By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
IN 1984 Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico. He was already the people’s choice. His tomb at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome had long been a shrine. While Botticelli was still an acquired taste, Angelico was the most sought-after early Italian Renaissance painter for collectors, the darling of savvy 19th-century guidebook writers, who bestowed four stars on any site that displayed his golden-haloed gems. The Florentine convent of San Marco, where he was a Dominican friar, became the ultimate Fra Angelico pilgrimage destination: his fresco of an "Annunciation" in one of the tiny, square whitewashed monk’s cells epitomizes his austere, light-filled style, with Mary gravely kneeling on a simple low wood bench, hands across her chest, pink-cheeked and so exquisitely slight that she looks immaterial.
The Fra Angelico show opening on Oct. 26 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is being advertised as the first comprehensive overview in years. It won’t really be comprehensive. The frescoes and big altarpieces don’t travel. But it should be memorable. The 550th anniversary of Angelico’s death is its arcane and unnecessary excuse. Capitalizing on fresh scholarship, the discovery of new works and the reconstruction of altarpieces that have not been put together for who knows how long, the show may raise some eyebrows among scholars for its early dating of pictures and, in the process, challenge the popular view that he was not an innovator.
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