with figures delineated with supreme grace and beauty".
While Fra Giovanni was working on his paintings in St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palace. Eugenius IV had a good chance to think very highly of the distinguished artist gifted with a marvellous talent and especially appreciate his piety, his observance of the rule, his humble attitude and selflessness. So, having to assign a new bishop to the Church of Florence, he proposed that noble office to this most pious friar who modestly declined it, believing that he was by no means capable enough. And for that office he suggested Fra Antoninus Pierozzi, whose virtue and doctrine made him in every way suitable to run the diocese.
Also Nicholas V, who succeeded Eugenius IV, a highly refined man and lover of humanistic culture, held Fra Giovanni in very high standing. Actually he "honoured and venerated so worthy a person because of the integrity of his life and the superiority of his virtuous ways". For this reason in 1447 Nicholas V encharged him with the execution of the frescoes in his private chapel which, however, he effected with depictions of the acts and facts of St Stephen and St Lawrence, in obedience to the pope with humanistic tendencies and tastes, but without betraying his own typical art, which can be defined an authentic prayer expressed in colours. Moreover, in 1449 he decorated the pope's small study.
He returned to Rome in 1454 and died on 18 February of the following year, in the convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, ending an existence that was praiseworthy because of his renowned art and further beautified by human and religious virtue. He was buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva itself. The marble bears his sculpted effigy and three engraved epitaphs or eulogies, two of which praise his merits. In them Fra Giovanni is called Venerable and is presented as a "true servant of God" - expressions which are not surprising, because according to the judgment of his contemporaries he was a "man characterized in every way by modesty and religious conduct". In him "meek-natured and upright in the profession of friar, blossomed also many virtues". He was, in brief, a "man of clear saintliness".
On the other hand Vasari, who in Florence had collected much information on his untainted life, was convinced that the grace and the celestial nature reflected in his sacred figures - actually he did not paint other subjects - are the fruit of supreme harmony between saintly life and creative force fulfilled in him. This is without doubt the only reason he was given the name "Angelico", a man certainly almost unique in art and beyond comparison with others. Rightly so, then, as he had known how to couple with art a serene and austere mystical practice nourished by solid virtue, contemplation of divine things and prayer. A source from which for his artistic expression he released that power of language that goes straight to the spirit, moving it to compassion and transforming his art into prayer.
“It is clear then that by placing the privileged gifts of his nature at the service of art Fra Giovanni offered and still offers an immense spiritual and pastoral aid to God's people, helping them on their way towards God. Sacred art is ordained to this end, according to the Vatican Council II in whose Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy we read: 'Amongst the noblest activities of human talent are listed with full rights the liberal arts, especially religious art and its highest form, sacred art. These by nature are related to the infinite divine beauty which must in some way be expressed by the works of man and are all the more oriented towards God and the increase of his praise and glory because no other end has been assigned to them but to contribute in the most efficient way to directing the mind of men towards God'.
“The truth is we have always had a soft spot for Fra Giovanni, an exceptional man because of his spirituality and art. We feel then that the moment has come to place him in a special light in the Church of God, to whom still today he does not cease to speak with his celestial art. Given the high opinion that some of our predecessors had of the saintliness of the life of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, known as "Blessed Angelico", an opinion which is moreover shared by others competent in religious problems and art ( as seen from the number of documents collected in the years 1960-1963 by the Historical Section of the Holy Congregation of Rites), after repeated requests from fathers, cardinals, bishops, the religious, chiefly of the Order of the Preaching Friars, and also of laymen, that the Holy See concede liturgical honors to Fra Giovanni da Fiesole.
"We, with sound knowledge, bearing in mind the considerable merits in the Church of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, eclusively for the good of souls, of Our own initiative and with Our apostolic authority, concede as a sign of special grace that his birthday, with the title of "Blessed" in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the Eucharist may be celebrated, with an obligatory degree of remembrance, in the basilica of S. Maria sopra Minerva, where his body is buried, and with a facultative degree of remembrance throughout the Order of Preaching Friars."
- Pope John Paul II
3 October, 1982