In the 1430s, when the Florentine painter Fra Angelico was at the peak of his career, he composed a three-panel painting of the Last Judgment. The left panel, Paradise, shows angels dancing through a flowering meadow as they lead the redeemed toward paradise. There is a soaring of the spirit in this lyrical painting. Heaven is seen as a great dance that all the faithful are invited to attend. Standing before this work one wants to dance and kneel at the same time.
This extraordinary effect is one of the reasons that the work of Fra Angelico (c. 1395–1455), the Dominican friar who was beatified by John Paul II in 1984, remains so popular today. Prayerfulness and jubilation, a combination rarely achieved in the work of other religious artists, are the responses many people give to his work. To mark the 550th anniversary of Angelico’s death, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has brought together seventy-five of his paintings, drawings, and illuminated manuscripts. (Forty-five additional paintings by his followers are also on display.) Although Angelico’s most famous works and frescoes remain in Florence, many of his exquisite smaller works are on hand. The Met’s exhibition is the first comprehensive one on the artist mounted outside Italy. A not inconsiderable part of heaven has come to earth at the edge of Central Park and waits there to dazzle your heart and eye through January 29, 2006.