Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 10:51 PM
With the consecration of its magnificent cathedral, Florence established itself as the centre of the early Renaissance. The rest of Europe was dominated by conflict: in Bohemia, the brutal Hussite war had just ended, while the Hundred Years War between France and England was into its last phase.
In Fra Angelico's Florence, the great event of 1436 was the consecration of the city's cathedral by Pope Eugenius IV. This was a matter for civic as well as ecclesiastical rejoicing: the building had attracted the interest and financial resources of several generations of Florentines, fired with the idea of erecting the 'most beautiful and honourable church in Tuscany'. Crowned by Filippo Brunelleschi's soaring dome, the cathedral was the work of the most skilful builders and craftsmen of the time. In 1436, Brunelleschi was still occupied in raising the lantern (a light open structure) on the top of the dome, and the sculptors Donatello and Luca della Robbia were working on the interior decoration. Another great master, Lorenzo Ghiberti was engaged on the bronze Gates of Paradise for the Baptistry Doors (1425-52).
For the perpetually warring Italian city states, 1436 was a year of relative tranquillity. On the other side of the Alps, too, it was a year when the turmoils which had been tearing the rest of Europe apart had temporarily abated. In Central Europe, the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund as King of Bohemia marked the end of his long struggle against the Hussites. They had driven him out on his succession to the throne in 1420, holding him responsible for the burning of their mentor, the religious reformer, John Hus.
The Hussites had strongly resisted no fewer than five military crusades mounted against them by Sigismund and the Pope. Known as 'the warriors of God', they fought with fanatical zeal, sweeping through Bavaria, Silesia, and Saxony and into Poland. Their fearful war-wagons, equipped with pikemen, small arms and primitive cannons, made them formidable in attack and unassailable in defence. The Hussites detested the worldliness and degeneracy of the Church of Rome and they called for radical reforms: they wanted corrupt priests to be tried in civil courts and Church property to be expropriated. Their armed defiance made a deep impression on the rest of Europe, foreshadowing the Protestant Reformation.
In Northern Europe the Hundred Years War entered its final stages. The burning of Joan of Arc in 1431 had united the French, and the English were now out-maneuvered at every turn. In April 1436, the English troops were finally driven out of Paris and later the year, following a string of obliged to defend the besieged port of Calais vital to their international wool trade. Back home in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury was engaged in establishing the College of All Souls in Oxford, 'as a memorial and offering for the souls of those who fell in the Wars for the crown of France', while the poet John Lydgate set about trying to restore his countrymen's patriotic pride:
Remember now ye Flemings, upon your own shame,
When ye laid seige to Calais, Ye were right still to blame,
For more of reputation be Englishman than ye,
And come of more gentle blood, of more antiquitie.
As the year drew to its close, the Scots King, James I, was forced to call off a punitive siege on Berwick-on-Tweed, on being informed by his Queen of a plot being laid against his life by some of his nobles. He took refuge in the cold, grey, Dominican priory at Perth, where soon afterwards he was brutally murdered. In the manner of 15th-century Scottish architecture it would have been a very different place to the peaceful Dominican convent of San Marco where Fra Angelico was soon to begin work.
Vasari records that Fra Angelico said that to practise the art of painting one should lead a quiet and untroubled life. In the violent society of 15th-century Europe, he was fortunate to have enjoyed such felicity.
Writer – Marshall Cavendish