1902 Encyclopedia > Lippi


LIPPI, the name of three celebrated Italian painters.

I. FEA FILIPPO LIPPI (1412-1469), commonly called Lippo Lippi, one of the most celebrated painters of the Italian quatrocento, was born in Florence,—his father, Tommaso, being a butcher. His mother died in his earliest infancy, and his father two years later. His aunt, a poor woman named Monna Lapaccia, then took charge of him ; and in 1420, when only eight years of age, he was registered in the community of the Carmelite friars of the Carmine in Florence. Here he remained till 1432, and his early faculty for fine art was probably developed by studying from the works of Masaccio in the neighbouring chapel of the Brancacci. Between 1430 and 1432 he executed some works in the monastery, which were destroyed by a fire in 1771 ; they are specified by Vasari, and one of them was particularly marked by its resemblance to Masaccio's style. Eventually Fra Filippo quitted his convent, but it appears that he was not relieved from some sort of religious vow ; there is a letter of his, dated in 1439, in which be speaks of himself as the poorest friar of Florence, and says he is charged with the maintenance of six marriageable nieces. In 1452 he was appointed chaplain to the convent of S. Giovannino in Florence, and in 1457 rector (Rettore Rommendatario) of S. Quirico at Legnaia, and his gains were considerable, and even uncommonly large from time to time; but his poverty seems to have been chronic none the less, the money being spent, according to one account, in frequently recurring amours.

Vasari relates some curious and romantic adventures of Fra Filippo, which modern biographers are not inclined to believe. Except through Vasari, nothing whatever is known of his visits to Ancona and Naples, and his inter-mediate capture by Barbary pirates and enslavement in Barbary, whence his skill in portrait-sketching availed to release him. The doubts thrown upon his semi-marital relations with a Florentine lady appear, however, to be somewhat arbitrary; Vasari's account is circumstantial, and in itself not greatly improbable, and to say that he is the sole authority for the facts goes but a small way towards invalidating them. Towards June 1456 Fra Filippo was settled in Prato (near Florence) for the purpose of fulfilling an important commission which had been given him to paint frescos in the choir of the cathedral. Before actually undertaking this work he set about painting, in 1458, a picture for the convent chapel of St Margaret of Prato, and there saw Lucrezia Buti, the beautiful daughter of a Florentine, Francesco Buti; she was either a novice or a young lady placed under the nuns' guardianship. Lippi asked that she might be permitted to sit to him for the figure of the Madonna; he made passionate love to her, abducted her to his own house, and kept her there spite of the utmost efforts the nuns could make to reclaim her. The fruit of their loves was a boy, who became the painter, not less celebrated than his father, Filippino Lippi (noticed below). Such is substantially Vasari's narrative, published less than a century after the alleged events ; it is not refuted by saying, more than three centuries later, that perhaps Lippo had nothing to do with any such Lucrezia, and perhaps Lippino was his adopted son, or only an ordinary relative and scholar. The argument that two reputed portraits of Lucrezia in paintings by Lippo, one as a Madonna in a very fine picture in the Pitti gallery, and the other in the same character in a Nativity in the Louvre, are not alike comes to very little; and it is reduced to nothing when the disputant adds that the Louvre painting is probably not done by Lippi at all This painting comes, however, from St Margaret's at Prato, and is generally considered to be. the very one on which Vasari's story hinges.

The frescos in the choir of Prato cathedral, being the stories of the Baptist and of St Stephen, represented on the two opposite wall spaces, are the most important and monumental works which Fra Filippo has left, more especi-ally the last of the series, showing the ceremonial mourning over Stephen's corpse. This contains a portrait of the painter, but which is the proper figure is a question that has raised some diversity of opinion. Some of the subjects are legendary, as, for instance, the attempt of the d,evil to substitute a changeling for the infant protomartyr. At the end wall of the choir are S. Giovanni Gualberto and S. Albert, and on the ceiling the four evangelists.

The close of Lippi's life was spent at Spoleto, where he had been commissioned to paint, for the apse of the cathedral, some scenes from the life of the Virgin. In the semidome of the apse is Christ crowning the Madonna, with angels, sibyls, and prophets. This series, which is not wholly equal to the one at Prato, was completed by Fra Diamante after Lippi's death.
That Lippi died in Spoleto, on or about 8th October 1469, is an undoubted fact; the mode of his death is again a matter of dispute. It has been said that the pope granted Lippi a dispensation for marrying Lucrezia, but that, before the permission arrived, he had been poisoned by the indignant relatives either of Lucrezia herself, or of some lady who had replaced her in the inconstant painter's affections. This is now generally regarded as a fable ; and it may very well be such, although the incident does not present any intrinsic improbability in relation to the Italy of the 15th century. Fra Filippo lies buried in Spoleto,, with a monument erected to him by Lorenzo the Magnifi-cent ; he had always been zealously patronized by the Medici family, beginning with Cosmo Pater Patriae. Francesco di Pesello (called Pesellino) and Sandro Botticelli: were among his most distinguished pupils.

Some leading pictures by Lippi not already mentioned are the following. In 1441 he painted an altarpiece for the nuns of S. Ambrogio which is now a prominent attraction in the Accademia of Florence, and has been celebrated in Browning's well-known poem. It represents the Coronation of the Virgin among angels and saints, of whom many are Bernardine monks. One of these, placed to the right, is a half-length portrait of Lippo, pointed out by an inscrip-tion upon an angel's scroll " Is perfecit opus." The price paid foi this work in 1447 was 1200 Florentine lire, which seems surprisingly or even unaccountably large. For Geminiano Inghirami of Prato he painted the death of St Bernard, a fine specimen still extant. His principal altarpiece in this city is a Nativity in the refectory of S. Domenico,—the Infant on the ground adored by the Virgin and Joseph, between Sts George and Dominic, in a rocky landscape,, with the shepherds playing and six angels in the sky. In the Uffizi is a fine Virgin adoring the infant Christ, who is held by two angels ; in the London National Gallery, a Vision of St Bernard.. The picture of the Virgin and Infant with an Angel, in this same gallery, alsa ascribed to Lippi, is disputable.

Few pictures are so thoroughly enjoyable as those of Lippo Lippi i they show thfc .naivete of a strong rich nature, redundant in lively and somewhat whimsical observation. He approaches religious art from its human side, and is not pietistie though true to a phase of Catholic devotion. He was perhaps the greatest colourist and technical adept of his time, with good draughtsmanship,—a naturalist, with less vulgar realism than some of his contemporaries, and with much genuine episodical animation, including semi-humorous incidents and low characters. He made little effort after perspective and none for foreshortening*, was fond of ornamenting pilasters and other architectural features. Vasari says that Lippi was wont to hide the extremities in drapery, to evade difficulties. His career was one of continual development, without fundamental variation in style or in colouring. In his great works the proportions are larger than life..

II. FILIPPINO or LIPPINO LIPPI (1460-1505) was the natural son of Fra Lippo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti, born in Florence and educated at Prato. Losing his father before he had completed his tenth year, the boy took up his avocation as a painter, studying under Sandro Botticelli, and probably under Fra Diamante. The style which he formed was to a great extent original, but it bears clear traces of the manner both of Lippo and of Botticelli,—more ornamental than the first, more realistic and less poetical than the second. His powers developed early ; for we find him an accomplished artist by 1480, when he painted an altarpiece, the Vision of St Bernard, now in the Badia of Florence; it is in tempera, with almost the same force as oil painting. Soon afterwards, probably from 1482 to 1490, he began to work upon the frescos which completed the decoration of the famous Brancacci chapel in the Carmine, commenced by Masolino and Masaccio many years before. He finished Masaccio's subject of the Resurrection of the King's Son, and was the sole author of Paul's Interview with Peter in Prison, the Liberation of Peter, the Two Saints before the Proconsul, and the Cruci-fixion of Peter. These works, were none others extant from his hand, are sufficient to prove that Lippino stood in the front rank of the artists of his time. The dignified and expressive figure of St Paul in the second-named subject has always been particularly admired, and appears to have furnished a suggestion to Raphael for his Paul at Athens. Portraits of Luigi Pulci, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Lippino himself, and various others are to be found in this series. In 1485 he executed the great altarpiece of the Virgin and Saints, with several other figures, now in the Uffizi Gallery. Another of his leading works is the altar-piece for the Nerli Chapel in S. Spirito—the Virgin En-throned, with splendidly living portraits of Nerli and his wife, and a thronged distance. In 1489 Lippino was in Rome, painting in the church of the Minerva, having first passed through Spoleto to design the monument for his father in the cathedral of that city. Some of his principal frescos in the Minerva are still extant, the subjects being in celebration of St Thomas Aquinas. In one picture the saint is miraculously commended by a crucifix; in another, triumphing over heretics. In 1496 Lippino painted the Adoration of the Magi now in the Uffizi, a very striking picture, with numerous figures. This was succeeded by his last important undertaking, the frescos in the Strozzi Chapel, in the church of S. Maria Novella in Florence— Drusiana Restored to Life by St John the Evangelist, St John in the Cauldron of Boiling Oil, and two subjects from the legend of St Philip. These are conspicuous and attractive works, yet somewhat grotesque and exaggerated,— full of ornate architecture, showy colour, and the distinctive peculiarities of the master. Filippino, who had married in 1497, died in 1505 of an attack of throat disease and fever, aged only forty-five. His character for amiability and courtesy is described in very laudatory terms by Vasari. The best-reputed of his scholars was Raffaellino del Garbo.

Like his father, Filippino had a most marked original genius for painting, and he was hardly less a chief among the artists of his time than Fra Filippo had been in his ; it may be said that in all the annals of the art a rival instance is not to be found of a father and son each of whom had such pre-eminent natural gifts and leadership. The father displayed more of sentiment, and candid sweetness of motive; the son more of richness, variety, and lively pictorial combination. He was admirable in all matters of decora-tive adjunct and presentment, such as draperies, landscape back-grounds, and accessories ; and he was the first Florentine to intro-duce a taste for antique details of costume, &c. He formed a large collection of objects of this kind, and left his designs of them to Lis son. In his later works there is a tendency to a mannered development of the extremities, and generally to facile overdoing. The London National Gallery possesses a good and characteristic though not exactly a first-rate specimen of Lippino, the Virgin and Child between Sts Jerome and Dominic.

III. LORENZO LIPPI (1606-1664), a painter and poet, was bora in Florence. He studied painting under Matteo Rosselli, the influence of whose style, and more especially of that of Santi di Tito, is to be traced in Lippi's works, which are marked by taste, delicacy, and a strong turn foi portrait-like naturalism. His maxim was " to poetize as he spoke, and to paint as he saw." After exercising his art for some time in Florence, and having married at the age of forty the daughter of a rich sculptor named Susini, Lippi went as court painter to Innsbruck, where he has left many excellent portraits. There he wrote his humorous poem named Malmantile Racquistato, which was published under the anagrammatic pseudonym of " Perlone Zipoli." Lippi was a friend of Salvator Bosa, and was a man of pleasant and generous temper, and very polite. He was, however, somewhat self-sufficient, and, when visiting Parma, would not look at the famous Correggios there, saying that they could teach him nothing. He died of pleurisy in 1664.

The above article was written by W. M. Rossetti, author of Fine Art, chiefly Contemporary.

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