If you haven’t seen The Blessed Angelico: The Dawn of the Renaissance in Palazzo dei Caffarelli - part of the Musei Capitolini on Piazza del Campidoglio - there’s still time until 5 July to catch this wonderful show! Some years ago something rather curious happened to me whilst at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni during an exhibition entitled The Face of Christ which included Christ Crowned with Thorns by Fra Angelico from the Museo Civico in Livorno; in front of that particular work by the Renaissance Friar I experienced the closest thing to Stendhal syndrome I’ve ever felt in my life! I’m not, incidentally, in any way religious, but the works of this artist which are exclusively religious in subject matter, affect me like few others. The Livorno piece isn’t on show here - there’s a copy by a collaborator instead - but there are 49 other extraordinary works by this most sublime of painters including not only small panels, large altarpieces and canvases, but also examples of his work as an illuminator with several manuscripts on display.
In an exhibition in which one could easily spend hours staring at each and every work choosing a few favourites is tricky but certainly the Barcelona panel Virgin and Child, with Five Angels, ca. 1426-27 better known as the Madonna of Humility and the dazzling Paradise ca. 1434-35 from the Uffizi, with its exquisite gold decorative background are breathtaking, as is the large Annunciation from San Giovanni Valdarno (see illustration above). The Blessed and the Damned, painted on two small side panels of what was once a triptych (from a collection in Houston, USA) and a tiny fragment of a panel depicting Saint John the Baptist from Leipzig (possibly originally part of the altarpiece from St. Mark's) also kept me transfixed.
After the exhibition it somehow felt appropriate to take a wander across Rome to Fra Angelico’s tomb in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.