He was one of the most important artists of his time. In fact, his work was so influential that Pope John Paul II beatified this Dominican priest on Oct. 3, 1982, and less than two years later declared him the patron saint of artists. His name is Fra Angelico, now Blessed Angelico, and viewers are invited to get to know him in a brand new documentary by Elisabetta Valgiusti, which was produced by EWTN in collaboration with Save the Monasteries. “Blessed Angelico” premieres at 10 p.m. ET, Sunday, June 27, with an encore at 5 a.m. ET, Friday, July 2, on EWTN.
Fra Angelico was a simple and holy man, but the times he lived in were neither simple nor holy. It was the time of the Western Schism, which saw the rise of three rival Popes, each with their own following. At the same time, St. Catherine of Siena, who lived 50 years before Fra Angelico, sought to reform the Dominican order after many in the order stopped following the original rule of St. Dominic.
”Although he came after St. Catherine, Fra Angelico was very influenced by her teachings,” said Writer and Filmmaker Elisabetta Valgiusti. “It is interesting that he is buried next to her in St. Maria Sopra Minerva Dominican Basilica in Rome.”
So how did Blessed Angelico help revive the fervor of his order? Instead of preaching or writing or any of the usual methods, Fra Angelico did something unexpected. He painted.
“Angelico preaches by painting,” Valgiusti says. “The main point of my documentary is to show people that his works are icons; their purpose is to allow faithful enter and contemplate the divine mysteries, to make people pray. He wants to bring people closer to Christ and to Our Lady, to help people know them.”
Incredibly, the documentary takes us to the large dormitory at St. Mark’s Convent in Florence, Italy, where Fra Angelico painted the cells of all of the friars. Today, that convent is a museum.
“Fra Angelico’s works are much more famous that he is,” Valgiusti says. “That’s why I wanted to make him better known. Most of the angels you see all over the world – on posters, cups, book bags, whatever – are his! But you don’t know it’s his work. He has really been exploited in a commercial sense.”
In addition to Florence, viewers will travel with Valgiusti to other cities in Tuscany, where Fra Angelico was born and where he lived in the Dominican Convent of Fiesole, as well as to Rome, to Cortona and to St. Giovanni Valdarno, where two of his great paintings of the Annunciation are housed. As a Catholic filmmaker, Valgiusti interviewed theologians, scholars, and contemporary Christian artists who know and love Fra Angelico, not only for the beauty of his art, but for his spiritual significance as a painter as well as the patron saint of artists.
A brother of Fra Angelico at St. Mark Convents once said that Fra Angelico “does not paint, he prays.” Theologian Hans Van Balthasar said Fra Angelico’s art perfectly represents the motto of the Dominican Order: “Communicating to others the contemplated mysteries.”
Fra Angelico never worked on anything other than religious subjects saying, “who does Christ’s work must stay with Christ always.” In today’s difficult environment, both in and out of the Church, this priest/artist’s work is particularly relevant and needed.
You won’t want to miss Valgiiusti’s beautiful documentary on the life and works of one of the most famous Catholic artists in history. If you don’t know Blessed Angelico, please allow Valgiusti to introduce you. If you do know him, you will want to revel in the beauty of his artistry and hear more about the messages this man of God tried so hard to communicate through his art.
Note: For more details about the “Blessed Angelico” program, please go to https://www.savethemonasteries.org/