Painters Of Florence – Filippino Lippi

FILIPPINO LIPPI was the son of Fra Filippo and Lucrezia Buti, the nun of Prato, and adopted this name to distinguish him from his father. He was born at Prato, in 1457, and received his first training from Fra Filippo, after whose death, in 1469, he returned to Florence with Fra Diamante and was placed in Sandro Botticelli’s workshop. Under the eye of this master, who, we are told by Vasari, took the keenest interest in promising students, the boy made rapid progress, and soon became an independent master. With none of Sandro’s genius, and without any strong individuality of his own, Filippino was a clever and accomplished artist, whose pleasant and gentle nature made him a general favourite. His early works a tondo of the Madonna and Child, with angels offering flowers, in the Corsini Gallery, an Annunciation at Naples, and a panel of four Saints in a meadow, at San Michele of Lucca show a marked likeness to Fra Filippo’s style, together with a grace and refinement peculiar to himself. His own qualities and his father’s memory secured him the favour of the Medici and brought him important commissions. In 1482, when he was only five-and-twenty, he was engaged to paint a fresco in a hall of the Palazzo Pubblico, at the same terms which had been offered to Perugino, who had gone to Rome without executing the work. Two years later, he was chosen by the Carmelite friars to complete the frescoes of the Brancacci Chapel which Masaccio had left unfinished in 1428. The Brancacci family was extinct, and now that the chapel had become the property of the convent, the friars were anxious to complete the work. The best fresco-painters Botticelli, Ghirlandajo and Rosselli were absent in Rome, so, by Lorenzo de’ Medici’s advice, they entrusted the task to the son of Fra Filippo, who had himself been a brother of their order. The result justified the wisdom of their choice, and the five subjects which the young master painted in the famous chapel are not unworthy of the proud place they occupy. First of all, Filippino completed Masaccio’s unfinished fresco of the Raising of the King’s Son, adding the kneeling figure of the youth, the group of men under the wall, on the left, and the row of eight figures on the right. All of these are said to be portraits of contemporary personages. The naked boy is the painter Francesco Granacci, then fourteen years of age, and among the citizens on the left are Filippino’s patron, Piero della Pugliese, the poet Pulci, Marco Soderini, and Piero Guicciardini, the father of the historian. On the opposite wall, Filippino, following Masaccio’s example, combined two subjects in one large fresco, the Trial of St. Peter and St. Paul before the tribunal of Nero, and the Crucifixion of St. Peter. The figure of Nero, seated on his throne under a green baldacchino and stretching out his arm towards the prisoners, is full of dignity, and his head is copied from Roman medals. As before, the spectators are chiefly portraits of well known Florentines. We recognise Antonio Pollaiuolo in the tall man with the long nose and high cap, standing near Casar, and Filippino himself in the graceful and picturesque youth in the right-hand corner, while Sandro Botticelli, clad in a red mantle and grey cap, is one of the three men standing immediately in front of the archway which connects the two subjects, watching the scene of martyrdom. All the progress which Painting had made during the last sixty years, the wonderful advance in realistic portraiture and scientific know-ledge, the mastery of problems of chiaroscuro and perspective, which Masaccio had first tried to solve, and which were now the common property of every artist’s apprentice, are embodied in this fresco. But although so much fresh ground had been gained, and although Filippino was undoubtedly one of the cleverest and most accomplished masters of his age, his composition fails to reach the power and grandeur of Masaccio’s works. He was more successful in the two smaller subjects which he painted on the pilasters below Masaccio’s frescoes of Adam and Eve, at the entrance of the chapel. The figure of St. Paul addressing St. Peter as he prays behind his prison-bars, is solemn and noble, and the young soldier, sleeping on his bench outside the prison, while the angel opens the doors and delivers the captive, has the simple charm and grace that are Filippino’s most attractive qualities.

During the next few years, the young master painted several of his finest works. In 1486, he finished a large picture of the enthroned Madonna crowned by angels and attended by the patrons of Florence, St. Zenobius and the Baptist, St. Bernard and St. Victor, which is now in the Uffizi. A companion for this altar-piece, which was destined for the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Pubblico, had been originally given to Leonardo as far back as 1478, but now that he had left Florence the task was assigned to Filippino. The Florentine arms appear in the upper part of the picture, which is remarkable for its clear, luminous colour and for the lovely angel-faces that Filippino loves to repeat. The same transparent hues, the same exquisite boy-angels, appear in the great picture of the Vision of St. Bernard, which he painted in 1487, by order of Piero del Pugliese for a chapel in the village of Campora, belonging to the Badia of Florence. During the siege of the city, in 1529, this altar-piece was removed for safety to the Badia, where it is still the ornament of that ancient shrine. Here Filippino has far excelled his father’s version of the same subject, and never succeeded in rendering so beautiful an expression as that of St. Bernard as, sitting at his desk, he gazes in love and yearning at the mild Virgin-face which has suddenly dawned upon his prayer. To the same date we may ascribe the Madonna in S. Spirito, with the fine portraits of the donor, Tanai de’ Nerli, and his wife, who are presented to her by St. Martin and St. Katherine, and a distant view of the Porta S. Frediano, with Tanai alighting from his horse and embracing his little girl.

By this time the fame of Filippino had reached the ears of Matthias Corvinus, the art-loving King of Hungary, who married Beatrice of Aragon, and employed Leonardo to paint pictures, and Benedetto da Majano to make intarsias, and the young Florentine artist received an invitation to this monarch’s court. This, however, he declined, but agreed to paint two altar-pieces, in one of which he introduced the king’s portrait, and which he sent to Hungary when he left Florence for Rome, in September 1488. He had been already strongly recommended by Lorenzo de’ Medici to Cardinal Caraffa, who had sent to Florence for a painter to decorate a chapel in S. Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, and who was so much pleased with Filippino when he saw him, that he declared he would not change the artist sent to him by the Magnifico for all the painters of ancient Greece. Before Filippino set out on his journey, he made a will leaving two houses at Prato, which he had inherited from his father, and the property which he owned in Florence, to his mother and sister, and bequeathed the remainder of his estate to the Hospital of S. Maria Nuova, on the condition that a liberal provision of corn, wine, oil, salt meat and wood should be given yearly to his ” beloved mother, Lucrezia Buti.” On his way to Rome, the painter visited his father’s burial-place at Spoleto, and, by Lorenzo de’ Medici’s command, erected a marble monument to Fra Filippo’s memory.

The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas — that favourite theme of the Dominican Order which Giottesque masters had represented 140 years before in the Chapter-house of Santa Maria Novella was the subject of the frescoes which Filippino painted in the great Dominican church in Rome, for his Neapolitan patron, Cardinal Caraffa. A portion of the work, in which the victory of the Theological Virtues was set forth, has been destroyed by the erection of a monument to Pope Paul IV., but a fresco of the Assumption and an Annunciation, with Cardinal Caraffa kneeling at the feet of the Angelic Doctor, are painted above the altar. On the east we have a lunette with Thomas kneeling before the miraculous Crucifix, bearing the words “Bene scripsisti de me, Thema,” and a large representation of the Saint in glory trampling on a heretic who lies prostrate at his feet. Other false teachers are seen below with confusion on their faces and their heretical books lying in a heap on the ground, while a number of spectators contemplate their discomfiture from a balcony behind. There is considerable skill in the grouping and composition, and the rich Renaissance architecture and classical monuments in the background are cleverly introduced ; but we miss the simple dignity and repose of the Brancacci frescoes, and the spontaneous charm of the painter’s youthful works. Like all his contemporaries, Filippino was deeply impressed by the wonders of ancient Rome, and filled his sketch-books with drawings of arabesques and ornamental details from antique remains, which were carefully preserved by his son, and which afterwards proved of great service to the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini.

As early as April 1487, Filippo Strozzi, the builder of the famous Strozzi Palace in Florence, had engaged Filippino to decorate his family chapel in Santa Maria Novella, and now he vainly urged the absent master to fulfil his promise. In a letter from Rome, dated May 2, 1489, the painter expresses his warm gratitude to Strozzi for kindness far beyond his deserts, and deeply regrets that he has so far been unable to comply with his request, since he is detained in Rome by the Cardinal, who has proved himself the best of patrons, and for whom he is executing the frescoes in Santa Maria, of which he proceeds to give a full description. Since, however, he intends to be at home again by the feast of San Giovanni, he will then undertake the work for Filippo Strozzi and attend to nothing else until it is finished. But it seems doubtful whether the master returned to Florence at all that year, and the first record we have of his presence there is in January 1491, when he was one of the competitors who supplied designs for the façade of the Duomo. By this time Filippo Strozzi was dead, and it was not until 1500 that the heirs were able to induce Filippino to carry out their father’s wishes. Orders from all sides poured in upon the popular master, who found it quite impassible to satisfy all the demands that were made upon him. A fresco representing a sacrifice, which, he began in a loggia of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s villa at Poggio a Caiano, and which is still in existence, was left unfinished, probably on account of the Magnifico’s death, in 1492. Another commission which he accepted was an order from the monks of the Certosa of Pavia, who applied to him on the recommendation of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Early in 1495, this prince, who already had Leonardo in his service, asked his envoy in Florence to send him the names of the best painters to be found in the city. In reply he received the following note, which is curious, as showing how accurately the position and merits of the three chief Florentine masters at the close of the fifteenth century were judged by their contemporaries

“Sandro de Botticello a most excellent master, both in fresco and tempera. His figures have a manly air, and are admirable in conception and proportion.

Filippino di Frate Filippo an excellent disciple of the above named, and a son of the rarest master of our times. His heads have a gentler and sweeter air, but we are inclined to think less art.

Domenico de Grillandaio a good master in panels, and a better one in wall painting. His figures are good, and he is an active and industrious master, who accomplishes a great deal of work.”

The result of this communication was that Lodovico Moro advised the monks of Pavia to engage Filippino, who, on March 7, 1495, entered into an agreement to paint a Pietà for the Certosa. But he never executed this commission, and, in 1511, long after the painter was dead and the Duke had been carried into captivity, another Florentine master, Mariotto Albertinelli, undertook the work which he had left undone.

Another important work which Filippino never accomplished was an altar-piece for the Hall of the Great Council, which ne agreed to paint in 1498, but never began, and which was afterwards assigned to Fra Bartolommeo. He did, however, succeed in completing one large altar-piece, the Adoration of the Magi, for which Leonardo had received a commission from the monks of S. Donato, in the year 148r, but which he had never finished. Filippino’s picture contains as many as thirty figures, among whom are several portraits of the Medici. In the young king, who is in the act of taking his gift in his hand, while a page removes his crown, we recognise Giovanni di Pier Francesco, who became the third husband of Caterina Sforza, the famous Madonna of Forli, and was the father of the bold Condottiere, Giovanni delle Bande Nere. As usual in Filippino’s works, the figures are noble and life-like, but the tendency to overload them with ornament becomes more apparent, and there are evident signs of haste in the execution. On the back of the panel we read the inscription : ” Filippus me pinxit de Lipio Florentinus ad di 29, di Marzo, 1496.”

The next year, Filippino, who was now forty years of age, married Maddalena dei Monti, by whom he left three sons, the eldest of whom, Francesco, became a goldsmith, and was the gentle youth with whom Benvenuto Cellini formed so fair a friendship. In the same year, 1497, the painter was chosen, together with Cosimo Rosselli, Benozzo Gozzoli and Perugino, to value Alessio Baldovinetti’s frescoes in the Trinita, and, in 1498, he was among the artists and architects who met to consult over the restoration of the cupola of the Duomo, which had been struck by lightning. That summer he went back to his native city of Prato, and painted the beautiful fresco which still adorns a tabernacle in the corner of the market-place, close to the convent of S. Margherita, where his mother, Lucrezia, first met the Carmelite friar. This lovely Madonna with the choir of angel-babies in a golden sky, has all the delicate charm and purity of Filippino’s early works, and deserves the praise which Vasari be-stows upon its perfection. His later pictures at Bologna and Genoa are inferior both in design and workmanship, and even the fine altar-piece which he painted for the Rucellai Chapel, in S. Pancrazio, suffers from the mannerism which mars so much of his later work, while the colour of the picture has been ruined by a coat of dark varnish. A far truer idea of the painter’s style is obtained from a fragment of a fresco representing an Angel with clasped hands, which hangs in the same room of the National Gallery.

Filippino’s last cycle of frescoes were the scenes from the lives of St. Philip and St. John the Evangelist, in the Strozzi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, which he began early in 1500, and only finished in 1502, as we learn from an inscription on the triumphal arch in the Resurrection of Drusiana. These paintings were the master’s final and most ambitious effort, to which he brought the knowledge and experience of years, and in which he put forth all his powers. They contain, it must be owned, some very striking scenes. The look of strange surprise on the face of the dead woman, who comes to life again, and the mingled horror and amazement of the men who carry the bier, are finely given. The miracle of St. Philip exorcising the dragon in the temple of Mars, while the king’s son falls back dying in his servants’ arms, is rendered with dramatic effect. But the exaggerated action of many of the figures, the confusion of streaming draperies and waving scarves, and the endless quantity of bas-reliefs, caryatides, and arabesques with which the walls and pilasters of the temple are loaded, destroy all sense of beauty and repose. Yet these frescoes excited the utmost admiration at the time they were painted, and Vasari cannot contain his delight in the novelty and variety of the objects introduced ” The temples, armour, helmets, vases, trophies and other things, all painted in so admirable a manner that they deserve the highest praise.”

In 1503, Filippino who had already undertaken two commissions which Leonardo had failed to execute agreed to paint a Deposition for the high altar of the church of the Annunziata, to supply the place of the picture which his great contemporary had begun, but never finished. This altar-piece had in the first place been assigned to Filippino, but when Leonardo came back to Florence, in 1500, he was heard to say, that he would gladly have under-taken the work himself. Upon this, says Vasari, Filippino ” like the amiable man that he was,” gave up his claim at once, and Leonardo produced the cartoon of the Madonna and St. Anne which excited so much admiration. Since, however, he made no further progress with the picture, and had again left Florence, the friars turned once more to Filippino, who set about the work at once. But there was a fate against the completion of the altar-piece, and only the upper part of Filippino’s picture was completed, when he was seized with a violent attack of fever, which carried him off in a few days. Filippino died on the 18th of April, 1504, and was buried two days later in San Michele Bisdomini, amidst tokens of universal grief and respect. ” And all the shops in the Via de’ Servi were closed,” writes Vasari, “when he was borne to his burial, as is only done, for the most part, at the funerals of princes.” His unfinished picture was completed after his death, by the Umbrian master Perugino, who added the group of the fainting Virgin and weeping women at the foot of the Cross.

Filippino’s best scholar was Raffaellino del Garbo, who accompanied him to Rome as his assistant, and worked both under him and Botticelli. A very unequal artist, Raffaellino never fulfilled the promise of his youth, and after Filippino’s death adopted exaggerated gestures and mannerisms which ruined his art. His best pictures are a charming Madonna with Angels playing musical instruments in a flowery meadow, at Berlin, a Resurrection, painted in oils, and closely resembling Filippino’s style, which originally hung in the Capponi chapel at Monte Oliveto, and the Pieta, formerly ascribed to Botticelli, at Munich. This last work is so powerful and dramatic in character, and so full of intense feeling, that we can have little doubt the conception is due to Botticelli, and the picture was painted from some design of his later years. Raffaellino died in 1524, at the age of fifty-eight.



Florence.–Accademia: 89. St. Mary of Egypt. 93. St. John the Baptist. 98. Deposition.

Florence.—Pitti: 336. Allegory of Youths attacked by Serpents.

” Uffizi : 286. Portrait of Painter. 1167. Old Man. 1257. Adoration of the Magi, 1268. Madonna and Child with four Saints and Angels.

” Palazzo Corsini: Madonna and Child with Angels.

” Palazzo Torrigiani : Bust of Youth.

” Badia: Vision of St. Bernard.

” Carmine, Brancacci Chapel: Frescoes—Raising of the King’s Son (partly) ; SS. Peter and Paul before Nero; Crucifixion of St. Peter; St. Paul visiting St. Peter in prison ; Angels delivering St. Peter.

” Santa Maria Novella, Strozzi Chapel: Frescoes —Lives of St. John the Evangelist, and St. Philip.

” Poggio a Caiano : Fragment of Fresco—A Sacrifice.

” Bologna. —S. Domenico: Marriage of St. Katherine.

“Genoa.—Palazzo Bianco: Madonna and Child with Saints.

“Lucca.—S. Michele: SS. Helena, Sebastian, Jerome and Roch.

” Naples.—Scuola Toscana: Annunciation.

” Prato.—Gallery: 16. Madonna and Child with St. John Baptist and St. Stephen.

” Canto sul Mercatale, Tabernacle: Fresco—Madonna and Child with Cherubs and SS. Margherita, Stephen and Anthony.

Rome.—S. Maria sopra Minerva, Caraffa Chapel: Frescoes —Annunciation, Assumption, Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas ; Vision of the Crucifix.

Venice.—Seminario: 15. Christ and the Woman of Samaria. 17. Noli me Tangere.

Berlin.—Gallery: 78a. Allegory of Music. 96. Crucifixion. 101. Madonna and Child.

Boston, U.S.A.—Mrs. Warren, Holy Family.

London.-National Gallery: 293. Madonna and Child, with SS. Jerome and Dominic ; 927. Angel.

Oxford.—Allegory of the Centaur and Cupid.

RAFFAELLINO DEL GARBO : Florence.—Accademia: 90. Resurrection.

Naples.—Scuola Romana: 15. Madonna and Child with St. John.

Parma.—Gallery: 56. Madonna giving the Girdle to St. Thomas.

Venice.—Lady Bayard: Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Berlin.—Gallery: 78. and 81. Portraits. 90. Madonna and Child with two Angels.

London.—Mr Benson: Madonna and Child with Angels. Munich.—Pinacothek : 1009. Pieta.

Oxford.—Christ Church: Magdalen.