Fra Angelico, Italian, c.1400-1455
Title: Saints Cosmas and Damian and their Brothers Surviving the Stake
Date: c.1439-1442
Medium: Tempera and gold leaf on wood panel
37.8 x 46.4 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1886
Object Number: NGI.242
DescriptionCosmas and Damian were two physician brothers living in Asia Minor in the third century. They and their three younger brothers were Christian, and during the Diocletian persecutions they were compelled to prove their loyalty to the traditional gods with a sacrifice. When they refused, Lycias, the roman consul, submitted them to a series of brutal tortures. Miraculously they survived the torments but, finally, the enraged Consul had them all beheaded. The episode represented here is the fruitless attempt to burn the five brothers. A circle of flames surrounds them but the fire turns against the torturers, under the incredulous eyes of Lycias and his dignitaries.

This small panel was part of the predella (lower register) of Fra Angelico’s most important altarpiece. Other parts of it are dispersed in various galleries worldwide. It was painted for the church of San Marco in Florence, and was commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici, whose name is echoed in the profession of Sts Cosmas and Damian (Medici means ‘physicians’ in Italian). Fra Angelico is one of the great Florentine Renaissance masters. In 1407 he entered the Dominican monastery of Fiesole, assuming the name of Fra Giovanni. Within a few years he had become the most acclaimed monastic painter in Italy.
ProvenancePart of an altarpiece commissioned for the high altar in the Dominican Church of S. Marco in Florence; collection Lombardi-Baldi, Florence; Mr W. Graham, Burlington House from 1877; purchased, Christie's, London, 1886, Mr W. Graham sale
Exhibition HistoryOld Masters Exhibition, Burlington House, 1877

Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1919

The Italian Exhibition, Burlington House, 1930

Quincentenary of Fra Angelico's Death, Cappella Vatican, Vatican, April 1955; San Marco, Florence, May-September 1955

Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, October - December 1964

Fra Angelico, Die Muenchner Tafeln und der Hochaltar von San Marco in Florenz, Neue Pinakothek, München, 5 September - 17 November 1996

Fra Angelico, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 26 October 2005 - 29 January 2006

Florence and its Painters: From Giotto to Leonardo da Vinci, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Munich, 18 October 2018 - 03 February 2019
Label TextFra Angelico’s beautiful style of painting was compared to the work of an angel, earning him his nickname which translates as Angelic Brother. He was a Dominican monk, and the foremost painter in early-Renaissance Florence. This panel depicts the martyrdom of twin brothers Cosmas and Damian in the third century AD. The Christian siblings, and their younger brothers, were condemned to burn at the stake by Lycias, a pagan Roman official. Here, Lycias looks on in shock as the flames miraculously bounce away from the devout brothers and burn their persecutors instead.

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