Filippo Lippi
Painter of Florence

ABOUT the same time there lived in Florence a painter of the rarest genius and most charming invention, named Filippo, the son of Fra Filippo of the Carmine. He followed in the footsteps of his dead father, and was kept and taught while still no more‚than a boy by Sandro Botticello, in spite of the fact that his father on his death-bed had recommended him to his intimate friend Fra Diamante, whom he regarded as a brother. Filippo's invention was so copious, and his ornamentation so curious and original, that he was the first among the moderns to employ the new method of varying the costumes, and to dress his figures in the short antique vestments. 1 He was also the first to bring to light the grotesques resembling antiques, executing them in coloured clay in friezes, with more design and grace than his predecessors. The strange fancies which he introduced into his paintings are truly marvellous; moreover, he never did a single work without making use of carefully studied Roman antiquities, such as vases, buskins, trophies, banners, crests, ornaments of temples, head-dresses, strange fashions for the body, armour, scimetars, swords, togas, mantles and such like, so that a great and everlasting debt is due to him for having enriched art with such beautiful ornaments.

In his early youth Filippo completed the Brancacci Chapel in the Carmine at Florence, 2 begun by Masolino and not quite finished by Masaccio at his death. Filippo put the finishing touches, and did the remainder of a scene where Peter and Paul are raising the emperor's nephew, 3 the child, who is nude, being a portrait of Francesco Granacci the painter, then a boy. He also introduced portraits of M. Tommaso Soderini, knight, Piero Guicciardini, father of M. Francesco the historian, Piero del Pugliese and Luigi Pulci the poet, as well as Antonio Pollajuolo and himself, young as he was. As he never drew himself again in his life, it is not possible to obtain a portrait of him at a riper age. He further drew Sandro Botticello, his master, and many other friends and great men, including II Raggio the broker, a very clever and witty man, who made the whole of Dante's Hell in relief in a shell, with all the circles and pits and the well, including all the figures and smallest details so graphically described by the great poet, a work considered marvelous in its time. In the Chapel of Francesco del Pugliese at Campora, belonging to the monks of the abbey outside Florence, Filippo painted in tempera the vision of St. Dernard, 4 our Lady appearing to him with some angels as he is writing in a wood. It is a remarkable work for the rocks, books, grass and such things which it contains. He introduced a portrait of this Francesco so life-like that it only lacks speech. During the siege it was removed for safety to the sacristy of the Badia at Florence. In S. Spirito in the same city he painted a panel 5 with Our Lady, St. Martin, St. Nicholas and St. Catherine for Tanai de' Nerli. In the Rucellai Chapel in S. Brancazio he did a panel, and in S. Raffaello a crucifix and two figures on a gold ground. 6 In front of the sacristy of S. Francesco outside the S. Miniato gate he did a God the Father with a number of babes. At the Palco, a place of the bare-footed friars outside Prato, he did a panel, 7 and in the audience-chamber of the priors of the district he painted another small one, 8 which has been much admired, of Our Lady, St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist. Next the Mercatale at Prato and opposite the nuns of S. Margherita, near some of their houses, he painted in fresco a lovely Madonna in a tabernacle with a choir of seraphim on a field of glory. The serpent beneath St. Margaret in this picture is most curious and terrible, displaying its fangs, its fire and death-dealing weapons. The rest of the work is coloured with such freshness and brilliance that it merits the highest praise. He also did some things at Lucca, notably a panel in a chapel of the church of S. Ponziano of the friars of Monte Oliveto, in the middle of which is a fine St. Andrew, standing in a niche, by that great sculptor Andrea Sansovino.

Although invited to Hungary by King Matthias, Filippo would not go, but did two beautiful panels 9 for the king in Florence and sent them to him, one of them being the king's portrait as shown on his medals. He also sent some works to Genoa, and did a St. Sebastian 10 for the left-hand side of the chapel of the high altar of S. Domenico at Bologna which deserves every praise. For Tanai de' Nerli he did another panel at S. Salvadore outside Florence, and for Piero del Pugliese, a friend, a scene of small figures, executed with such art and diligence that when another citizen desired one like it he refused, saying that it was not possible. After these things he did a stupendous work at Rome for Olivieri Caraffa, cardinal of Naples, friend of Lorenzo de' Medici the elder, at the latter's request. On the way he passed through Spoleto, at Lorenzo's desire, to give directions for the making of a marble tomb for Fra' Filippo, his father, at the cost of that prince, who had not been able to obtain the body from the Spoletans for burial in Florence. So Filippo designed the tomb, and Lorenzo caused it to be made sumptuous and beautiful; as is related elsewhere. Arrived at Rome, Filippo decorated a chapel in the Minerva 11 for Cardinal Caraffa, painting scenes from the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, and some beautiful and ingenious poetical compositions, for which he had a natural talent and devised them entirely himself. Here we see Faith taking captive Infidelity, all heretics and infidels. Beneath are Hope and Despair, with many other virtues subduing the opposing vices. St. Thomas is seated in a chair engaged in a discussion, defending the Church against a school of heretics. Beneath him are the vanquished forms of Sabellius, Arius, Averroes and others, gracefully dressed. Filippo's own design for this scene is in my book, as well as some others, done with a skill which is unsurpassable. Here also is the crucifix saying to Thomas as he prays, Bene scripsisti de ine, Thonza, with a companion, who stands amazed at hearing the crucifix speak. A panel contains the Annunciation, and on the walls is an Assumption, with the twelve Apostles surrounding the tomb. This work has always been considered excellent and highly finished for a fresco. It contains a portrait of the Cardinal Olivieri Caraffa, bishop of Ostia, who was buried here in 1511 12 , and afterwards taken to Naples to the episcopal church.

When Filippo returned to Florence he undertook to do the Chapel of Filippo Strozzi the elder in S. Maria Novella, 13 and he began it, but after doing the ceiling he had to return to Rome, where he made a tomb for the cardinal in stucco. He also did a small chapel next to this in plaster, with some figures, some of which were by Raffaellino del Garbo, his pupil. The work was valued at 2000 gold ducats, without reckoning the cost of the blue and of the assistants, by Maestro Lanzilago of Padua, and by Antonio, called Antoniasso, a Roman, two of the best painters then in Rome. After receiving this sum Filippo returned to Florence, where he completed the Strozzi Chapel, which excites the admiration of all who see it for its beauty and art, and for the variety of curious things which it contains, such as armed men, temples, vases, crests, armour, trophies, spears, banner, habits, bus kills, head-dresses, priests' vestments, and other things deserving the greatest praise for their arrangement. It contains the raising of Drvsiana by St. John the Evangelist, with a remarkable expression of the amazement of the bystanders at seeing the dead raised to life by a simple sign of the cross. The one who marvels most is a priest or philosopher clothed in the antique style, and holding a vase in his hand. Among a number of women here in various dresses is a boy frightened by a red-spotted spaniel who has seized his tunic, running to hide himself in his mother's dress, exhibiting no less fear than she does at the resurrection of Drusiana. Near this, where St. John is in the boiling oil, he shows the rage of the judge who is commanding the fire to be made hotter, while the flames fly out in the faces of those engaged in the task, all the figures being in varied and well-chosen attitudes. On the other wall is St. Philip in the Temple of Mars, making the serpent come from beneath the altar, whose poisonous breath kills the king's son. The hole from which the reptile issued is shown in some steps, and is so well painted that one evening one of Filippo's boys, who wished to hide something from someone who was about to enter, ran hastily to this hole to put it-in, believing it to be real. Filippo also displayed such art in painting the serpent that the poison the stench and the fire seem real and not painted. Very much admired also is his conception of the crucifixion of the saint. He imagined, following the legend, that the saint was stretched on the cross as it lay on the ground, and that it was afterwards raised by means of ropes and pulleys. These are fixed to some broken antiquities, fragments of pillars and pedestals, and pulled by the attendants. On one side the weight of the cross against it, and on the other a man holds it in position with a stake, while two others are relieving the weight so as to allow the cross to enter a hole in the ground prepared for it. In short, it is a picture which it would be impossible for any invention, design, industry or artifice to improve. It also contains many grotesques and other things in grisaille, made like marble and designed with originality and beauty. For the Scopetine friars at S. Donato, outside Florence, called Scopeto, which is now in ruins, he did a panel of the Magi offering their gifts to Christ, 14 very carefully finished, and containing the portrait of Pier Francesco de' Medici the elder, son of Lorenzo de' Bicci, as an astrologer with a quadrant in his hand, as well as others of Giovanni son of Sig. Giovanni de' Medici and another Pier Francesco, Giovanni's brother, with other noted personages. It contains Moors, Indians, and very strange dresses and a most curious cottage. For Lorenzo de' Medici he began a sacrifice in fresco in a loggia at Poggio a Caiano, which was left unfinished. For the nuns of S. Jeronimo, upon the hill of S. Giorgio in Florence, he began the picture of the high altar, which was continued with considerable success after his death by Alonso Berughetta, a Spaniard, although completed by other painters on the latter going to Spain. 15 In the palace of the Signoria he painted a panel of the room where the Eight hold their sittings, and designed another large one to adorn the council chamber but he died before he had begun to carry it out, although the frame for it was carved, and is now in the possession of Baccio Baldini, an excellent Florentine physician and an admirer of all talent. For the church of the Badia at Florence Filippo did a very fine St. Jerome. For the high altar of the friars of the Nunziata he began a Deposition from the Cross, 16 but had only half finished the figures when he was attacked by a raging fever and by the constriction of the throat, commonly known as quinsy, of which he died in a few days at the age of forty-five.

He had invariably shown himself courteous, affable and gentle, and was lamented by all who had known him, especially by the youth of his noble city, who had always made use of his unrivalled genius in devising things for public festivals, masquerades and other spectacles. His excellence was such that he obliterated the stain of his birth, if any there be, not only by his eminence as an artist, although he was inferior to no one in his day, but by his modest and courteous bearing, and, abode all, by his lovable nature, the true power of which to win the affections of everyone can only be realised by those who have experienced it. Filippo was buried by his children in S. Michele Bisdomini on 13th April, 1505. While they were carrying him to burial all the shops in the via de' Servi were closed, which is sometimes done at the funerals of men of eminence.

His pupils were far inferior to him. Among them was Raffaellino del Garbo, who did a number of things as I shall have occasion to say, although he did not realise the expectations excited about him during Filippo's lifetime, when he himself was a boy, for the fruit does not always equal the flowers which appear in the spring. Nor did Niccolo Zoccolo, whom some call Niccolo Cartoni, another of Filippo's pupils, achieve great success. He did the wall over the altar of S. Giovanni Decollato at Arezzo, and a small panel of merit in S. Agnesa, as well as a panel in the abbey of S. Fiora over a lavabo, of Christ asking drink of the woman of Samaria, with many other works too mediocre to deserve notice.

  • 1 In 1506.
  • 2 1484 and 1485.
  • 3 Vasari seems to be confusing the legends of Peter and Paul here.
  • 4 1480-82, now in the Badia, Florence.
  • 5 1493-4.
  • 6 The former, a Madonna with St. Jerome and St. Dominicis in the National Gallery, London; the Crucifixion is in the Berlin Gallery.
  • 7 Of Christ appearing to the Virgin, painted in 1495, now in the Pinacothek, Munich.
  • 8 In 1503.
  • 9 In 1488.
  • 10 Dated 1501.
  • 11 1488-93.
  • 12 He did not die until 1551.
  • 13 He was at work there 1484-1502.
  • 14 Dated 1496, now in the Uffizi.
  • 15 Dated 1485, now in the Uffizi.
  • 16 Begun in 1503, finished by Perugino in 1505, now in the Accademia, Florence.

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