The Works of Fra Angelico – Angels from the frame of the Madonna dei Linajuoli

the Madonna dei Linajuoli by Fra AngelicoThe two angels here reproduced (too widely popular to be omitted from any treatise on Fra Angelico) are from the frame of the well-known ‘Madonna dei Linajuoli,’ a large altar-piece painted in 1433 for the Gild of Flax-workers, or “linajuoli,” and now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. A ‘Madonna and Child,’ enthroned and over life-size, occupy the central panel of this picture, under which is a predella in three parts. Figures of saints are painted on both sides of the doors.

This famous altar-piece is one of the least pleasing of Fra Angelico’s works. But of all the artist’s creations, the most popular, the most widely known, and, unfortunately, generally considered as most typical of his art, are the twelve angels playing on musical instruments which adorn the beveled border of its central panel. “Though graceful in form, pleasant in color, and certainly charming to look at,” writes Dr. Williamson, “these angels are quite unworthy of being considered representative of the work of an artist who was capable of painting the frescos of San Marco, and it is unfair to judge Fra Angelico by them. As a recent writer has said, ‘What great painter before or since has ever been judged by his picture-frames?’ and these angels are nothing more than the flat decorations of the frame of the altar-piece, painted in soft colors on a gold ground.” But weak and doll-like as these angel figures are, there is something about them which has captivated the fancy of the public, and evoked the extravagant praise of the greater number of the artist’s biographers.