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Room 51a

Fra Angelico, friar-painter of San Domenico

Around 1420, the painter Guido di Pietro took holy orders and entered the recently revitalised Observant Dominican convent in Fiesole, outside Florence. Adopting the name Fra Giovanni, he soon embarked on the first of many artistic projects for his community: an altarpiece for the high altar of their convent church, San Domenico.

The panels displayed in this room were part of the San Domenico altarpiece. Around 75 years after it was painted, this altarpiece was adapted by another Florentine painter, Lorenzo di Credi. He converted the central arched panels into a single-field rectangular image and replaced the gold backgrounds with a painted sky and landscape. The predella was left untouched, remaining in the church until the early 19th century, when it was sold.

Updating earlier altarpieces was not unheard of during this period. However, changing taste was more typically accommodated by simply replacing old-fashioned works. The decision to retain and adapt this altarpiece may reflect Fra Giovanni’s revered reputation at San Domenico. Within only a few years of his death in 1455, he was called Angelico (the angelic one) in poetic response to his achievements as theologian-painter.