(b. ca. 1400, Vicchio nell Mugello, d. 1455, Roma)

Scenes from the Lives of Sts Lawrence and Stephen

Cappella Niccolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Fra Angelico was entrusted with a number of commissions for the Vatican Palace. The one that involved the most work was the decoration of the small room in the ancient tower of Pope Innocent III that Nicholas V turned into his private chapel, a rectangular space with a groin vault. The floor installed at this time survives. It displays the emblem of Nicholas V, a radiant sun. The frescoes show scenes from the lives of Sts Stephen and Lawrence, in two horizontal bands. On the rear wall was a Deposition, also by Fra Angelico and mentioned by Vasari, but now lost. On the arches are the eight Doctors of the Church in Gothic aedicules. The Evangelists are on the vault, while on the window jambs rosettes with the head of Christ alternate with heads of patriarchs and prophets.

The cycle is generally attributed to Fra Angelico and his workshop. The hand of Benozzo Gozzoli has been identified in some of the scenes from the life of St Stephen. Painted for the jubilee of 1450, the cycle clearly reveals the program pursued by Nicholas V of a link between Christian and classical culture. Fra Angelico's figures have a "Roman" appearance: they stand solemn and serious, like heroes from antiquity, against a background of theatrical architecture, reminding the beholder of the buildings of ancient Rome. The intention was to underline the continuity between imperial and Christian Rome which the pope wished to assert.