Nativity (Armadio degli Argenti) Fra Angelico Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Nativity was another theme captured many times within the career of Fra Angelico, just as he re-visited The Annunciation on many occasions too. This particular version was a single component within a larger project which decorated part of the Armadio degli Argenti.

This composition features the three main figures centrally, deep in prayer. The donkey can be seen just behind and a series of angels are added onto the roof. The background displays an open landscape with rolling hills, including just a suggestion of a cityscape to the right hand side. The top and bottom of the panel also feature latin writing upon rolled scripts and Fra Angelico did similar on some of the other panels in this body of work too. Currently, around 35 different paintings have been uncovered from this single project, with the artist working on it between the years of 1450-1452. Whilst that seems like a lot of work to do in just a few years, it must be remembered that these paintings were fairly small and also that he may have called upon the services of his assistants in order to complete the work more quickly. The work that he produced was a single part of an overall effort to renovate the church of Santissima Annunziata.

There were two other notable versions of Nativity by Fra Angelico, including Nativity and Nativity (1440). The artist would have been requested to work on these paintings, rather than necessarily choosing to revisit them as often as he did. All of his work was on religious themes, as was the way for most members of the Early Renaissance. It would be later than new ideas came in for the first time and artists would be able to take on other genres and make money from them. This also underlines how religion ran through all elements of Italian society at that time, with wealth being mainly concentrated within the church too. As wealth spread out more evenly in future centuries, so commissions would start to vary, with portraiture becoming very common and eventually landscape art becoming a specific genre, when normally these had been incorporated as elements of a religious scene.

There was a number of related artists around at this time who are also worth studying in detail. See, for example, the likes of Filippo Lippi, Benozzo Gozzoli and also Paolo Uccello who produced their own influential bodies of work. The Early Renaissance has received considerable interest from historians, even though most of the bigger names actually arrived in later parts of the overall movement. Many understand the importance of these earlier painters, sculptors and architects in starting the process of change from which later artists could then benefit. One can even move to earlier periods than that to then find names that inspired the likes of Fra Angelico in the very first place.