“Simple and childlike ” are the words most often used to describe Fra Angelico’s art, and to account for its wide popular appeal. As far as his method of drawing and painting is concerned, it is rather the opposite of childlike spontaneity, being almost geometrical in its hard-finished precision. (Notice especially the columns and the angel’s wing.) This picture is simple in places, and elsewhere packed with fine miniature detail, as in the grass and trees at left. But it does make an appeal to certain childishly simple modes of response in the observer, which are often delightful to experience after too much sophistication and subtlety. Its effects are all very obvious and direct, easily grasped at once, with no complex interrelations to study out. Its colors are akin to those of medieval book illumination: pure, intense and bright, without being barbarously glaring. Enamellike deep and pale blues, rose and coral pinks, olive and emerald greens, bits of shiny gold, all gleam side by side in a gay display. They are well distributed in spots to make a united pattern, but have little approach to blending of tints: only the iridescent glitter, as in the angel’s wing, of small contrasting streaks, such as one finds in Byzantine illumination. Eaeh hue is used, as a rule, in one light and one dark shade, no more. They are quite superficial, hard, uniform within a given area. The use of line, light and space is also obvious and direct. One or two arcs and angles, geometrically plain, are repeated with little variation, in a clear-cut outline that is easy to follow, never sketchy or disappearing. Plain highlights and shadows round out columns, faces and garments, and these rest side by side in nearby space; not in too rigid symmetry, but with no complex mutual stresses and strains (as in Giotto) or eccentric movements (as in Tintoretto) for us to follow in imagination. The attitudes are neither stiff nor very energetic, but uniformly gentle, dainty and quiet. Like the faces, they express a few simple, ehildlike emotionstenderness, awe, joy and griefno psychological subtleties. They are pious and unworldly enough to satisfy the religious, while lacking the tortured intensity of Gothic religious art. All these qualities combine to produce a consistent and distinctive form that is charming at firstto sophisticated as well as naive tastesbut has little power to move deeply or sustain long interest.
Frescoes by BENOZZO GOZZOLI, in the Chapel; and a Madonna by FRA FILIPPO LIPPI, in the banquet-hall.