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Fra Angelico, The Dominican Blessed

Key facts
Full title The Dominican Blessed: Outer Left Pilaster Panel
Artist Fra Angelico
Artist dates active 1417; died 1455
Series Fiesole San Domenico Altarpiece
Date made about 1423-4
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 31.8 × 21.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG663.4
Location Gallery F
Collection Main Collection
The Dominican Blessed
Fra Angelico

The Dominican Blessed, both friars and nuns, dressed in the distinctive black and white habits of the Dominican Order, are neatly lined up in rows. The Blessed were holy figures belonging to the Order (founded by Saint Dominic in 1215) who were venerated locally after death. Some, like Vincent Ferrer – here holding a book and a large flame – were eventually recognised as saints. Ferrer founded a convent in Fiesole; the altarpiece that this panel comes from was made for it.

Each figure carries a different object: we see a skull, a bird and a vase of lilies, the symbol of Saint Dominic. One, clearly killed with a saw that is shown embedded in his head, holds a palm, symbolic of martyrdom. This panel framed the predella (the lowest part) of the altarpiece, which showed Christ surrounded by angels and saints. The predella panels and this painting’s pair are also in the National Gallery.

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Fiesole San Domenico Altarpiece


These panels come from the predella (lowest part) of the altarpiece made for the high altar of San Domenico, Fiesole. Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar (a member of the religious order founded by Saint Dominic) as well as a painter. The church was attached to his own convent – so although he made two other altarpieces for it, he was not paid for his work.

Predellas usually showed narrative scenes of the lives of the saints who were depicted in the main part of the altarpiece. This one is unusual: it shows Christ in glory in heaven, surrounded in the central scene by angels. This is framed by two panels showing rows of saints and Old Testament figures. These in turn are enclosed on either side by Dominican ‘Blessed’ figures who were holy and revered but not saints.

The mass of saints includes Dominicans and reflects their interest in the saints of their order and the place of the Dominicans in the broader church.