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Fra Angelico, 'The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs', about 1423-4

Key facts
Full title The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs: Inner Right Predella 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 31.9 × 63.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG663.3
Location Gallery F
Collection Main Collection
The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs
Fra Angelico

This panel comes from the predella (the lowest part) of an altarpiece made for the church of San Domenico, Fiesole, near Florence. Its figures look towards the central panel, which shows Christ resurrected from the dead.

Lined up in neat rows are – from top to bottom – 21 biblical figures regarded by the Christian Church as precursors of Christ, male martyr saints and female martyr saints. The top row includes only one New Testament figure: Saint John the Baptist, holding a cross and wearing a camel skin tunic. He looks directly at us and points towards Christ; in the Gospel of John he announced Christ’s ministry and significance as the son of God.

The male martyrs include Saint Stephen, heading up the middle row. He wears green and has a stone on his shoulder, a reference to his stoning. Below him, in red, is Saint Thecla, the first female martyr.

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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.