The Coronation of the Virgin, by Fra Beato Angelico, seems to have been painted by an angel rather than by a mortal. Time has not tarnished the ideal freshness of this painting, delicate as a miniature in a missal, and whose tints are borrowed from the whiteness of the lily, the rose of the dawn, the blue of the sky, and the gold of the stars. No muddy tones of earth dull these seraphic beings composed of luminous vapours. Upon a throne with marble steps, the varied colours of which are symbolic, Christ is seated, holding a crown of rich workmanship which he is about to place upon the head of his divine mother, kneeling before him, with her head modestly inclined and her hands crossed upon her breast. Around the throne, throng a choir of angel-musicians, playing the trumpet, the theorbo, the angelot, and the viola d' amore. A light flame flutters about their heads and their great wings palpitate with joy at this glorious coronation which will transform the humble handmaid of the Lord into the Lady of Paradise. To the left, an angel kneels in prayer. In the lower part of the painting with faces uplifted to the sky the hosts of the blessed, distributed in two groups, adore and contemplate. On one side, are Moses, Saint John the Baptist, the apostles, the bishops, and the founders of orders, distinguished by some emblem, and for greater certainty bearing their names inscribed around their nimbus, or upon the embroideries of their vestments. Saint Dominick holds a branch of lilies and a book. A sun forms the agrafe of Saint Thomas Aquinas's mantle; Charlemagne, "l'empereur à la barbe fleurie," is recognizable by his crown of fleur-de-lis. Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, has by his side the three balls of gold, symbolic of the three purses which he gave to a poor gentleman to dower his three daughters whose beauty exposed them to dangers. On the other side, throng King David, apostles, martyrs, Saint Peter the Dominican with his wounded head, Saint Laurence holding his gridiron, Saint Stephen with a palm in his hand, and Saint George armed from head to foot; then, in the foreground of the picture, is the charming group of saints of perfectly celestial grace: the kneeling Magdalen offers her vase of perfumes; Saint Cæcilia advances, crowned with roses; Saint Clara gleams through her veil, constellated with crosses and golden stars; Saint Catherine of Alexandria leans upon the wheel, the instrument of her execution, as calmly and peacefully as if it were a spinning-wheel; and Saint Agnes holds in her arms a little white lamb, the symbol of innocent purity.

The Coronation of the Virgin. Fra Angelico.

The Coronation of the Virgin.
Fra Angelico.

Fra Beato Angelico has given to these youthful saints a celestial and ideal beauty, whose type exists not upon this earth: they are visible souls, rather than bodies, they are thoughts of human form enveloped in these chaste draperies of white, rose, and blue, sown with stars and embroidered, clothed as might be the happy spirits who rejoice in the eternal light of Paradise. If there be paintings in Heaven, surely they must resemble those of Fra Angelico.

Guide de l'Amateur au Musée du Louvre (Paris, 1882).