The Stoning of St Stephen | Art for A Easter 5

7:58-59 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The Stoning of St Stephen
ANGELICO, Fra
(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)
The Stoning of St Stephen
1447-49
Fresco, 326 x 236 cm
Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican
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King David Playing a Psaltery | Art for A Lent 4

1 Samuel 16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.

King David Playing a Psaltery
ANGELICO, Fra
(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)
King David Playing a Psaltery
c. 1430
Pen and brown ink and purple wash on vellum, 197 x 179 mm
British Museum, London
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Click here for artist biography.

Transfiguration | Art for A Epiphany Last

Matthew 17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Transfiguration
Transfiguration
ANGELICO, Fra
(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)
Transfiguration (Cell 6)
1440-42
Fresco, 181 x 152 cm
Convento di San Marco, Florence
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Click here for Frescoes in the upper floor cells
of the Convento di San Marco.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Transfiguration, Fresco, 1440-1442, Fra Angelico, c. 1400-1455

In 1407, Guido di Pietro joined the Dominican order in Fiesole, Italy (near Florence) and at his vows took the name Giovanni. Thus he was known as Friar Giovanni da Fiesole (brother John of Fiesole). Artist/historian, Giorgio Vasari, referred to him as Fra Angelico (Brother John the Angelic one); today, he is known simply as Fra Angelico. His life as an artist was devoted to the Church and at the monastery of San Marcos in Florence he painted the walls of the cells (prayer and meditation rooms) with scenes from the life of Christ. The “Transfiguration” shown here is in cell number six.

Mathew gives the following account of the Transfiguration: “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” (Matt. 17:1-3)

Christ, the central figure in Fra Angelico’s painting, is standing in a white robe with outstretched arms and is surrounded by a mandorla (a body halo). A traditional cruciform halo surrounds his head. Moses and Elijah are each presented here in bust form, not as full figures; Moses is on the left representing the law and Elijah is to the right representing the prophets. On the left side below Moses is the Virgin Mary with her arms folded across her chest. To the right, below Elijah, is Saint Dominic (in 1435 the Monastery of San Marcos was turned over to the Dominican order). He is standing with hands placed together in a position of prayer. Dominic’s mother reported seeing a star on his chest when he was born and in paintings, he can be identified by a star placed on or above his head. Mary and Dominic were not present at the Transfiguration but it is not unusual for artists to use creative license to include non-participating figures on the sidelines as observers of an important event. In the foreground are Peter, James, and John. They have just heard God’s voice say: “This is my son. Hear him” and “…they fell on their faces and were filled with awe.” (Matt. 17:5-6)

The actual site of the Transfiguration is not known; accounts in the Gospels do not name a specific mountain. Mt. Tabor is the traditional site but Jesus and the disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi prior to the Transfiguration and the closest mountain there is Mount Hermon. It is the highest mountain in Israel and it has been suggested this may have been the “high mountain” that is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Hovak Najarian © 2014

Easter, Art for Readings April 8,2012

Fra ANGELICO,
(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Noli Me Tangere (Cell 1)
1440-42
Fresco, 166 x 125 cm
Convento di San Marco, Florence
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.
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Noli Me Tangere, Fresco (1430), Fra Angelico (c.1387 – 1455)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Related post “Easter, April 8,2012′

In 1407, Guido di Pietro joined the Dominican order in Fiesole (near Florence, Italy) and at his vows took the name Giovanni. Thus, he was known as Friar Giovanni da Fiesole (Brother John of Fiesole). Vasari referred to him as Fra Giovanni Angelico (Brother John the Angelic one); now he is known simply as Fra Angelico. In Fra Angelico’s lifetime, Italy was in a state of transition. In the early part of the fifteenth century, medieval art was still a presence but Florence was at the heart of the Renaissance and Fra Angelico was aware fully of the trends toward humanism and the changes in art that were taking place.

In medieval art, figures are generally flat with little sense of individuality. They seem to exist in a mystic realm surrounded by gold leaf that shimmers as though reflecting heavenly light. Figures are not always anatomically correct in proportion and may be made larger or smaller according to a person’s status. During the Renaissance, the interest in humanism, an awareness of the world in which they lived, a better understanding of perspective, and the use of oil paints were factors that led artists toward the creation of paintings that were convincing effects of reality. Figures of a Modonna and Child no longer existed in another realm; they were given anatomically correct proportions and were presented as real people.

Fra Angelico’s life was devoted to the work of the church and one of his major undertakings was at the monastery at San Marcos in Florence where he and his assistants painted the cells (prayer and meditation rooms) with scenes from the life of Christ. Noli Me Tangere (“Don’t touch me”) is a fresco on the wall of one of the cells. The scene depicts Mary Magdalene just after she recognized the risen Christ. She is kneeling and reaching out toward him as Christ subtly gestures to her and steps aside.

There is pictorial depth in this fresco and the modeling creates an effect of solid figures under the draped clothing. Mary Magdalene’s kneeling position is believable as is the sense that Jesus has just moved his right foot as he withdraws slightly from Mary. Yet, although the figures are no longer painted as they would have been in medieval times, the tomb is quite stylized and tightly rendered. The landscape of springtime flowers and the backdrop of trees also are stylized.

Studies by perceptual psychologist Rudolph Arnheim have shown that viewers tend to “read” a painting from left to right. It also has been shown that from the standpoint of visual balance, we are more comfortable when there is more visual weight on the left side of a painting. Fra Angelico followed intuitively these compositional guidelines. If the painting, Noli Me Tangere, were to be divided in half (the background palm tree being the center) the larger and more passive visual mass on the left – the tomb and Mary Magdalene – is balanced by the more active figure of Christ on the right.

In Noli Me Tangere our eyes enter the painting on the left side at the tomb. We make a mental note of the darkness in the open door (this door is not designed to be closed by a large stone) and then we continue our visual journey to Mary Magdalene dressed in red, a color that also carries weight. The direction of Mary’s gaze, her arms, and her hand gesture lead our eyes to the figure of Jesus the focal point of the painting. In the figure of Jesus we find movement and we follow his gaze as it leads us back to the face of Mary. A fence in the background limits pictorial depth and keeps the focus of attention on the figures of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the foreground. Although Noli Me Tangere seems to be a simple composition there is within the subtle gestures and facial expressions, a subtext that causes us to reflect on the moment this meeting occurred.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian