Fra Angelico was born Guido di Pietro, at Vicchio, in the Tuscan province of Mugello, near Florence towards the end of the 14th century, of unknown but seemingly well-to-do parentage. Still a young boy he was admitted at the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole, where Dominican friars were known for their rigid rules. He completed his novitiate in Cortona in 1408 and became a real Dominican monk in Fiesole about 1418 with the name of "Fra Giovanni da Fiesole", "The Angelic" is a laudatory term which was assigned to him at an early date.
His earliest extant performances, in considerable number, are at Cortona, where he was sent during his novitiate. Here apparently he spent all the opening years of his monastic life. His first works executed in fresco were probably those, now destroyed, which he painted in the convent of S. Domenico in this city. As a fresco-painter, he may have worked under Gherardo Starnina. From 1418 to 1436 he was back at Fiesole; in 1436 he was transferred to the Dominican convent of S. Marco in Florence.
In the convent of San Marco, in the years 1438-1445, he decorated the cells, the hall of the Chapter, the corridors, the colonnade, the church altarpiece. He may have studied about this time the renowned frescoes in the Brancacci chapel in the Florentine church of the Carmine and also the paintings of Orcagna.
In 1445, after the success of these works he was invited by pope Eugenius IV to Rome. Fra Angelico stayed in Rome in the first half of 1447 and painted in the Vatican the Cappella del Sacramento, which was afterwards demolished by Paul III. In June 1447 he proceeded to Orvieto, to decorate the Cappella Nuova of the cathedral, with the co-operation of his pupil Benozzo Gozzoli. In 1450, Fra Angelico became Prior of the convent of San Marco and later Archbishop of Florence. He afterwards returned to Rome to paint the chapel of Nicholas V. In this capital he died in 1455, and he was buried in the church of the Minerva.
He decorated many of the rooms of the Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence, among which many of the individual cells.
He used to say "He who does Christ's work must stay with Christ always". This motto granted the epithet "Blessed Angelico", "because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Pope John Paul II, 1982)".
He led a holy and self-denying life, shunning all advancement, and was a brother to the poor, no man ever saw him in anger. He painted with unceasing diligence, depicting only sacred subjects, he never retouched or altered his work, probably with a religious feeling that such as divine providence allowed the thing to come, such it should remain. It is averred that he never handled a brush without fervent prayer and he wept when he painted a Crucifixion. The Last Judgment and the Annunciation were two of the subjects he most frequently treated.
His life and work have been celebrated for centuries, yet only recently has Fra Angelicos fundamental importance in the development of European painting been fully appreciated. In spite of the fact that Fra Angelico's life unfolded in a monastic environment, his art stands as an important link between the first and later generations of Renaissance painting in Florence.