Painter of Florence
(1406 - 1469)

FRA FILIPPO DI TOMMASO LIPPI, the Carmelite, who was born in Florence in a side street called Ardiglione, under the Canto alla Cuculia, behind the convent of the Carmelite friars, was left at the age of two in great poverty by the death of his father Tommaso, and with no one to care for him, as his mother had died shortly after his birth. Accordingly he remained in the charge of his aunt, Monapaccia, his father's sister, who, after: rearing him with great difficulty until he attained the age of eight, could no longer maintain him, and made him a friar in the convent of the Carmine. Here he showed himself as dexterous and ingenious in all manual exercises as he was clumsy and ill-fitted to learn letters, for he would never apply his mind or take kindly to them. The boy, who was called Filippo, the name which he had borne in the world, being with others in the noviciate under the discipline of the master of grammar, in order that it might be seen what he was fit for, instead of studying did nothing but cover his books and those of the others with caricatures. Accordingly the prior determined to give him every opportunity to learn to paint. The chapel in the Carmine had just been newly painted by Masaccio, and being very beautiful, greatly delighted Fra Filippo, who frequented it every day, and was always practising in the company of many youths who spent their time in drawing there. These he far surpassed in skill and knowledge, so that all agreed that he ought to do something wonderful in times to come. But in his early as well as in his mature years he produced such admirable works that he was a miracle. Thus a short time after he painted in terra verde in the cloister near the Consecration of Masaccio a pope confirming the rule of the Carmelites, and painted in fresco on several walls in many parts of the church, notably a St. John the Baptist and some incidents of his life. And so making progress every day, he had so far acquired the manner of Masaccio, making his things in a similar manner, that many declared that the spirit of Masaccio had entered into the body of Fra Filippo.

On a pilaster in the church he made the figure of St. Martial, near the organ, which brought him great renown, as it would bear comparison with the paintings of Masaccio. Then hearing himself so greatly praised by the general cry, he boldly discarded the habit at the age of seven- teen. But one day, while he was in the March of Ancona on a pleasure excursion with some of his friends, they were all taken while in a small boat by the light galleys of the Moors which scoured those parts, and being put into chains they were carried off as slaves to Barbary, where they remained for eighteen months, enduring great hardships. One day Filippo, who was on very good terms with his master, had the happy fancy to draw him, and picking up a burnt coal from the floor he drew his portrait on a white wall, with his Moorish clothes. The other slaves told the master of this, since it appeared a miracle to them, painting and design being unknown in those parts, bind this led to Filippo's release from the chains in which he had been bound for so long a time. It is indeed a glorious tribute to this faculty that one who has the legal power to condemn and punish should do the contrary, and instead of punishment and death should give caresses and liberty. After Filippo had done some things in colours for his master, he was taken in safety to Naples, where he painted a panel in tempera for King Alfonso, then Duke of Calabria, in the castle chapel where the guard now is. He afterwards became anxious to return to Florence, remaining there for some months, painting a fine picture for the nuns of S. Ambruogio at the high altar. 1This procured for him the favour of Cosimo del Mediei, who became his fast friend. He did another picture in the chapter-house of S. Croce, and another which was placed in the Chapel of the Casa Mediei, representing the Nativity of Christ. 2 For the wife of Cosimo he made a picture of the Nativity and St. John the Baptist, 3 to be placed in the hermitage of the Camaldolites in one of their cells, which she caused to be built for her devotions, and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. He also did some small scenes to be sent by Cosimo as a gift to Pope Eugenius IV., the Venetian. By this work Filippo acquired great favour with the Pope. He is said to have been so amorous that when he saw a woman who pleased him he would have given all his possessions to have her, and if he could not succeed in this he quieted the flame of his love by painting her portrait. This appetite so took possession of him that while the humour lasted he paid little or no attention to his work. Thus, on one occasion when Cosimo de' Medici was employing him; he shut him up in the house so that he might not go out and waste time. He remained so for two days, but overcome by his amorous and bestial desires, he cut up his sheet with a pair of scissors, and, letting himself down out of the window, devoted many days to his pleasures. When Cosimo could not find him he caused a search to be made for him, until' at length Filippo returned to his labours. From that time forward Cosimo gave him liberty to go and come as he chose, repenting that he had shut him up, and thinking of his folly and the danger which he might run. For this reason he ever after sought to hold Filippo by the bonds of affection, and was thus served by him with greater readiness, for he said geniuses are celestial forms and not pack asses. Filippo did a picture in the church of S. Maria Primerana on the piazza of Fiesole containing an Annunciation, most carefully finished, the figure of the angel exhibiting a truly celestial beauty. 4 For the nuns of the Murate he did two pictures, one of an Annunciation placed at the high altar, containing stories of St. Benedict and St. Bernard, and in the palace of the Signoria he painted an Annunciation on a panel over a door, and he also made a St. Bernard there over another door. In the sacristy of S. Spirito at Florence he made a Madonna surrounded by angels, with saints at the side, a rare work which has always been held in the highest veneration by our masters here.

In the chapel of the wardens at S. Lorenzo Filippo made another Annunciation and yet another for the Stufa, which is unfinished. In a chapel in S. Apostolo in the same city he painted some figures about Our Lady on a panel, and for M. Carlo Marsuppini he did the altar -piece of the chapel of St. Bernard in the convent of the monks of Monte Oliveto at Arezzo representing the Coronation of the Virgin, surrounded by many saints, so well preserved that it looks as if Fra Filippo had just painted it. Here M. Carlo warned him to take care what he painted, because many of his things were blamed. For this reason Fra Filippo painted nearly all his figures from that time forward either covered with draperies or with other inventions, in order to escape such censure. In this work he drew the portrait of this same M. Carlo. For the nuns of Annalena, at Florence, he painted a picture of the Manger, and some of his pictures may still be seen at Padua. He sent to the Cardinal Barbo at Rome two small scenes of tiny figures which were most excellently done and very care- fully finished. He certainly worked with marvellous grace, giving his things a wonderful finish, so that they are always valued by artists and highly esteemed by modern masters; indeed, he will be held in veneration by every age so long as time will permit his works to remain extant. In Prato, near Florence, where he had some relations, he remained for many months in the company of Fra Diamante of the Carmine, for they had been companions and novices together, doing a number of things in all that district. After this the nuns of S. Margherita employed him to do the picture of the high altar. 5 While at work there he chanced one day to see a daughter of Francesco Buti, a Florentine citizen, who was there either as a ward or as a nun. Fra Filippo cast his eyes upon Lucrezia, for that was the girl's name, for she was very graceful and beautiful, and persuaded the nuns to allow him to paint her as the Virgin for their work. Becoming more enamoured of her by this work, he subsequently contrived to take her away from the nuns on the very day that she was going to see the exhibition of the girdle of Our Lady, an honoured relic of that city. By this mishap the nuns were covered with shame, while a perpetual gloom settled upon her father Francesco, who made every effort to recover her. But whether through fear or some other cause, she would never return, and remained with Filippo, who had a boy by her, also called Filippo, 6 who afterwards became a great and famous painter like his father. In S. Domenico at Prato there are two pictures and a Madonna on the screen of S. Francesco. This was removed from its original position to the place it now occupies, by cutting away the wall and making a wooden framework. In the Ceppo of Francesco di Marco there is a small panel by the same hand, with a portrait of the said Francesco, the originator and founder of that pious house, over a well in a courtyard.

In the Pieve of the town he painted on a small panel over the side door leading to the staircase the death of St. Bernard, who is healing a number of lame folk who touch the bier. Here also are the friars weeping for their master, the heads being truly admirable, the grief of the weeping men being finely represented. Some of the folds of the friars' hoods are excellent, and deserve the highest praise for their good design, colouring and composition, and for the grace and proportion displayed by the most delicate hand of Fra Filippo. The chapel of the high altar of the Pieve was assigned to him by the wardens, who wished to have a memorial of him. 7 This enabled him to display his skill, the draperies and heads being admirable, not to speak of the general excellence and artistic qualities of the whole. In this work he made the figures greater than life-size, thus introducing the modern method of doing things on a large scale. Some of the figures are dressed in a manner not common at that time, when men began to emerge from that simplicity which deserves to be called old-fashioned rather than ancient. The work contains incidents from the life of St. Stephen, patron saint of the Pieve, arranged on the right-hand wall, to wit, the disputation, stoning and death of the proto-martyr, the scene in which he is disputing with the Jews displaying such zeal and fervour that it is difficult to imagine and much more so to describe the hatred, rage and anger depicted in the faces and attitudes of the Jews at seeing themselves conquered by him. Filippo has been even more successful in depicting the brutality and fury of those who are killing him with stones, some picking up large ones and some small, and grinding their teeth in a horrible manner in their cruelty and fury. And yet, in the midst of this terrible assault, Stephen, with the utmost calmness, lifts his eyes to heaven and with the greatest charity and fervour prays to the Eternal Father for the very men who are killing him. These are fine ideas, and show the inestimable value to painting of invention and an ability to depict feeling. The artist has observed this in making the attitudes of those who are burying Stephen so sorrowful, and some so afflicted and distressed in their mourning, that it is hardly possible to look at them without emotion.

On the other side he did the Nativity, the preaching, the baptism, the banquet of Herod, and the beheading of St. John the Baptist, the face of the preacher displaying the divine spirit, while the divers movements of the crowd are expressive of joy and sorrow, in the women as well as the men, all of them hanging on the ministrations of St. John. The baptism shows beauty and excellence, and the banquet of Herod the majesty of the occasion, the address of Herodias, the astonishment and the excessive sorrow of the guests at the presentation of the head on the charger. About the table are a number of figures in fine attitudes, and well executed as regards the draperies and expressions on the faces. Among these Filippo drew his own portrait with the aid of a mirror, clothed in black in prelate’s habit, together with his pupil, Fra Diamante, in the scene of the mourning for St. Stephen. Indeed, this work was the most excellent which he produced, for the reasons given above, or because he made the figures somewhat larger than life-size, a thing which encouraged those who came after to work on a larger scale. He was so highly esteemed for his abilities that many blameworthy things in his life were covered over by his excellencies. In this work he drew the portrait of M. Carlo; natural son of Cosimo de' Medici, then provost of the church, upon which he and his house conferred many benefits. After the completion of this work Filippo painted in tempera, in 1463, a picture for the church of S. Jacopo at Pistoia, containing a fine Annunciation, for M. Jacopo Bellucci, whose most life-like portrait is drawn there. The house of Pulidoro Bracciolini contains a picture of the Nativity of the Virgin by him, and the magistracy of the Eight at Florence have a round Madonna and Child in tempera. In the house of Ludovico Capponi is a most beautiful Madonna; and in the possession of Rernardo Vecchietti, a Florentine gentleman of great virtue and respectability is a remarkably fine small picture by the same hand of St. Augustine in this study. Far better even than these is a St. Jerome, in penance, of the same size, in the wardrobe of Duke Cosimo. Remarkable in all his paintings, Fra Filippo surpassed himself in the small ones, making,‚ them so graceful and so beautiful that nothing better could be desired, as we see by the predellas of all his paintings. Indeed, such was his excellence that no one surpassed him in his day, and but few in our own, while Michelagnolo has never tired of singing his praises and has frequently imitated him. For the old church of S. Domenico at Perugia Filippo did a picture of Our Lady, with St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Louis and St. Anthony the abbot, afterwards placed at the high altar. M. Alessandro degli Alessandri, a knight of that time, and his friend, employed him to do a St. Laurence and other saints for his church at Vincigliata on the hill of Fiesole, introducing portraits of the knight and his two sons.

Filippo loved to surround himself with cheerful companions and lived with gaiety. He taught the art of painting to Fri Diamante, who did a number of pictures in the Carmine at Prato, and by imitating his master's style won much honour, attaining to the highest perfection. Among those who studied with Filippo in his youth were Sandro Botticello, Pisello, Jacopo del Sellaio of Florence, who painted two pictures in S. Friano and one in the Carmine, in tempera, and countless other masters to whom he taught his art with unfailing kindness. He lived in honour on his labours, and incurred very heavy expenses on love intrigues, in which he continued to indulge until his death. Through Cosimo de' Medici he was requested by the community of Spoleto to decorate the chapel in the principal church of Our Lady J Working in conjunction with Fra Riamante he had made good progress with this when death presented him from completing it. It is said that in one of his everlasting intrigues the relations of the lady had poisoned him. Fra Filippo finished his career at the age of fifty-seven, in 1438, and by his will left his son Filippo to the care of Fra Diamante. The boy being then ten years of age learned the art from Fra Diamante and returned with him to Florence, the monk taking with him 300 ducats which were due to him by the community. With this money the friar bought some property for himself, and gave but little to the child. Sandro Botticello, then considered a most excellent master, took Filippo into his workshop. The father was buried in a tomb of white and red marble set up by the people of Spoleto in the church which he painted for them. His death caused great sorrow to his friends, particularly to Cosimo de' Medici and Pope Eugenius, 8 who had endeavoured to legitimatise the union between Filippo and Lucrezia di Francesco Buti, but the former refused, because he wished to be able to give full rein to his appetite. During the lifetime of Sixtus IV., Lorenzo de' Medici, being ambassador of Florence, went by way of Spoleto to as for the body of Fra Filippo which he wished to place in S. Maria del Fiore at Florence, but they answered that they were badly provided with things of note, and especially with men of eminence, and asked leave to possess Filippo as a favour, because Florence had countless distinguished men, indeed almost a superfluity, so that they could spare this one, and so Lorenzo failed to carry his point. It is true that, it being decided to honour him in the best possible way, Lorenzo sent Filippo the son to the Cardinal of Naples at Rome, to make a chapel. When the Cardinal passed through Spoleto, he caused a marble tomb-to be made under the organ and above the sacristy, by commission of Lorenzo, on which he expended zoo gold ducats, paid by Nofriromaboni, director of the hank of the Mediei. He further obtained the following eprigram from M. Agnolo Poliziano, which was inscribed on the tomb in antique letters:

Conditus hic ego sum pictlirae fama Philippus Nulli ignota meae est gratia mtra mauus, Artifices potui digitis animare eolores Sperataque animos fallere voce diu, Ipsa meis stupuit natura expressa figuris Meque suis fassa est artibus esse parem, Marmoreo tumuio Medices Larnrentius hie me Condidit, ante humiil pulvere teetus eram.

Filippo designed excellently, as may be seen in our hook of the drawings of the most famous painters, and especially in some sheets containing his designs for the picture of S. Spirito, and in others of the chapel of Prato.

  • 1 A Coronation of the Virgin, now in the Accademia, painted in 1447.
  • 2 Now in the Uffizi.
  • 3 Now in the Accademia, Florence.
  • 4 Painted in 1447, now in the National Gallery, London.
  • 5 About 1450. Born in 1457 and known to fame as Filippino Lippi.
  • 6 Now in the Maicia Gallery at Prato.
  • 7 Now in the Duomo. Begun in 1456.
  • 8467-9. Both were dead before Fra Filippo.

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