Here is a coloring sheet I put together for Classical Conversations week 15. I cut out pieces of watercolor paper to fit in my printer and then let the kids paint their own pictures. Fra Angelico used teams of assistants to complete his many frescos since his talents were in high demand. His was the design, of course, and theirs was the execution. I told my kids that they could pretend to be Fra Angelico’s assistants helping him to complete his masterpieces. He of course might have had something to say about their color choices but I love them!
My 5 year old daughter’s interpretation (above)
Detail on my 4 year old son’s painting showing a relief of the prophet Isaiah who told of the coming Messiah. Also notice the dove above Mary which represents the Holy Spirit who came upon her and caused her to conceive Jesus (above)
Detail on my 5 year old daughter’s painting showing Adam and Eve in the distance. Giorgia Vasari in his Lives of the Artists observed, “Standing in a field are Adam and Eve, who were the cause of the Redeemer’s birth by the Virgin.” (p.171 Oxford World’s Classics,1998)
Detail of the conversation between the angel Gabriel and the virgin Mary as painted by my 2 year old daughter (above). In Fra Angelico’s original the words are in gold and in Latin. They float as in physical space and you cannot see them behind the pillar. Here I have included the English translation. Isn’t it interesting how Mary’s response is upside down? I wonder why he painted it that way?
Here is a scan of the painting taken from Christopher Lloyd’s book entitled Fra Angelico which was published by Phaidon in 1993. As with most Phaidon books this one is full of beautiful plates and shows the impressive range of style that Angelico possessed. From miniatures to lavish frescos, from ornate paintings such as this Annunciation to delicate sparse and meditative scenes he painted all with captivating skill.
Vasari relates that, “It was his habit never to retouch or to redo any of his paintings but, rather, always to leave them just as they had turned out the first time, since he believed (according to what he said) that this was God’s will. Some people claim that Fra Angelico never set his hand to a brush without first saying a prayer.” I think this expresses just the sort of powerful combination of submissive obedience and personal confidence that the virgin Mary sang of in the Magnificat. “Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48-49) When we know that we are but creatures but that the Almighty Creator God has crafted us we can be both humble and bold as we in turn craft our own creations. Some secular art critics say they don’t see the connection between Angelico’s devout faith and his artistic skill – the connection is that he first dedicated his work to God and then didn’t look back. He didn’t second guess. He was bold to be creative because he was not tortured by self-love and self-doubt.