Fra Filippo Lippi – Madonna And Child

Here the tondo or circular form is made the basis of a complex and unusual design. Unlike Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair, it is not a shallow sculptural relief, but a vista into deep space. It is intricately fitted together of odd perspectives, of walls at different angles, of contrasting lights and colors, and of figures in different attitudes, at different distances from the eye. The result is a design made up of spatial compartments, quite different from any of Giotto’s, and different also from the realistic space composition of the later Renaissance. The individual faces are subordinated to an extent unusual in Lipp], and the picture consequently lacks the popular appeal of some of his others, in which unidealized Florentine visages beam forth amiably. In the arrangement of figures, it is far removed from the confused huddling of his Coronation of the Virgin (8352) and from the Byzantine, decorative flatness of the Virgin Adoring (8353). Its coloring, too, has lost his early Byzantine quality of bright surface contrasts. The outlines still stand out in linear sharpness, especially in the ornate draperies of the woman with the basket. But the flesh-tints are softer, and the color-areas more closely merged into one pervasive key of dull red, gray-green and golden brown—Venetian in hue, if not in texture.

The sharp distinctness of parts, which would conflict with Venetian atmosphere, is here necessary to bring out the complex design. At bottom, the scheme is a division of the circle into wedge-shaped segments, their points toward the center. But this is never tiresomely exact: the points are all a little off center; the segments irregular and different in size. The most emphatic of these is formed by the Madonna and child, a triangular group, with the Madonna’s head, which is the picture’s focus, coming above the center of the picture. Another is the whole upper right-hand section, of many light-colored walls, coming down to a point at her left shoulder, again off center. A third is the group about the bed, whose lighted bodies form a triangle pointing toward the Madonna’s right cheek. Smaller triangles are found in the red curtains and coverlet, the stairway and lighted parts of the floor. Deep-cut windows and doors, in oblique perspective, floor-tiles and steps, knees and elbows of figures, all fit into this pattern of converging angles.