But for most people the glory of the room is not Lorenzo the Monk, but Brother Giovanni of Fiesole, known ever more as Beato, or Fra, Angelico. Of that most adoring and most adorable of painters I say much in the chapter on the Accademia, where he is very fully represented, and it might perhaps be well to turn to those pages (227-230) and read here, on our first sight of his genius, what is said. Two Angelicos are in this room—the great triptych, opposite the chief Lorenzo, and the “Crowning of the Virgin,” on an easel. The triptych is as much copied as any picture in the gallery, not, however, for its principal figures, but for the border of twelve angels round the centre panel. Angelico’s benignancy and sweetness are here, but it is not the equal of the “Coronation,” which is a blaze of pious fervour and glory. The group of saints on the right is very charming; but we are to be more pleased by this radiant hand when we reach the Accademia. Already, however, we have learned his love of blue. Another altar-piece with a subtle quality of its own is the early Annunciation by Simone Martini of Siena (1285-1344) and Lippo Memmi, his brother (d. 1357), in which the angel speaks his golden words across the picture through a vase of lilies, and the Virgin receives them shrinkingly. It is all very primitive, but it has great attraction, and it is interesting to think that the picture must be getting on for six hundred years of age. This Simone was a pupil of Giotto and the painter of a portrait of Petrarch’s Laura, now preserved in the Laurentian library, which earned him two sonnets of eulogy. It is also two Sienese painters who have made the gayest thing in this room, the predella, No. 1304, by Neroccio di Siena (1447-1500) and Francesco di Giorgio di Siena (1439-1502), containing scenes in the life of S. Benedetto. Neroccio did the landscape and figures; the other the architecture, and very fine it is. Another delightful predella is that by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1498), Fra Angelico’s pupil, whom we have seen at the Riccardi palace. Gozzoli’s predella is No. 1302. Finally, look at No. 64, which shows how prettily certain imitators of Fra Angelico could paint.
After the Sala di Lorenzo Monaco let us enter the first Tuscan room. The draughtsmanship of the great Last Judgment fresco by Fra Bartolommeo (1475-1517) and Mariotto Albertinelli (1474-1515) is very fine. It is now a ruin, but enough remains to show that it must have been impressive. These collaborators, although intimate friends, ultimately went different ways, for Fra Bartolommeo came under the influence of Savonarola, burned his nude drawings, and entered the Convent of S. Marco; whereas Albertinelli, who was a convivial follower of Venus, tiring of art and even more of art jargon, took an inn outside the S. Gallo gate and a tavern on the Ponte Vecchio, remarking that he had found a way of life that needed no knowledge of muscles, foreshortening, or perspective, and better still, was without critics. Among his pupils was Franciabigio, whose lovely Madonna of the Well we are coming to in the Tribuna.