Knights of the Art HTML version
Nearly a hundred years had passed by since Giotto lived and worked in Florence, and in
the same hilly country where he used to tend his sheep another great painter was born.
Many other artists had come and gone, and had added their golden links of beauty to the
chain of Art which bound these years together. Some day you will learn to know all their
names and what they did. But now we will only single out, here and there, a few of those
names which are perhaps greater than the rest. Just as on a clear night, when we look up
into the starlit sky, it would bewilder us to try and remember all the stars, so we learn first
to know those that are most easily recognised--the Plough, or the Great Bear, as they
shine with a clear steady light against the background of a thousand lesser stars.
The name by which this second great painter is known is Fra Angelico, but that was only
the name he earned in later years. His baby name was Guido, and his home was in a
village close to where Giotto was born.
He was not a poor boy, and did not need to work in the fields or tend the sheep on the
hillside. Indeed, he might have soon become rich and famous, for his wonderful talent for
painting would have quickly brought him honours and wealth if he had gone out into the
world. But instead of this, when he was a young man of twenty he made up his mind to
enter the convent at Fiesole, and to become a monk of the Order of Saint Dominic.
Every brother, or frate, as he is called, who leaves the world and enters the life of the
convent is given a new name, and his old name is never used again. So young Guido was
called Fra Giovanni, or Brother John. But it is not by that name that he is known best, but
that of Fra Angelico, or the angelic brother--a name which was given him afterwards
because of his pure and beautiful life, and the heavenly pictures which he painted.
With all his great gifts in his hands, with all the years of youth and pleasure stretching out
green and fair before him, he said good-bye to earthly joys, and chose rather to serve his
Master Christ in the way he thought was right.
The monks of St. Dominic were the great preachers of those days--men who tried to
make the world better by telling people what they ought to do, and teaching them how to
live honest and good lives. But there are other ways of teaching people besides preaching,
and the young monk who spent his time bending over the illuminated prayer- book,
seeing with his dreamy eyes visions of saints and white-robed angels, was preparing to be
a greater teacher than them all. The words of the preacher monks have passed away, and
the world pays little heed to them now, but the teaching of Fra Angelico, the silent
lessons of his wonderful pictures, are as fresh and clear to-day as they were in those far-