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Fra Fillippo Lippi (c.1406-69)
( Originally Published 1955 )
He stands at the head of a group of early Renaissance Florentines who took into account the formal and technical innovations of Masaccio and the other scientific painters, but who also retained elements of the lyrical, Gothic style of Fra Angelico and his antecedents. Other painters of this group were Francesco Pesellino and Benozzo Gozzoli. Fra Filippo was born in Florence, the son of a butcher, and in 1421 took his vows in the Carmelite order. He is recorded as a member of the Florentine chapter of the order until 1431, but not until 1430 as a painter. After 1431 it is assumed he lived as an independent artist outside the convent. His early works reveal independent handling of various stylistic elements drawn from Masaccio, Masolino and Gentile da Fabriano and hjs entire output shows a more than general affinity with Fra Angelico. Any parallel drawn with Angelico, however, must begin and end with stylistic considerations, since Fra Filippo's life was the very antithesis of that of the saintly monk from Fiesole.
Fra Filippo was convicted of forgery, was sued for breach of contract, was notoriously tardy at finishing commissions, and, perhaps his most publicized escapade, abducted from a convent of which he was chaplain a nun who ultimately bore him two children, one being the painter Filippino Lippi. Despite these actions, he continued to receive ecclesiastical posts and important commissions. He had powerful friends in the Medici family and was highly respected for his art, the quality of which none could question. He was at work in Padua in 1434 on frescoes in San Antonio (now lost), but his earliest dated work is from 1437, a Madonna in the gallery of Corneto Tarquinia. In 1442 he was appointed by Pope Eugene IV as rector of the church of San Quirico Legnaia and in 1450 became chaplain of a convent in Florence. He was removed from these offices after the forgery conviction, but in 1456 was made chaplain of the convent of Santa Margherita in Prato, where the episode with the nun Lucrezia Buti took place. In 1452 along with Fra Diamante he was already at work on the frescoes in the choir of the cathedral in Prato. But he also undertook numerous outside commissions and only after threats from the Bishop of Prato did he finally finish his work in the choir (1464). The frescoes represent scenes from the lives of St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen, with the four Evangelists represented in the vault. From 1468 to his death in 1469 he worked on frescoes in the vault and apse of the cathedral at Spoleto, representing the Coronation of the Virgin and other scenes from her life and that of Christ. In these Fra Diamante did most of the execution from Fra Filippo's designs. Fra Filippo was buried in Spoleto at the request of local authorities who, according to Vasari, pointed out the great number of illustrious men buried in Florence and the few in Spoleto.
Fra Filippo painted a great many works on panel and the chronology of these is not certain. It is generally believed that works exhibiting the influence of Fra Angelico are relatively early and those of a more architectonic character later. One of his most appealing early works is the Madonna Adoring the Sleeping Child (Berlin). From the 1440's is the Coronation of the Virgin in the Uffizi; and in the same collection is the well-known Madonna in profile with angels, a painting that influenced many later artists. Along with Fra Angelico, Fra l±ilippo instituted the type of the lovely and lyrical Madonna and Child that is unalterably associated with the Florentine Renaissance.His influence was felt throughout the second half of the fifteenth century by many great masters including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and even Leonardo da Vinci.