Fra Filippo Lippi

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Gothic and Early Renaissance
Fra Filippo Lippi

born c. 1406, Florence
died Oct. 8/10, 1469, Spoleto, Papal States

Florentine painter inthe second generation of Renaissance artists.While exhibiting thestrong influence of Masaccio (e.g., in “Madonna and Child,” 1437) and Fra Angelico (e.g., in “Coronation of the Virgin,” c. 1445),his work achieves a distinctive clarity ofexpression. Legend and tradition surround his unconventional life.

Life and works

After the death of both his father and mother, the young Filippo Lippi stayed with an aunt in Florence for some years, and in 1421 he pronounced the vows of a Carmelite monk at Sta. Maria del Carmine. The Brancacci chapel of this monastery was at this time being decorated with frescoes byMasaccio. These frescoes, which were to be among the most glorious and influential paintings of the Renaissance, were Lippi's first important contact with art.
In 1432 Lippi left the monastery after having painted some frescoes in the church and in the cloister. According to the Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a lively and fanciful profile of the painter, Lippi was abducted with some companions by the Moors on the Adriatic, held as a slave for 18 months, and then freed after he painted a portrait of his owner. It is known that in 1434 the artist was at Padua. None of the works executed in the period at Padua is known, but the effect of his presence may be recognized in the paintings of others there, such as Mantegna.
In 1437 Lippi returned to Florence, protected by the powerful Medici family, and was commissioned to execute several works for convents and churches.
The qualities he acquired during his years of travel are affirmed with clarity in two works of 1437, immediately after he returned from Padua: “The Virgin and Child Between SS. Frediano and Augustin” and the “Madonna and Child.” In both of these altarpieces, the influence of Masaccio is still evident, but it is absorbed into a different style, having the pictorial effect of bas-relief, rendered more evident by lines, so that it resembles the reliefs of the sculptors Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia. In these works, the colour is warm, toned down with shadings, approaching the limpid chromatics of his great contemporary Fra Angelico. Still further testimony of Lippi's development is the painting “The Annunciation,” formerly believed to be a late work but now dated between 1441 and 1443. It is composed in a new way, using the newly discovered effects of perspective and skillful contrasts between colour and form; the suggested movement of the light garments of the two frightened girls atthe door is rendered with such sensitivity as to anticipate Botticelli.
A famous altarpiece of the same time, Lippi's well-known “Coronation of the Virgin,” is a complex work crowded with figures. The celebrated altarpiece is so sumptuous in appearance that it seems to have been painted in competition with Angelico; it marks a historic point in Florentine painting in its success in uniting as one scene the various panels of a polyptych.
The altarpieces are characterized by a solemnity of composition that is absent from the paintings in which he developed a typical motive of 15th-century Florentine art: the Madonna with the Child at her breast. The masterpiece ofthese is “Madonna with Child and Scenes from the Life of Mary,” a circular painting now in the Pitti Palace in Florence; it is a clear and realistic mirror of life, transfigured in a most intimate way, and it had a great effect on Renaissance art.
A second “Coronation of the Virgin,” executed about 1445, displays a marked change in the style of Lippi—from the plastic values suggested by his study of Masaccio to the serene chromatics of Angelico.
In 1442 Lippi had been made rector of the church of S. Quirico at Legnaia. His life, however, became constantly more eventful, and tradition has given him the reputation (borne out in great part by documents) of a man dominated by love affairs and impatient of methodical or tranquil conduct. His adventures culminated in 1456 in his romantic flight from Prato, where he was painting in the convent of thenuns of Sta. Margherita, with a young woman of the convent, Lucrezia Buti. The Pope later gave permission to the former priest-painter to marry her, and from this union was born a son, Filippo, called Filippino, who was to be one of the most noted Florentine painters of the second half of the 15th century.
The bright and active city of Prato, a short distance from Florence, was the second home of Filippo Lippi. He returned to Prato often, staying there for long periods, painting frescoes and altarpieces. Accompanied by Fra Diamante, who had been his companion and collaborator since he was a young man, Lippi began to redecorate the walls of the choir of the cathedral there in 1452. He returned in 1463 and again in 1464, remaining in the city this time until 1467. At the centre of his activity in Prato stand the frescoes of the cathedral, with the four Evangelists and scenes from the lives of St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen. Perhaps the most solemn scene of the life and death of St. Stephen is the burial; at the sides of the funeral bed of the saint stand a crowd of prelates and illustrious persons in mourning, among them Cardinal Carlo de' Medici, Fra Diamante, and the artist himself.
In 1467 Lippi and Fra Diamante left for Spoleto, where he had received a commission, through the Medici family, for another vast undertaking: the decorations and frescoes of the choir of the cathedral, which included the “Nativity,” the “Annunciation,” the “Death of Mary,” and—in the centre of the vault of the apse—the “Coronation.” These frescoes were Lippi's final work; they were interrupted by his death, for which there are two documented dates—in the monks' necrology of Sta. Maria del Carmine in Florence and the archives of Spoleto. The Medici had a splendid sepulchre, designed by his son, erected for him in the cathedral of Spoleto.


Posthumous judgments of Filippo Lippi were often coloured by the traditions of his adventurous life. Moreover, his works have been criticized from time to time for their borrowings from other painters; nevertheless, it has also been recognized that his art was not diminished but rather enriched and rendered more balanced by what he took from Masaccio and Fra Angelico. He was constantly seeking the techniques to realize his artistic vision and the new ideas that made him one of the most appreciated artists of his time.
The 20th-century critic Bernard Berenson, who maintained that Lippi's true place as an artist was among the “painters of genius,” also described him as “a high-class illustrator,” intending by this to underline the importance of expressive content and the presentation of reality in his works. Later critics have recognized in Lippi a “narrative” spirit that reflected the life of his time and translated into everyday terms the ideals of the early Renaissance.

Valerio Mariani

Encyclopædia Britannica

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels
c. 1437
Tempera and gold on wood transferred from wood; arched top: 122,6 x 62,9 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Madonna and Child with Saints and a Worshipper
c. 1437
Panel, 49 x 38 cm
Ptivate collection

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints
c. 1430
Panel, 43,7 x 34,3 cm
Museo Diocesano, Empoli

Madonna of Humility (Trivulzio Madonna)
c. 1430
Castello Sforzesco, Milan

Madonna with Child (Tarquinia Madonna)
Tempera on panel, 151 x 66 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The Doctors of the Church
c. 1437
Panel, 129 x 65 cm (each)
Accademina Albertina, Turin


Madonna and Child
Panel, 155 x 71 cm
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence

Man of Sorrows
Panel, 82 x 101 cm
Archbishop's Palace, Florence

Madonna and Child with St Fredianus and St Augustine
Panel, 208 x 244 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

St Fredianus Diverts the River Serchio
c. 1438
Tempera on wood, 40 x 235 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Announcement of the Death of the Virgin
c. 1438
Tempera on wood, 40 x 235 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Vision of St Augustine
c. 1438
Tempera on wood, 40 x 235 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence