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Fra Filippo Lippi

Florentine, c. 1406 - 1469

Filippo, Fra

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Filippo di Tommaso Lippi was probably born in Florence and took his monastic vows there in the convent of the Carmine in 1421. Since he is known to have taken the habit at a very young age--assumed to be about fifteen years--the date of his birth is currently estimated as 1406.

He was probably trained as a painter in the convent, at least in part through the formidable visual experience of Masaccio and Masolino's realization of the frescoes in the Brancacci chapel in the church of the Carmine in 1424-1425. Indeed, Lippi's earliest probable works, which may date to the 1420s despite their stylistic originality, clearly reflect Masaccio's example in the physical density of bodies and the solidity of perspective construction, as well as in the search for plastic relief and bold foreshortening (the fresco of the Approval of the Carmelite Rule in Santa Maria del Carmine; the Trivulzio Madonna in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan; the Virgin and Saints in the Empoli Pinacoteca; and the Virgin and Saints in the Cini collection, Venice).

In November 1428 Lippi was named sub-prior of the Carmelite convent in Siena, where he remained for a year. Around 1434 he is documented in Padua, where he executed paintings, now lost, in the Basilica del Santo and the Palazzo del Podestà. Some small works--such as the Pietà in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, the Double Portrait in an American private collection, or the Vir Dolorum in Verona's Museo di Castelvecchio--may perhaps be assigned to these years.

Back in Florence by 1437, Lippi painted a Madonna and Child for Corneto Tarquinia (now in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome), which shows the influence of Donatello's sculpture but also that of contemporary Flemish painting in its interest in the effects of light and the portrayal of illusionistic details. In that same year he received the commission for an altarpiece for the Barbadori chapel in the church of Santo Spirito (Musée du Louvre, with predella in the Galleria degli Uffizi); the commission for an Annunciation in San Lorenzo in Florence may have been received even earlier. From 1439, the artist worked on the Maringhi altarpiece, a Coronation of the Virgin, for the church of Sant'Ambrogio (now in the Uffizi), not finished until 1447.

By the 1440s Lippi was one of Florence's leading artists, held in high esteem by the Medici family. Around 1445 he executed for their chapel in Santa Croce the Virgin and Child with Four Saints, now in the Uffizi; a Madonna and Child still in Palazzo Medici; and an Annunciation and Seven Saints, both destined as overdoor decorations for the same palace, now in the National Gallery in London. Around 1447 he painted for Palazzo Vecchio in Florence the Vision of Saint Bernard (London, National Gallery) and, probably in roughly the same years, the Annunciation now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

From 1452 to 1466 the painter was involved in the realization of a fresco cycle in the Prato cathedral illustrating stories from the lives of Saints Stephen and Lawrence, perhaps his greatest masterpiece. Although he availed himself of the collaboration of Fra Diamante on this project, as a whole the frescoes appear stylistically uniform and the execution is of a very high quality throughout. Long interruptions of this work permitted Lippi to paint a number of important devotional panels during this period, for example, the round Virgin and Child with Stories of Saint Anne (Galleria Palatina, Florence) and altarpieces including the Madonna del Ceppo (Galleria Comunale, Prato), the Burial of Saint Jerome (Museo del Duomo, Prato), and the triptych painted for Alfonso V of Aragon, of which only the two lateral panels are preserved (Cleveland Museum of Art). The devout air and gentle naturalism of the artist's last works are exemplified by two Adorations in the Uffizi (one from the convent of the Annalena, the other from the hermitage of Camaldoli), while the search for a more complex compositional balance is evident in the half-length Virgin and Child with Angels in the Uffizi, similarly datable in the 1460s.

Between 1467 and 1469 Fra Filippo began and largely executed the fresco cycle with scenes from the life of the Virgin in the main chapel of Spoleto cathedral, completed by Fra Diamante with the assistance of Lippi's still very young son, Filippino. Fra Filippo died in Spoleto and was buried in its cathedral. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Strutt, Edward. Fra Filippo Lippi. London, 1901.
Mendelsohn, Henriette. Fra Filippo Lippi. Berlin, 1909.
Mengin, Urbain. Les deux Lippi. Paris, 1932.
Oertel, Robert. Fra Filippo Lippi. Vienna, 1942.
Pittaluga, Mary. Fra Filippo Lippi. Florence, 1949.
Marchini, Giuseppe. Filippo Lippi. Milan, 1975.
Ruda, Jeffrey. Fra Filippo Lippi. Life and Work with a Complete Catalogue. London, 1993.
Holmes, Megan. Fra Filippo Lippi, The Carmelite Painter. New Haven and London, 1999.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 394.

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