Guidalotti Polyptych

Fra Giovanni da Fiesole knows as Beato Angelico

(Vicchio di Mugello, circa 1395 – Rome, 1455)

Guidalotti Polyptych

circa 1447-1449

Fra Angelico painted the Guidalotti Polyptych at the end of the 1440s to a commission from Elisabetta Guidalotti for her family altar in the basilica of San Domenico. The choice of one of the greatest artists of the age reflects her intention to employ her artistic patronage as a tool of social promotion to rehabilitate the image of her illustrious family, which had been jeopardised by the involvement of several of its members in political disorders.

Renowned as the master of painting light, Fra Angelico adapted the format of the altarpiece and the use of a gold background to comply with the wishes of a client whose tastes were still traditional. Yet he achieved a skilful combination between these relics of the past and substantial innovations that came from elaborating on the art of Masaccio, of Domenico Veneziano and of Ghiberti, as well as on his interest in Flemish painting. The face of Saint Nicholas has the features of his namesake Pope Nicholas V, who was a Dominican like Fra Angelico himself, in a portrait of remarkable expressive intensity. His mastery of the system of perspective for representing space emerges in the views that constitute the backgrounds in the panels of the predella with the Stories of Saint Nicholas. The first two are nineteenth-century copies of the originals, which are now held in the collections of the Vatican Museums. This came about because the work was requisitioned in 1797, during the Napoleonic occupation and, when it was given back by France, it was retained in the Vatican by Pope Pius VII, who ultimately returned it without these two sections. The polyptych’s panels were recomposed in their current arrangement in 1915, when the rich gilded carpentry with its late Gothic inspiration was made for it.

Elisabetta Guidalotti’s sophisticated humanist culture emerges in the iconographic choices specified for the work, which underscore the importance of doctrine and study, represented by the books held by almost all the saints depicted.

Guidalotti Polyptych
Tempera and oil on panel
318 x 280 cm
Hall 10
Inv. 91-92-93-94-95-96-97-98-99-100-101-102-103-104-105-106-107-108-557-558-1392
Madonna and Child Enthroned with angels between Saint Dominic and Saint Nicholas of Bari, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Catherine of Alexandria; above: Annunciating Angel and the Virgin Annunciate; predella: Stories of Saint Nicholas of Bari (the first two panels are early nineteenth-century copies); pilasters: saints

Church of San Domenico