ObeliskThe Artists

Lorenzo Monaco

Gothic tradition is good enough for me

Innovation may knock at your door, but you don't have to answer it.

Lorenzo Monaco had already found his niche when the first threads of the Italian Renaissance came floating by his studio. Monaco was named Piero di Giovanni when he was born around 1370, in the hayday of soaring cathedrals and the rapidly developing trade routes that defined the Gothic Age in Europe. We first hear of Monaco in 1391, when after a year of training he officially joined the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, and changed his name to Don Lorenzo Monaco, or ‘Lawrence the Monk.'

Lawrence must have been an enterprising fellow, since it seems that by his initiation he was already an established painter, and within three years was promoted to deacon. In addition to his monastic duties, Lawrence devoted himself to the illumination of his monastery’s choir-books and to the manuscripts of nearby monestaries. Lorenzo Monaco was hardly the only painting friar, but he was an exceptionally good one. His work is a perfect model of Gothic painting, with the gilded backgrounds and flattened space inherited from Byzantine styles married with nuanced facial expressions on his saints and madonnas. His Abraham scowls, Mary eschews humility for a look closer to suspicion.

The thing we grudgingly love about Lawrence Lorenzo Monaco is his stubborn ability to resist the influence of new ideas. Because Monaco lived at one of the most important pivots in the history of art — the dawn of the Italian renaissance. Based in Florence, Monaco painted at the same time and the same place as Fra Angelico who revived the detailed drapery and palpable human weight of the greek sculptors, and just a few years before Piero della Francesca who would re-invent three dimensional perspective. The art world was on fire, about to change forever, and old Monaco sat right in the middle of it, patiently laying out his gold leaf, honoring the tradition he was born into. He may have missed the renaissance, but nearly seven centuries laters, Monaco’s work stands as some of the most delicate and refined examples of Gothic Art.


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Reed Enger, "Lorenzo Monaco, Gothic tradition is good enough for me," in Obelisk Art History, Published May 26, 2017; last modified May 21, 2018, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/lorenzo-monaco/.

Further reading atnga.gov
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Madonna, Lorenzo Monaco


Last Judgment in an Initial C, Lorenzo Monaco

Last Judgment in an Initial C

Virgin and Child, Lorenzo Monaco

Virgin and Child

Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Lorenzo Monaco

Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata


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