Fra Diamante: Quattrocento Art, Imprisonment and Changing Spirituality

Diamante di Feo was born in Terranuova, Val d’Arno in 1430 and began his artistic career as a pupil of Fra Filippo Lippi. Following his master’s death in 1469, Diamante completed the unfinished fresco cycle depicting the life of the Virgin Mary in Spoleto Cathedral (below). 

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Prior to his artistic apprenticeship, as a child, Diamante had been placed in the Monastery of the Carmine at Prato by his father. Accordingly, he took the habit, becoming a mendicant friar. 

In 1463, Fra Diamante was ordered to return to Florence and subsequently imprisoned for a crime that remains a mystery. Nevertheless, the Archbishop of Florence intervened and Fra Diamante was later released. Possibly as a result of his treatment and incarceration, Diamante turned his back on the Carmelites and shifted his bruised spirituality to the Vallambrosans. By 1466, he had been appointed as the Chaplain of Convento di Santa Margherita, Prato and in 1472 is documented at San Pacrazio, Florence. During 1483, Fra Diamante had risen to become the Prior of San Pietro in Gello, near Volterra.

In a strange turn of events, by 1498, Fra Diamante found himself under lock and key again. Similar to his previous brush with the authorities, the cause of his incarceration is not known, although it is believed that Diamante lost his liberty on the orders of the Prior of San Salvi, a Vallombrasan convent located just outside of Florence. The date of Fra Diamante’s death is unknown.

Images: Fra Diamante, The Nativity, 1465-70, oil and tempera on poplar wood, 166 x 166 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Web Gallery of Art.

View of the Apse of the Cathedral in Spoleto. Web Gallery of Art.

Adoration of the Child, c.1470, oil on panel, 90.5 cm x 59.5 cm, National Museum of Warsaw. Wikimedia Commons.

Filippono Lippi and Fra Diamante, Santa Margherita Predella, 15th century, oil on panel, Museo Civico Prato. 

References: D. E. Colnaghi, A Dictionary of Florentine Painters from the 13th o the 17th Centuries by Sir Dominic Ellis Colnaghi, k. B., Late H. M. Consul-General at Florence, eds. P. G. Monody and Selwyn Brinton, London, John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd., 1928.

G. B. Cavalcaselle  and J. A. Crowe, Storia della pittura in Italia, V, Firenze 1892, pp. 245-256.

E. Borsook, “Fra’ Filippo Lippi and the murals for Prato Cathedral.” In Mitteilungen des Kunsthistor Institutes in Florenz, XIX (1975), pp. 1-148.

Posted by Samantha Hughes-Johnson.

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