April 2: a favorite Fra Angelico

A FAVORITE FRA ANGELICO

Fra Angelico (1395-1440) produced many fine paintings, but this one engages particularly by the boldness of its abstraction. We have two vignettes, subtly united: the bottom of the bed platform aligns with the base of the wall in the right half; the curtain rod aligns with the top of the doorway; the little window on the right echoes the large doorway on the left; Damian’s colors, robe shapes, and halo are repeated; Palladia’s head in the right half is the focal point of all the receding lines.

[National Gallery of Art]

“The Healing of Palladia by St. Cosmas and St. Damian”  c. 1440  14 x 18″ [National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.]

 The masterstroke, though, is that while the figures are richly modeled, the wall shapes are flat, unmodulated planes with no irrelevant architectural details to water the narrative. The two figures on the right are united by their mutual gesture but wonderfully differentiated, she and her dark doorway as a rectangle, he as a free-form silhouette floating against the white wall. The contrast is visually dynamic, which, of course, makes for lively story-telling.