The Coronation of the Virgin (Louvre, Paris). 1430-1432. Tempera on wood. 2.09m x 2.06m

Brief Identification Edit

The Coronation of the Virgin is painting, created by Guido di Pietro (better known as Fra Angelico) around the years 1430-1432, during the time of the Italian Renaissance.  Fra Angelico was a fervent Dominican friar, whose artwork was greatly influenced by his religious beliefs and the Dominici doctrines [See Argan 1955, 14].  It was said that Fra Angelico “never took up his brush without first praying intently and weeping abundance tears, hence his painting reflect the heavenly visions glimpsed in these fits of ecstasy” (Argan 1955, 10).  A tempera painting on wood, this spiritual image depicts the Virgin, surrounded by a celestial crowd, receiving the crown from her Son.  A gift for the church of San Domenico at Fiesole, The Coronation of the Virgin is now on display at The Louvre in Paris [Pope-Hennessy 1981, 173].  

Technical Evalution Edit

The Coronation of the Virgin is a tempera painting, which requires aesthetic, as well as architectural, skill.  Fra Angelica created this tempera with an egg-yolk medium.  Tempera paintings were made by binding different pigments together with organic substances (the medium) on a wooden panel.  The wooden panel was covered in layers of a white substance, called gesso, which provided a smooth covering needed for the application of the paint [Finnan].  Together, the medium and the pigment created the paint.  Because egg yolk dries very quickly, an agent, such as water, vinegar, or wine, was added to prevent it from cracking.  Adding the agent to the egg medium determined the thickness of the yolk, making it become clearer or more fluid.  The egg medium was only added into the pigment when a certain pigment was needed due to the quick-drying time of the medium.  To apply the paint, two kinds of brushes were used, created from minever tails and hog bristles [Cennini 1932, 52-3].    

The Coronation of the Virgin entered the Louvre in Paris in 1812, during the time of the Napoleonic Wars.  The painting was transferred back by Napoleon I so it can be assumed he took it as a prize of war.  The Coronation of the Virgin also includes a predalla, a painting seperate from the upper tempera that lines the bottom of the frame.  The predella had been separated from the upper panel, but it was purchased in Florence in 1830 and reunited with the rest of the painting in the Louvre [Pope-Hennessy 1981, 173]. 

Local Historical Context Edit

In the last years of the fourteenth century, a reform known as the Dominican Observance took place, which implicated a stricter, more literal interpretation of Dominican provisions [Pope-Hennessy 1981, 2].  Around 1407, at the age of 20, Fra Angelico entered the Dominican convent of the Observance at Fiesole, whose convents practiced the strictest rule [Argan 1955, 7-8].  These years were times of schism and disagreement in the Church.  In 1409, there was a shift of allegiance from Gregory XII to Antipope Alexander V, however Dominican monks remained loyal to Pope Gregory XII [Argan 1955, 8].  Because of this, the Dominican monks were expelled from Fiesole.  During this time far from Florence, Fra Angelico created his own resources and inspiration for art.  In 1418, Martin V was elected new pope in the Council of Constance, ending the Great Schism and allowing Fra Angelico and the other Dominican monks to return to Fiesole. 

During the Renaissance, Christian art was extremely popular in Italy.  Fra Angelico specifically directed his spiritual artwork towards his Dominican brothers.  Fra Angelico was a greatly respected, high-ranking member of the Dominican Order [Scudieri 2004, 10].  In the 1400s in Florence, prosperous families gave visual expression of their wealth through chapels, altarpieces, and palaces [Onians 2004, 122].  It is thought that the Gaddi Family commissioned Fra Angelico to paint The Coronation of the Virgin as a gift for the church of San Domenico in Fiesole [Maissonneuve]. 

Although Fra Angelico was a renowned artist in his own lifetime, The Coronation of the Virgin was not his best masterpiece: “On the whole, [it was] the most involved, ungainly and coldly rhetorical composition he ever painted” [Argan 1955, 64].  

World-Historical Significance Edit

Early Egyptians used this technique of tempera painting in decorations, as well as throughout the Byzantine period.  Tempera was introduced in northern Italy in 1250 by a Florentine painter, Cimabue, who was strongly influenced by Greek and Byzantine styles [Cennini 1932, xv-xviii].

There are debates about whether or not Fra Angelico can be credited for completing the entire painting.  Some experts have claimed that some techniques in the painting are more advanced compared to paintings Angelico completed at a significantly later time [Pope-Hennessy 1981, 10].  They believe Fra Angelico must have left the painting and a younger artist finished it.  However, others argue that the entire work was completely painted by Fra Angelico, and his perspectives are just methodical tricks [Argan 1955, 64].  The geometric perspective of space incorporated in The Coronation of the Virgin is based on an elaboration of vanishing-point construction invented by Italian artist, Brunelleschi, in 1413 [Hood].  The actual artist(s) of this painting remains a mystery today.

What we do know is that The Coronation of the Virgin portrays a celestial hierarchy.  The steps and placement of holy people represents the importance of hierarchical order, on earth and in heaven.  This painting, along with many other of Fra Angelico, portrays the importance of religion in art during the Renaissance.   

Bibliography Edit

Argan, Giulio Carlo. Fra Angelico: Biographical and Critical Study. Geneva: Skira, 1955.

Pope-Hennessy, John Wyndham. Angelico. New York: Scala Books, 1981.

Muratov, P. P. and Erik Law-Gisiko. Fra Angelico. London, New York: F. Warne & Co., ltd, 1930.

Onians, John. Atlas of World Art. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Scudieri, Magnolia, Joan M. Reifsnyder, and Museo di San Marco. The Frescoes By Angelico At San Marco. Florence: Giunti, 2004.

Cennini, Cennino, Daniel Varney Thompson, Jr., Yale University and Louis Stern Memorial Fund. Il Libro Dell'arte. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932.

Roettgen, Steffi. Italian Frescoes. New York: Abbeville Press, 1996.

Maisonneuve, Cécile and Dominique Thiébaut, “The Coronation of the Virgin,”

Merriam-Webster, “Cimabue,”

Finnan, Vincent, “The Egg Tempera Painting Technique,”

Hood, William, "Angelico, Fra,"