Saturday, February 2, 2008

'Noli Me Tangere' by Fra Angelico

In 2006, two small paintings by the Italian Renaissance master Fra Angelico reemerged after 200 years. Missing since Napoleon's invasion of Italy, the mini masterpieces weren't found in a museum, a castle, or even an art thief's attic. They were found hanging in a spare room in the home of Ms. Jean Preston, a retired manuscript librarian in England.

Ms. Preston and her art-collecting father had acquired the paintings for a few hundred dollars in California in the 1960s (no word on how they got there). She had always thought they were special. When she discovered just how special, she was pleased to learn she had "a good eye."

Ms. Preston lived a modest life that ended in 2006. But this week, art experts and auctioneers revealed that her art collection was worth $8 million! The two Fra Angelico works alone fetched $3.4 million. (Yes, Ms. Preston owned other valuable art, too.) Both Fra Angelicos are now expected to head home to Italy, to Florence's famed Uffizi Gallery.

With that in mind, we want to know, who was Fra Angelico, this "Angelic Friar"? He was no bohemian. In fact, Pope John Paul II set Fra Angelico on the path to sainthood in 1982, beatifying him "because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted." Art historians tend to see him in a different perspective--as key to the development of Italian Renaissance forms and techniques.

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