The student brothers are on retreat the week of August 11-15. Rather than leave the blog dormant, we offer you reflections by and about various Dominican saints for your meditation. Regular blogging will resume on August 18. In the meantime, please remember us in your prayers and be assured of our prayers for you.
From an apostolic letter motu proprio of Pope Saint John Paul II on October 3, 1982
“Whoever does the work of Christ, ought always to stay close to Christ.” This was a motto constantly repeated by Brother John of Fiesole, who was called Beato Angelico because of the highest integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of his paintings, particularly those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
While he was still a youth, he was attracted to the religious life, and asked to be received into a stricter discipline in the Order of Friars Preachers (called the Observance), which had been established in the convent at Fiesole. He diligently took up all of the duties imposed by the brethren or superiors. It was the fame of his outstanding art work, particularly his painting, that spread far and wide. Therefore, commissions for his work became more frequent and urgent.
Pope Eugenius IV called him to Rome. While brother John was painting the Basilica of Saint Peter’s and the Vatican palace, Eugenius IV took the most opportunity not only to admire the virtue of this outstanding artist, but even more than that, the piety of this religious, his observance of the Rule, his humility, and his memorable spirit that made many people his own.
Nicholas V had an exceptional opinion about brother John. For “he honored and reverenced this man alone, because of the integrity of his life and the excellence of his morals.” Therefore, he commissioned him to decorate his private chapel. When brother John had finished it, it almost seemed a prayer expressed with painted color.
At Rome, in the convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, he closed his eyes in death after a life that produced famous art, but even more exemplified religious and benevolent virtues. For the opinion of all was that he was a “man of complete modesty and religious life.” Furthermore, “he also blossomed with many virtues. He was meek, and honorable for his religious genius.” Beyond these things, “he was a man distinguished for his sanctity.” Even more, Vasarius, who collected many stories about his unblemished life in the city of Florence, was persuaded of that graceful and heavenly character which one can see even in his sacred paintings. He did not paint on any other subjects and were the products of that greatest harmony between his holy life and his creative virtue.
Brother John, therefore, by placing his rare natural gifts at the service of art, stands both to acquire and to confer on the people of God an immense spiritual and pastoral benefit, by which they might travel more easily to God. According to the Second Vatican Council, this is particularly fitting for sacred art, as we read in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: “Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest expressions of human genius. This judgment applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. By their very nature both of the latter are related to God’s boundless beauty, for this is the reality that these human efforts are trying to express in some way. To the extent that these works aim exclusively at turning our thoughts to God persuasively and devoutly, they are dedicated to God and to the cause of His greater honor and glory.”
Truly, Brother John, a man altogether exceptional for his spiritual life and art, has always attracted our attention. We, therefore, believe that the time has come when he should be given the particular attention of the Church of God, although his heavenly art has not ceased speaking to us even now.
Image: Fra Angelico, Dormition of the Virgin