Filippo Lippi was born of poor parents living in the neighborhood of the Carmine in Florence. An orphan when only two years old, he was cared for by an aunt until at eight years of age he was taken to the Carmelite convent, where he remained until 1431, taking orders in 1421. He is first mentioned as a painter in 1430. His early works show the influence of Masolino, who was perhaps his teacher during his employment in the Brancacci Chapel. Fra Angelico’s style appears also. He must have watched Masaccio in his work for the Order, and found in him the most potent force toward the naturalism so apparent in his mature work.
Many of his early panels were done for the Medici family; then followed large commissions for convents in Florence and elsewhere as his art developed. In 1452 he was called to Prato to decorate the choir of the cathedral with scenes from the lives of John the Baptist and St. Stephen. The tondo of the Pitti and the Madonna of the Uffizi date from this period of fifteen years, during which he worked intermittently on the frescos of the cathedral, which he completed, with much assistance from Fra Diamante, a pupil, in 1467. Early in this period he was appointed chaplain of a small community of nuns, one of whom, Lucrezia Buti, by a special papal dispensation, was later permitted to become his wife, the mother of his son Filippino Lippi. The Coronation of the Virgin in the choir apse of the cathedral of Spoleto, begun in 1467, was his last work.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 155. Annunciation. No. 157. Seven Saints. National Gallery, London.
Tempera, on wood. These lunettes were formerly over doors in the palace of the Medici (now the Riccardi Palace). They bear the family emblem, three feathers in a ring. They were perhaps painted while he was working in the palace for Cosimo, his patron. They are among the finest examples of Fra Lippo’s early work, miniature-like in their finish and clear brilliant color, beauty of faces and dainty detail.
The saints are John the Baptist in the center between Francis and Dominic, at the left Cosmo and Lawrence, at the right Anthony and Peter Martyr.
Notice the simplicity and beauty of the arrangement, despite the cramping of the figures at either end; the tranquillity of the scene; the decorative use of trees and plants for background and foreground. Compare the halos with those of other painters. What resemblance between this Annunciation and that by Fra Angelico? Notice the signs of the inexperienced painter.
No. 154. Annunciation.
Tempera on wood; height of figures 15 inches. Upper figures from the shutters of an altarpiece; the lower figures are St. Anthony and John the Baptist. These are among the most beautiful of Fra Lippo’s figures, obviously early, while he was still practising on the human form.
Notice the sweep and swing of the drapery, the way it lies upon the ground; compare 155. The garments are bordered with a pattern touched with gold. The angel’s face is of unusual beauty and reverence. The rose garlands suggest those of the Coronation, 149.
No. 151. Madonna adoring the Child.
Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
Panel painted during his early Florentine period (1435?). It is believed to have stood later on the altar in the chapel decorated by Benozzi Gozzoli (see 160-162). Two similar pictures now in the Florence Academy preceded this, the best of the three.
Note the religious devotion of the Madonna, the naturalness of the children. Compare Fra Angelico’s Madonna of the Linaiuoli, 115. Consider the theological problem to be overcome in the representation of the Trinity. What is the aesthetic value of the setting?
No. 149. Coronation of the Virgin.
The most important of Fra Lippo’s pictures in tempera. Commissioned in 1434 for the high altar of S. Ambrogio, Florence, and finished seven years later, 1441. Fra Lippo himself with folded hands is seen kneeling at the right, the angel before him holds a scroll with the words Iste perfecit opus ” (this man did the work). This is the picture described in Browning’s poem. In medallions on the frame are the angel and Madonna of the Annunciation.
Study the arrangement of figures, the balance without monotony, the unforced adaptation to the frame. Compare the angels with those by Fra Angelico. Note that garlands have taken the place of halos. Consider the division of interest between the theme of the picture above and the group of kneeling figures below, and how it might have been avoided. The standing figures of John the Baptist on the right and St. Ambrose on the left have great dignity.
No. 150. Madonna with Saints and Angels.
Commissioned for a chapel in S. Spirito, Florence, about 1438, and painted while he had the larger piece for S. Ambrogio in mind, perhaps already begun. A simpler picture, it is also more devout. There is much dignity in the figures and beauty in the angels. The child held on the mother’s hip is an unusual touch of nature. Notice the drapery, especially the Madonna’s mantle, as it crosses the folds of the gown beneath; Fra Lippo’s use of the lily. Compare carefully with 149.
No. 146. St. John taking leave of his Mother.
No. 147. Obsequies of St. Stephen.
No. 148. Salome, from the Feast of Herod.
Frescos, executed 1452-1467.
The little Duomo of Prato, begun in the twelfth century, was completed by Giovanni Pisano early in the fourteenth. On a corner of the façade is the open-air pulpit by Donatello (442). Few if any stained glass windows in Italy compare in size and magnificence with the one, designed probably by Fra Filippo, which fills the end of the choir. His important series of frescos cover the side walls of the choir in two tiers, with lunettes above, scenes from the life of the Baptist on the right, of St. Stephen on the left. Fine figures of the Evangelists occupy the sections of the vaulted ceiling.
146 presents an unusual scene. Study the composition of the group, the sentiment expressed.
148 shows the figure of Salome dancing at Herod’s feast, painted about 1457. Compare with the Salome by Masolino, 130, 131. This is one of the earliest representations of rapid motion. Study the movement of body, the use of drapery in interpreting the motion and as an element of beauty.
147. Compare the funeral of St. Stephen with Giotto’s Death of St. Francis, 73, noting resemblances and differences and relative advance or decline in technique and sincerity of sentiment, the gain of one hundred and thirty years. Many portraits are introduced. This is probably the last of the series and completed under the coercion of the cathedral authorities.
No. 153. Madonna and Child.
Tondo, diameter 4 feet. Painted soon after the artist went to Prato in 1452.
Fra Lippo was one of the first, if not the very first, to paint the circular picture so popular in Italian art. This is one of the most important of his pictures in the new temper that pervades it and in its influence on later art. In the background are scenes from the life of the Virgin. The child holds a pomegranate, the symbol of immortality.
Interpret the scenes of the background, their effect upon the meaning of the picture, upon its beauty. Notice the excellence of individual figures. Compare the hurrying girl with Salome, 148.
Study the composition in relation to the circular form. Note the development of Filippo’s Madonna type, in beauty and sentiment, the change in costume, and its effect on both elements.
No. 152. Madonna and Child with Angels.
No. 156. Madonna, Child, and Angel.
The Madonna of the Uffizi is Fra Lippo’s most beautiful easel picture in its color harmony, a soft bluish-green predominating. It was painted in Florence in 1457, during a short absence from Prato, Mr. Strutt believes (p. 119). He considers the example in the Innocenti, 156, as the precursor of the picture in the Uffizi. Steinmann in his monograph on Botticelli claims it for him.
Study the composition, the effect of the background, the children and their relation to the Madonna, in both.
No. 158. Coronation of the Virgin.
Fresco in the semi-dome of the choir. Fra Filippo’s last and finest work, though injured by restoration. The decoration of the choir was begun in 1466 and completed after his death in 1469 by Fra Diamante.
Compare with the earlier Coronation, 149. Notice the majesty of the figure of the Eternal, the unusual character of the Madonna, the charming groups of children. Allowance must be made for the foreshortening due to the photographing of the curved surface.
Benozzo Gozzoli (Benozzo di Lese di Sandro).
Benozzo’s early training as a goldsmith fitted him to assist Ghiberti on the second bronze doors. In 1447 he went to Rome and Orvieto as pupil and assistant to Fra Angelico. In 14501452 he painted for the Franciscan monastery of Montefalco the story of St. Francis, work that influenced the Umbrian artists in the neighboring town of Foligno. His most successful work was the decoration of the private chapel in the Medici palace, begun in the summer of 1459. In 1464 he was called to the hill-town of S. Gimignano to decorate the choir greens of the landscape predominate, against which the gay costumes and jewelled trappings of the horses stand out, the details picked out in gold.
The landscape which seems so unnatural may be seen today in a curiously eroded section of land south of Florence; the castle on the hill-top is like those that still crown the hills of the region, even the trees may still be seen, with their tops against the sky in any Tuscan landscape.
Consider Benozzo’s inventive genius in these scenes, his love of narrative. Compare with Giotto in these respects. Consider the problems of wall decoration; compare with earlier work, with later Renaissance work.
Study the perspective, in the drawing of animals, in the treatment of the landscape. How thoroughly is it understood? What is lacking? Consider the reasons for the small space given to the sky.
How original is Benozzo’s work? What remains of Fra Angelico’s influence?
No. 163. Building the Tower of Babel.
No. 164. Angels, from the Life of Abraham.
Campo Santo, Pisa.
Frescos painted 1468-1484.
The Campo Santo of Pisa is a celebrated burial ground about 400 by 118 feet in size, surrounded by a Gothic arcade enclosed by a solid wall on the outer side. (See note under Nos. 98-102, and Kugler I, 109-117.) During the second half of the fourteenth century Tuscan painters covered the inner face of three of these great walls with frescos. The war between Florence and Pisa interrupted the work until, seventy years later, Benozzo resumed the decoration, completing it in sixteen years. The twenty-four scenes cover Old Testament story from Noah to Solomon. Like the frescos in the Riccardi Chapel, these are treated as contemporaneous scenes, with numerous portraits and episodes from town and country life. The work has suffered seriously from dampness and neglect.
163 is the lower left-hand portion of the great scene in which the building of the Tower in mediaeval brick work is made the occasion for presenting groups of dignified citizens standing to have their portraits painted. Notice their solidity and dignity, the introduction of non-portrait faces, the mediaeval buildings and valley landscape in the background. Compare with 160-162.
164 represents the three angels entertained by Abraham. Compare with the angels of the chapel, 162. Notice the sense of forward movement. Consider Benozzo’s type of face, its commonplaceness; Benozzo’s enjoyment in the everyday affairs of life.