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Friday, December 19, 2014

Filippino Lippi

Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard, 1480-86, Filippino Lippi

Filippino Lippi Self-portrait, 1485
It's a tradition we don't often see in today's world, when a son follows in his father's footsteps, taking up his father's profession as his own. Few artists train their sons or daughters to likewise become artists. In fact, the practice has become relatively rare in virtually all areas of professional endeavor (except politics, unfortunately). I suppose the practice lingers most often today in the entertainment professions and the medical field. I'm not sure why so few children pursue their parents' professions, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's because of the wide variety of other vocational opportunities and training available to them. Or, perhaps it's just that, having seen what their parents had to endure to achieve some degree of success, they simply swear "NO WAY!" The Italian painter, Filippino Lippi didn't have that option. His father, Filippo (below, left) died when he was twelve, leaving him in the care of an aunt. As a handsome young lad of sixteen, Filippino began his training with one of his father's former students, the highly esteemed, Early Renaissance master, Sandro Botticelli.

Fra Filippo Lippi, Self-portrait
Few artists have ever had so colorful a parentage. Filippino's father was a defrocked priest, his mother a nun. Their son was born around 1457 (some sources say 1459). In any case, his parents were not married until 1461. Even for a defrocked priest, Fra Filippo Lippi's behavior and lifestyle were quite scandalous by fifteenth century standards. However, like so many today in the entertainment world, if you have talent, and know the right people, it's amazing what you can get away with. Just ask Justin Bieber. Fra Filippo Lippi had both, and despite his licentious misdeeds, he continued to survive, even thrive, as an artist until his death in 1469 at the age of sixty-three.

Having known his painting master's young son since birth, Sandro Botticelli took the teenaged boy under his wing, taught him to paint. He served as a much-needed father figure, insuring that the young man did not grow up to be like his father. In this effort, Botticelli was largely successful, although Filippino also did not grow up to possess his father's undeniable talent with a brush. It was a different era. The 1480s marked the beginning of what we term the "high" Renaissance (1480-1520), when there were so many truly outstanding artists at work (Botticelli among them) that any artist of lesser talent had little chance of rising above a very crowded field of journeymen. However, thanks again to Botticelli, Filippino Lippi seldom lacked for work. Botticelli ran a fairly typical Renaissance "art factory" though his was more portable than most as he traveled to various wealthy Italian cities decorating with frescoes the many churches and palaces popping up like mushrooms on a damp day.
The Torture of St. John the Evangelist, 1497-1503,
Strozzi Chapel, Florence, Filippino Lippi
Allegory of Music, 1500, Filippino Lippi
Filippino Lippi's Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard (top), dating from around 1480 is considered to be, if not his masterpiece, then certainly among his best works. His works previous to that had a distinctly "Botticelli" look to them, but as time went on, Lippi veered away from his master's style into a somewhat less sensitive (and thus less satisfying) style of his own. In 1487, Lippi was asked to decorate the Strozzi family chapel in Santa Maria Novella with the Stories of St. John Evangelist and St. Philip. His Torture of St. John the Evangelist (above) on the wall of the Strozzi Chapel in Florence, dates from 1497-1503. It wasn't until about 1503, after his patron's death (and shortly before his own), that he finally completed the commission. Filippino Lippi also designed the stained glass windows of the chapel using musical themes (left). They were completed around the same time. Lippi's work during this period reflects the political and religious turmoil in Florence at the time, the clash between Christianity and paganism in the arts being violently debated during the rise and fall of the fiery zealot Girolamo Savonarola.

Apparition of Christ to the Virgin,
ca. 1493, Filippino Lippi
Adoration of the Magi, 1495,
Filippino Lippi

Mystic wedding of St. Catherine,
Virgin and Martyr, 1503, Filippino Lippi
Lippi seems to have developed a reputation as a more than adequate family "chapel decorator." Even before finishing his work for the Strozzi family he was in Rome decorating the chapel of the Carafa family. During this time he seems to have commuted back and forth between Rome and Florence, completing such works as Apparition of Christ to the Virgin (above, left), around 1493, and Adoration of the Magi (above, right), completed around 1495. Surviving works in Bologna (left) and Prato (southwest of Florence) indicate he had gained some fame near the end of his life and traveled about as needed to make the most of it. Filippino Lippi's final commission was for a seven-panel polyptych for the Santissima Annunziata church in Florence. Lippi planned the work but was not able to complete even the central panel, his Deposition from the Cross (below), before his death in 1504. The entire city of Florence took the day off to attend his funeral. The unfinished central panel and the other six were completed by Pietro Perugino around 1507.
Deposition from the Cross, 1503-07, Filippino Lippi,
(completed by Pietro Perugino).

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