1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lippi

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LIPPI, the name of three celebrated Italian painters.

I. Fra Filippo Lippi (1406–1469), commonly called Lippo Lippi, one of the most renowned painters of the Italian quattrocento, was born in Florence—his father, Tommaso, being a butcher. His mother died in his childhood, and his father survived his wife only two years. His aunt, a poor woman named Monna Lapaccia, then took charge of the boy; and in 1420, when fourteen 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 arts was probably developed by studying 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; in a letter dated in 1439 he 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 Commendatario) of S. Quirico at Legania, and his gains were considerable and uncommonly large from time to time; but his poverty seems to have been chronic, 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 is known of his visits to Ancona and Naples, and his intermediate capture by Barbary pirates and enslavement in Barbary, whence his skill in portrait-sketching availed to release him. This relates to a period, 1431–1437, when his career is not otherwise clearly accounted for. 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. Towards June 1456 Fra Filippo was settled in Prato (near Florence) for the purpose of fulfilling a commission to paint frescoes in the choir of the cathedral. Before actually undertaking this work he set about painting, in 1458, a picture for the convent chapel of S. Margherita 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 (or it might rather appear of S. Margherita); 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 are not alike, 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, 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. Besides, it appears more likely that not the Madonna in the Louvre but a S. Margaret in a picture now in the Gallery of Prato is the original portrait (according to the tradition) of Lucrezia Buti.

The frescoes 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 especially the figure of Salome dancing, and 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. At the end wall of the choir are S. Giovanni Gualberto and S. Alberto, 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 the 8th of 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 indeed a vendetta upon a man aged sixty-three for a seduction committed at the already mature age of fifty-two seems hardly plausible. Fra Filippo lies buried in Spoleto, with a monument erected to him by Lorenzo the Magnificent; he had always been zealously patronized by the Medici family, beginning with Cosimo, Pater Patriae. Francesco di Pesello (called Pesellino) and Sandro Botticelli were among his most distinguished pupils.

In 1441 Lippi painted an altarpiece for the nuns of S. Ambrogio which is now a prominent attraction in the Academy 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 inscription upon an angel's scroll “ Is perfecit opus." The price paid for this work in 1447 was 1200 Florentine lire, which seems surprisingly large. For Germiniano lnghirami 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 National Gallery, London, a “ Vision of St Bernard." The picture of the “ Virgin and Infant with an Angel," in this same gallery, also ascribed to Lippi, is disputable.

Few pictures are so thoroughly enjoyable as those of Lippo Lippi; they show the naiveté of a strong, rich nature, redundant in lively and somewhat whimsical observation. He approaches religious art from its human side, and is not pietistic 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 foreshortenings, 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 colouring. In his great works the proportions are larger than life.

Along with Vasari's interesting and amusing, and possibly not very unauthentic, account of Lippo Lippi, the work of Crowe and Cavalcaselle should be consulted. Also: E. C. Strutt, Fra Lippo Lippi (1901); C. M. Phillimore, Early Florentine Painters (1881); B. Supino, Fra Filippo Lippi (illustrated) (1902). It should be observed that Crowe and Cavalcaselle give 1412 as the date of the painter's birth, and this would make a considerable difference in estimating details of his after career. We have preferred to follow the more usual account. The self-portrait dated 1441 looks like a man much older than twenty-nine.

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 frescoes which completed the decoration of the Brancacci chapel in the Carmine, commenced by Masolino and Masaccio many years before. He finished Masaccio's “ 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 “ Crucifixion of Peter.” These works 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 Pollajuolo, Lippino himself and various others are 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 altarpiece for the Nerli chapel in S. Spirito—the “ Virgin Enthroned,” 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 frescoes 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 Ufnzi, a very striking picture, with numerous figures. This was succeeded by his last important undertaking, the frescoes in the Strozzi chapel, in the church of S. Maria Novella in F lorence—“ 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. 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 decorative adjunct and presentment, such as draperies, landscape backgrounds and accessories; and he was the first Florentine to introduce 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 his son. In his later works there is a tendency to a mannered development of the extremities, and generally to facile overdoing. The National Gallery, London, possesses a good and characteristic though not exactly a first-rate specimen of Lippino, the “ Virgin and Child between Sts Jerome and Dominic "; also an “ Adoration of the Magi,” of which recent criticism contests the authenticity. Crowe and Cavalcaselle, supplemented by the writings of Berenson, should be consulted as to this painter. An album of his works is in Newnes' Art-library.

III. Lorenzo Lippi (1606–1664), painter and poet, was born 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 for 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 Matmantlle Racquistato, which was published under the anagrammatic pseudonym of “ Perlone Zipoli.” Lippi was 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, in Florence.

The most esteemed works of Lippi as a painter are a “ Crucifixion " in the Uffizi gallery at Florence, and a “ Triumph of David " which he executed for the saloon of Angiolo Galli, introducing into it portraits of the seventeen children of the owner. The Matmantile Racquistato is a burlesque romance, mostly compounded out of a variety of popular tales; its principal subject-matter is an expedition for the recovery of a fortress and territory whose queen had been expelled by a female usurper. It is full of graceful or racy Florentine idioms, and is counted by Italians as a “ testo di lingua.” Lippi is more generally or more advantageously remembered by this poem than by anything which he has eft in the art of painting. It was not published until 1688, several years after his death. Lanzi as to Lorenzo Lippi's pictorial work, and Tiraboschi and other literary historians as to his writings, are among the best authorities.  (W. M. R.)