The Works of Fra Angelico – Scenes from the Life of Saint Laurence

Saint Laurence Receiving the Treasures of the Church and Saint Laurence Giving Alms, by Fra AngelicoIn the winter of 1447-1448, at the instance of Pope Nicholas V, Fra Angelico began the decoration of the little square chamber in the Vatican, Rome, then known as the “studio” of the pope, and now called the Chapel of Nicholas V. On three of the walls of this small oratory he painted in two tiers, one above the other, six scenes from the life of Saint Stephen and five from that of Saint Laurence. These two series of frescos, executed when the artist was sixty years of age, represent his highest achievement, not only in technical skill and in modeling, but in freedom and dramatic power. The classic details of the architecture introduced give evidence of his close study of the antique, and show that the painter-monk was in touch with the progress of the times. The two reproductions here given are from the lower series of frescos, which is devoted to Saint Laurence.

Left: ‘Saint Laurence Receiving the Treasures of the Church.’ This scene represents the saint kneeling to receive the treasures of the Church from Pope Sixtus II, by whom he had been appointed deacon. Three monks stand near, one of whom turns quickly at the noise made at the door by two soldiers who have come to conduct Sixtus to martyrdom.

Right: ‘Saint Laurence Giving Alms.’ This fresco shows Saint Laurence distributing alms to the poor. The figure of the saint, richly clad in ecclesiastical vestments, and glowing with color, the architectural background of columns closed by the apse of the church, the expressive faces and attitudes of the lame, the halt, and the blind gathered about Saint Laurence, make up a scene which is generally considered the greatest of all Fra Angelico’s works.