Filippo LippiHe was born, probably in about 1406, in Via d’Ardiglione in Florence, behind the convent of Santa Maria del Carmine. He was the son of a butcher, Tommaso Lippi, and was orphaned young. He took his vows at the Carmine on 18 June 1421. Apart from a year in Siena in 1428-29, as subprior of the Carmelites there, he remained at the monastery until 1432. Vasari says that Masaccio’s Carmine frescoes made a great impression on him, and this is evident in his early works. The lively figure poses and chubby-cheeked angels and children probably derive from Donatello’s reliefs.
In 1434 he is mentioned in Padua, painting a reliquary tabernacle for the Santo. His works there are lost but are thought to have influenced the local school of painting. By 1437 he was back in Florence. His earliest securely attributed and dated work (the Tarquinia Madonna in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome) is from that year, but attributions of works from the 1420s and early 1430s have been made on grounds of style and circumstantial evidence. He gradually lost his Masacciesque concern with solidity and volume and, perhaps partly in imitation of Fra Angelico, developed a more delicate, ‘sweeter’ style. His painting practise was relatively small and specialised in expensive altarpieces, devotional panels and occasional portraits. He was much patronised by the Medici (for whom he produced at least nine works) and their circle. He took an unusually long time to fulfil commissions, and was often in dispute with his patrons. Evidently prickly, he is known to have been involved in litigation on a dozen occasions – most seriously in 1455, when he was tried, imprisoned, tortured and stripped of his rectorship for forging a receipt of a payment to a former painting partner, Giovanni di Francesco (de Cervelliere).
From 1452 until 1465 he worked mainly at Prato, but retained a workshop and residence in Florence. His splendid frescoes in the choir of Prato Cathedral show an interest in rendering movement and in story-telling. Vasari’s famous story that he abducted a young nun, Lucrezia Buti, from the Carmelite convent at Prato who was serving as his model has been corroborated by documentary evidence. Filippino Lippi was their son. In 1466 Fra Filippo started work on another major fresco cycle at Spoleto, where he died on 9 October 1469. The citizens of Spoleto refused to send his body back to Florence, saying that he was one of the few famous men buried in their city, and Lorenzo de’ Medici paid for his marble tomb in the cathedral.
Lippi’s later works rely increasingly on his workshop. Fra Diamante (born 1430, died after 1498) is recorded in his studio from 1447 and was his principal assistant at Prato and finished the frescoes at Spoleto. Botticelli, Francesco Pesellino (c.1422-57) and Jacopo del Sellaio (c.1441-93) were also his pupils according to Vasari, and Fra Carnevale (fl.1445-84) is recorded in his workshop in the mid-1440s.
Altenburg. Lindenau Museum.
*St Jerome in Penitence. Wood, 47 x 30.
The penitent St Jerome is on the right, naked to the waist and stone in hand. The monk on the left has been identified either as Jerome as well, at an earlier point in time, or St Francis (though there is no halo or stigmata). The later interpretation rests on the identification of the panel with ‘a picture in a gold frame, representing St Jerome and St Francis, by the hand of Pesello and Fra Filippo’ which is recorded in a Medici inventory of 1492. A small panel of ‘St Jerome in Penitence’ is also included in a later Medici inventory of 1560, and this is perhaps more likely to be the Altenburg picture. Probably early (mid-1430s?), and once ascribed to Francesco Pesellino. It was purchased for Bernard von Lindenau in 1848 and entered the museum in 1854.
Athens (USA). University of Georgia.
Two panels of Saints. Wood, 49 x 13.
The heavily draped, solidly three-dimensional figures are shown standing in front of niches. They have no obvious identifying attributes. Two of six such panels from the Kress collection; the other four are at Honolulu. They are from a series of eighteen panels that could originally have decorated a sacristy cupboard or reliquary altarpiece. All eighteen panels were acquired in Florence by Sir John Leslie, an Irish Baronet, soldier, diplomat, politician and amateur artist. The series later belonged to Viscount Lee of Fareham and was dispersed after 1926. The panels appear to be by several different hands; those at Georgia are attributed either to Fra Filippo's workshop or to his long-term assistant Fra Diamante.
Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery.
Madonna. Wood, 76 x 52.
Rather damaged (eg the Virgin’s cloak has lost almost all its modelling). Usually – but not unanimously – agreed to be an autograph picture of the middle or late 1440s. The veil wrapped around the standing Child may allude to Christ’s winding cloth after the Crucifixion. The tabernacle frame is probably original. First recorded in the possession of the noble Marignoli family of Spoleto, whose collection was sold in 1898 to Don Marcello Massarenti of Rome. Massarenti’s large collection of Old Masters and antiquities was acquired by Henry Walters in 1902.
*Madonna adoring the Child. Wood, 127 x 116.
In a dark forest the Virgin adores the Child who lies naked on a bed of grass and flowers; the young John the Baptist stands on the left, and behind him St Bernard kneels in prayer. A goldfinch (a common symbol of Christ's Passion) perches on the tree stump on the right. Overhead, God the Father, radiating rings of golden stars and rays of golden light, releases the dove of the Holy Spirit, whose golden rays descend upon the Child. Signed in the lower left-hand corner on the handle of the axe. The image of an axe embedded in the roots of a tree trunk figures in other Florentine paintings of the time and refers to words attributed to the Baptist ('And now also is the axe laid in the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire' (Matthew: 3,10 and Luke: 3,9)). The panel was painted for the altar of the chapel of the Medici Palace at about the same time as Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes (late 1450s). When the Medici were in exile, it was transferred to the Palazzo della Signoria, where there is a record of it in 1510. With the return of the Medici, it was returned to the chapel, where Vasari saw it. It entered the Berlin Gallery in 1821 with the Solly collection. A faithful replica, sometimes ascribed to LIppi's workshop, stands over the altar of the chapel of the Medici Palace in place of Lippi's original.
*Miracle of St Ambrose. Wood, 28 x 51.
According to the Golden Legend, shortly after Ambrose’s birth bees were found harmlessly swarming in and out of his mouth, symbolising the honey of his eloquence. The panel is thought to have formed the left-hand section of the predella of the Coronation of the Virgin (now in the Uffizi), which was painted in 1439-47 for Sant’Ambrogio. The predella was paid for only in August 1458. It was separated from the main panel during the Napoleonic occupation, when the altarpiece was stolen from the church. The other predella panels are lost. The Berlin panel was acquired by the museum in 1905.
*Portrait of a Lady. Wood, 50 x 33.
The lady, in profile with a hand on her breast, is shown before a window with a view onto a blue sky and a shoreline shrouded in mist. She has fashionably blond hair and a high plucked forehead, and is dressed in green with a vermilion and white diaphanous headdress. Shallow holes suggest that the headdress, cuff, waistband, rings and architecture were all originally inset with precious materials. The shell niche was highlighted with gold dots. The back of the panel is painted to imitate red and black marble. One of two known independent portraits by Fra Filippo; the other (a double portrait) is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The Berlin picture seems likely to be the later of the two, though suggestions for dating have ranged widely (from as early as about 1430 to as late as the 1460s). It was ascribed to Piero della Francesca when it was auctioned in London in 1912. The attribution to Filippo Lippi was made the following year by Wilhelm von Bode, when he acquired the picture for the museum.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
Triptych. Centre panel, 42 x 27; wings, 42 x 11/12.
In the centre panel, the Madonna is enthroned with four angels in front of a classical structure with columns and entablature. A donor, dressed in red with a scarlet cap, kneels in prayer to receive the blessing of the Christ Child. The gold leaf has largely worn away, exposing the red bole ground. The left wing shows John the Baptst with his familar camel skin, slender cross and scroll with its ECCE AGNUS inscription. The saint in the right wing, wearing a pink cloak over dark, gilded armour and holding a red-cross banner, could be George or Ansanus (a patron saint of Siena). Variously attributed in the past to Fra Filippo as a very early work, his workshop or school, or to the Sienese artist Domenico di Bartolo (either alone or in collaboration with Lippi). A small Madonna and Saints with a Donor in the Cini collection, Venice, is very close in style and has shared the same vagaries of attribution. Sold by Cavaliere Giuseppe Toscanelli of Pisa in 1883 with an attribution to Giovanni Boccati (a painter from the Marches who had worked as Lippi's assistant in Florence). Bought by the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1893 as 'School of Lippi' from Charles Butler, an insurance millionaire and distinguished art collector, of Warren Wood, Hatfield.
Cambridge (Mass.) Fogg Art Museum.
*St Jerome in the Wilderness with Two Other Saints. Wood (arched top), 159 x 190.
Jerome, standing in a rocky niche before a crucifix, beats his breast with a stone. On the left, John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, wearing camel hair, points to the figure of Christ on the crucifix. On the right, the youthful, golden-haired Ansanus, patron saint of Siena, holds a martyr's palm in one hand and a human heart in the other. Possibly the painting of Saint Jerome referred to by Browning in his poem Fra Lippo Lippi ('On Jerome knocking at his poor old breast/With his great round stone to subdue the flesh'). Once in the Cappella Dragoni of the Carmine at Prato (whence it was probably removed in Napoleonic times). Seen by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864) in the possession of a Signor Grissato Berti at Prato, and later in a collection in Scotland. Acquired by Edward W. Forbes, the American art historian and long-time Director of the Fogg Museum, in 1901 from the English painter, collector and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray. Gifted to the museum in 1963. Older critics (Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Milanesi and Berenson) ascribed the panel to Fra Diamante. Ruda (1993) classes it, less specifically, as a product of Lippi’s workshop of the ‘mid-1440s to early 1460s’. The museum, which had previously catalogued the picture under Fra Diamante, now attributes it to Lippi. The surface is somewhat worn and the underdrawing shows through in places.
Two Saints. Wood, each 48 x 13.
The youthful saint pointing to heaven is probably John the Evangelist; the bishop might be Nicholas of Bari. From a series of eighteen panels of saints ascribed to Filippo Lippi’s workshop (or Fra Diamante). The other panels are dispersed among other American museums, the Courtauld Institute (London) and a private collection. Bequeathed by Arthur Lehman in 1965.
Cleveland. Museum of Art.
*St Michael; St Anthony Abbot(?). Two panels (transferred to masonite), each 81 x 30.
The two saints kneel on the floral lawn of a walled garden. St Michael appears as an angelic warrior, with golden wings and fantastic armour. The other saint, formerly called Bernard or Joseph, is now identified as Anthony Abbot (one of whose attributes is a Tau-shaped staff). The two panels were the wings of a triptych commissioned by Giovanni de’ Medici in 1456 as a diplomatic gift for Alfonso I, King of Naples. The lost centre panel represented the Virgin adoring the Child. A compositional sketch for the triptych survives at the bottom of a letter from Fra Filippo to Giovanni de’ Medici, dated 20 July 1457, which insisted that 100 florins would be a fair price for his labour. The triptych was finished and delivered by May 1458, and was so well received that a Neapolitan courtier wanted a copy made by Fra Filippo. The two wings were bought by Francis Cook in 1871 from the Condesa Pacheco of Madrid; they perhaps came to Spain from Naples at the time of the fall of the House of Aragon. Acquired by the Cleveland Museum in 1963. A painting, also at Cleveland, attributed to Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino and representing three angels presenting the Christ Child to the adoring Virgin in a woodland landscape, is thought to be a copy or variant of the missing centre panel of Fra Filippo's triptych.
Corsham (Wilts). Corsham House. Lord Methuen’s Collection.
Annunciation with Donor. Wood, 132 x 126.
Painted for Jacopo Bellucci, provost of the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity in Pistoia, for which Lippi also finished the Trinity Altarpiece (National Gallery, London). The elderly donor kneels behind a low parapet on the left. Late (mid-1460s). The execution is usually ascribed largely or entirely to Lippi’s workshop (though restorations in 1956 and 1974 have revealed the picture to be better preserved and of higher quality than previously thought).
Denver. Art Museum.
Madonna. Wood, 57 x 36.
Like the Madonnas in Washington and the Palazzo Medici, the Virgin is depicted standing in a niche with a scallop shell vault. The attribution of this small, rather damaged panel has hovered between Fra Filippo and Francesco Pesellino. Dated about 1440 by Ruda (1993). Once in the collection of the English travel writer Edward Hutton. Acquired by Kress (through Contini Bonacossi) in 1937.
Empoli. Museo della Collegiata.
Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels. Wood, 44 x 34.
The Madonna, enthroned on top of high steps, is surrounded by saints and angels. The angel on the left with a sword is presumably St Michael, and the Carmelite monk standing behind him is probably St Albert of Trapani. The saint on the right with a knife could be the apostle St Bartholomew or the thirteenth-century Carmelite martyr St Angelus of Jerusalem. This small, rather naïve panel was possibly a miniature tabernacle for private devotion. Previously ascribed to Francesco Pesellino (Berenson (1902)) or ‘some feeble follower of Masaccio’ (Langton Douglas (1912)), it was attributed to Fra Filippo, as one of his very earliest works, in 1936 (by Mario Salmi in an article in Rivista d'Arte ). The attribution has been usually, but not unanimously, accepted.
**Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 200 x 287.
In the central arch, God the Father, seated on an enormous marble throne, crowns the kneeling Virgin. Angels and saints fill the sides and foreground. St Ambrose (titular saint of the church for which the picture was painted) stands on the left and John the Baptist (patron saint of Florence) stands on the right. The group kneeling in the centre includes the prophet Job (identified by the inscription on his sash), St Martin (the bishop looking over his shoulder at the viewer), Mary Magdalene (clutching her jar of ointment), St Lawrence (with his gridiron) and the Roman soldier-martyr St Eustace, his wife Theopista and their two sons Agapius and Theopistus. The person kneeling with folded hands on the right was traditionally identified as a self-portrait, but is probably rather a portrait of the deceased donor, Francesco di Antonio Maringhi. The younger of the two monks in white habits (lower left) may actually be a self-portrait. Painted for the high altar of the church of Sant’Ambrogio in Florence. It was begun by 1439, but payments continued until 9 June1447. It was one of the costliest altarpieces of the fifteenth century: a total sum of around 400 florins was paid for labour and materials. It was financed out of rents from a farm donated by Francesco Maringhi, a rector of Sant’Ambrogio. Fra Filippo was assisted by Bartolomeo di Giovanni Corradini da Urbino (also called Fra Carnevale), Fra Diamante and a certain Piero di Lorenzo (possibly identifiable with the 'Master of the Castello Nativity'). The altarpiece was stolen from the church before 1810; bought for the Accademia by Angelo Volpini in 1813; and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919. The altarpiece has lost its elaborate Gothic frame. The predella (paid for in August 1458) is also lost, apart from a single panel in Berlin. Previously 'damaged by repainting in most parts' (Crowe and Cavalcaselle). The luminous colour and subtle treatment of light and shade can be better appreciated since restorations in 1957, 1974-78 and 1994-98. Robert Browning refers to the picture in his 1855 poem Fra Lippo Lippi (lines 344 et seq.).
*Madonna enthroned with Saints ('Pala del Noviziato'). Wood, 196 x 196.
The Medici family's patron saints, Cosmas and Damian, and two Franciscan saints, Francis himself and Anthony of Padua, are seated in front of shell-topped niches at the sides of the Virgin's throne. Along the top is a frieze of Medici palle. Originally the altarpiece of the Novitiate Chapel in the Franciscan church of Santa Croce, with a predella by Pesellino that is now divided between the Uffizi (the last three scenes) and the Louvre (the first two scenes). The chapel, donated by Cosimo de’ Medici and designed by Michelozzo, was finished by 1439, and the altarpiece was probably painted in the 1440s. It was removed from Santa Croce to the Accademia in the early nineteenth century and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919. Restoration in 2010 recovered much of the original brilliance of the colour, which had been dimmed by old oily varnish. The Louvre loaned its Pesellino panels to the Uffizi for a short time, so that the complete predella could be exhibited with the newly-restored altarpiece.
*Virgin adoring the Child ('Pala di Annalena'). Wood, 137 x 134.
The Virgin, kneeling on the grass, adores the Child, who lies on the skirts of her orange mantle. To the left, Joseph leans against a rock; St Hilarion (a desert saint whose life was written by Jerome) is the hooded half-figure in profile; and behind him the penitent Jerome beats his breast with a stone. To the right, the Magdalen (identifiable by her long hair) prays behind a wall. Overhead, in front of the thatched roof of the stable, angels hold up a scroll inscribed with the words 'Gloria Inecelsis Deo' (the words sung by the angels in Luke's Gospel when they announced Christ's birth to the shepherds). The picture was painted for the Dominican convent of San Vincenzo d’Annalena at Florence, and probably dates from the mid-1450s. The patron is likely to have been Annalena Malatesta, founder and abbess of the convent, and goddaughter of Cosimo de' Medici. The composition is similar to that of Uccello’s stained glass window of 1443 in the Duomo. One of three ‘Wilderness Adorations’ by Lippi: there is another in the Uffizi and a third in the Berlin Museum. The picture remained at the Annalena convent until 1786, and was transferred to the Uffizi from the Accademia in 1919. Restored in 2010.
*Virgin adoring the Child ('Pala di Camaldoli'). Wood, 140 x 130.
The Virgin kneels in prayer by the side of the Child, who lies almost naked on a bed of grass and wild flowers. He is surrounded by a golden aura, and the Virgin is illuminated by the divine light. The background is ‘a wilderness of scathed rock and arid grass’ (Ruskin). On the right, the young John the Baptist holds a scroll and a reed cross, while the half-figure of St Bernard – or, more probably, St Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese Order – appears in the lower right-hand corner. The disembodied hands of God the Father appear overhead to release the dove of the Holy Spirit, and fine golden rays mark the descent of the Holy Spirit to the Child. The picture was painted for a penitential cell, dedicated to St John the Baptist, in the hermitage of Camaldoli, high in the Apennines near Arezzo. Vasari attributed the commission to Cosimo de' Medici's wife, Contessina de' Bardi, but the patron is more likely to have been Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the wife of Cosimo's son Piero. Lucrezia had a special devotion to John the Baptist and wrote a life of the saint. According to an eighteenth-century source, the cell was built in 1463, which is usually taken as the date of the picture. The picture remained in the cell at Camaldoli until at least 1712. Transferred to the Uffizi from the Accademia in 1919. The colours, previously rather dull and dark, appear much brighter since the removal of old resinous varnishes and discoloured retouchings in a restoration of 2007.
**Virgin and Child with Two Angels. Wood, 92 x 63.
The very young Virgin, seated in profile at a window affording a view of distant mountains and a bay, prays before the Infant, held up to her by two child angels. She is richly dressed in the fashion of the day. Her hair, fashionably fair and pulled back to accentuate her fashionably high plucked forehead, is covered with a fine transparent veil. The profusion of pearls – adorning both her head and clothes – may symbolise her purity. The popular story that Filippo used Lucrezia Buti, the nun he seduced, as the model for the Madonna and their son, Filippino, as the model for the smiling angel is apocryphal, and there are no reliable early references to the picture. It was formerly at the Medici villa at Poggio Imperiale, and was transferred to the Uffizi in 1796 with a tentative attribution to Ghirlandaio. It is a mature work (opinion on dating has ranged from the mid-1450s to mid-1460s). There are many nearly contemporary replicas and variants, including several ascribed to the young Botticelli. Restored in 2005.
Predella. Wood, 40 x 235.
The predella, one of only three to have survived intact from Lippi’s altarpieces, belonged to the Barbadori Altarpiece, which was painted around 1437-39 for the Augustinian church of Santo Spirito in Florence. The main panel of the altarpiece is now in the Louvre. The predella contains three scenes. That on the left shows St Frediano, Bishop of Lucca, diverting the course of the river Serchio to avert the city’s flooding. The patron of the altarpiece, Gherardo Barbadori, had a particular devotion to St Frediano, who is also represented in the main panel. The centre of the predella depicts the unusual subject of the annunciation of the death of the Virgin. The Virgin is shown standing in a cloister receiving a lighted torch from an angel. Between the columns on the right, apostles are seen being led by angels to the scene. The panel on the right depicts St Augustine in his study perceiving the Trinity. The Trinity is represented as three conjoined cherubs' heads and the saint is struck in the heart by three golden arrows. The predella was left behind when the main panel was taken to Paris in 1811. It was removed from Santo Spirito to the Accademia, and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919.
Virgin Annunciate and St Anthony Abbot; Angel Gabriel and St John the Baptist. Wood, each 115 x 24.
On the left panel, the Virgin stands in awe as the dove of the Holy Spirit flies towards her. Below, Anthony Abbot is represented as a venerable monk. A tiny bell hangs from the handle of his Tau-shaped staff. On the right panel, the Angel Gabriel is crowned with white roses and holds a lily. Below, John the Baptist wears his usual camel skin and holds a slender cross. The purpose of the two panels is uncertain: they could have been parts of an polyptych or served as doors. They probably date from the late 1440s or early 1450s. They were transferred in 1919 to the Uffizi from the Accademia; their earlier provenance is unknown.
*Madonna and Child. Wood, 135 in dia.
The Virgin – apocryphally a portrait of Lucrezia Buti – holds a pomegranate. The Child has taken some seeds from the fruit and holds them in his right hand. The background scenes concern the Virgin's conception and birth. Upper right, St Anne greets her husband Joachim at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem. On the left, St Anne is seen in her bedchamber, taking the swaddled newborn from a nurse. Lower right, a female visitor is accompanied by a child and a servant bearing gifts. The large tondo is usually identified with one commissioned by Leonardo di Bartolommeo Bartolini, a prosperous Florentine merchant and statesman, before Lippi left for Prato in 1452. (This painting was in progress by 13 April and was to be completed by 8 December; the deadline was missed, resulting in a hefty fine of 22 florins.) However, Ruda (1993) thinks that the Pitti tondo is not the Bartolini picture, but was painted considerably later (mid-1460s). If the picture is the one commissioned by Bartolini, it would appear to be the earliest surviving tondo of the Madonna and Child. It is first certainly recorded at the Pitti Palace in 1761, and it is not known how or when it entered the Medici collections.
Florence. Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.
Sala Sonnino. Madonna and Child. Wood, 155 x 71.
This large Madonna was discovered by Poggi (1908) in the asylum of San Salvi; before that it was in the hospital of San Bonifacio and the Villa Castel Pulci. A mature work, probably painted during Fra Filippo’s years in Prato. After its discovery, it was transferred to the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi and exhibited in the Museo Mediceo. When the museum was closed in 1966, the picture was moved to the Galleria di Luca Giordano. Following a restoration in 2001, it has been displayed in an air-conditioned showcase in the Sala Sonnino on the first floor. On the back of the panel, there are interesting brush and ink sketches by Lippi – notably a large head of a saint (Jerome?) or prophet.
Chapel. Replica of Lippi's 'Adoration of the Child'. Wood, 130 x 128.
Fra Filippo’s original altarpiece for the chapel is now in Berlin. The replica, originally in the church of Sant'Apollonia, was transferred to the chapel of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi from the Accademia in 1915. Formerly ascribed to the so-called Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino, it is now classed simply as a product of LIppi's workshop. It is very faithful to the original, and the unknown artist may have reused Lippi's cartoons.
Florence. San Lorenzo.
*Annunciation. Wood, 175 x 183.
The Virgin’s elegantly recoiling pose may derive from Donatello’s sculpted Annunciation in Santa Croce. The virtuoso detail (bottom right) of the crystal vase in a niche alludes to Mary’s purity and may have been inspired by Flemish painting. In the background, a monastery garden is drawn in careful perspective. One of the finest of Fra Filippo’s earlier works (about 1440?). Still in the Cappella Martelli (or degli Operai) in the left transept, where it was seen by Vasari. The simple tabernacle frame, with classical fluted columns topped by Corinthian capitals, may have been made to a design of Brunelleschi, the architect of San Lorenzo. The panel is joined vertically down the middle, and it has sometimes been suggested that the two halves (the two angels on one and the Annunciation on the other) were originally separate panels, which could have served as the doors of an organ or reliquary. The predella (18 x 188) represents scenes from the life of St Nicholas of Bari (he stops an unjust execution; he gives his inheritance to three poor maidens; and he resuscitates three murdered youths). It appears to have been part of the original altarpiece – and not added later as has sometimes been suggested – but it may have been executed by an assistant (perhaps Giovanni di Francesco de Cerveilliere, who is recorded in Lippi’s workshop in 1440). During the Second World War, the picture was removed from its frame and taken for safekeeping to the Castello di Oliveto, where it was hidden for a time in the castle's damp wine cellar. There are many paint losses, perhaps caused by the heat or hot wax from candles. Restoration in 2014-16 removed hundred-year-old discoloured varnish and replaced old retouchings.
Vasari also mentions an unfinished picture, now lost, by Fra Filippo in the Della Stufa Chapel of San Lorenzo.
Florence. Santa Maria del Carmine (room off the cloister).
The Carmelite Rule. Detached fresco, 380 x 480.
At the beginning of his Life of Fra Filippo, Vasari mentions a ‘painting in terra verde in the cloister, near Masaccio’s Consecration, of a pope approving the Rule of the Carmelites’. It was covered by a layer of plaster until 1860, and detached from the wall in 1939. Less than half of the composition has been recovered. The subject is uncertain, but it may show Albert of Avogadro, Patriarch of Jerusalem, conferring the rule on the Mount Carmel hermits early in the thirteenth century. The figures in the landscape (upper left) probably represent early Carmelite hermits in the Holy Land. They wear the original striped Carmelite habits, while the monks closer to the foreground wear the familiar white habits approved in 1286. The large fresco fragment is regarded as one of Fra Filippo’s earliest works, painted perhaps in the middle or late 1420s. (It is now kept in a room inaccessible to the public.)
Honolulu. Academy of Arts.
Four panels of Saints. Wood, each 48 x 13.
From a series of eighteen panels of saints that are attributed either to Fra Filippo’s workshop or to his long-term assistant Fra Diamante. The figure holding the arrow could be St Sebastian and the saint writing in a book is probably one of the Evangelists; the two other saints have no identifying attributes. Acquired by Kress in 1936, along with two other panels that are now in Athens (University of Georgia).
London. National Gallery.
Virgin and St Bernard. Wood, 98 x 106.
The Virgin, accompanied by three angels, appears to St Bernard in a vision as he sits writing in a cave. Two Cistercian monks peer at the vision over the top of the jagged rocks in the background. There may originally have been a small chained devil behind St Bernard. (What may have been its tail is visible on the ledge on which the saint is sitting.) The panel is described as ‘gravely damaged’ in the catalogue: the colours have dulled and the flesh tones appear very grey. Cut to form an irregular hexagon, it may originally have been arched. Vasari mentions two overdoors by Lippi in the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence, representing the Annunciation and St Bernard. The Annunciation is often thought to be the painting at Washington (though this was doubted by Miklós Boskovits in the 2003 catalogue of fifteen-century Italian paintings in Washington). A payment of 40 florins on 16 May 1447 is recorded for a Virgin and St Bernard to be placed over the door of the Cancelleria (Chancellery) of the Palazzo (whose patron saint was Bernard). The execution of the panel is sometimes ascribed at least partly to an assistant (such as Fra Diamante or the ‘Master of the Castello Nativity’). It was purchased at the sale of Joly de Bammeville’s collection in London in 1854.
*Annunciation. Wood (rounded top), 69 x 152.
The Angel Gabriel, bearing a lily, kneels in the Virgin's enclosed garden (a metaphor for her purity). From the top of the arched panel, the hand of God the Father emerges from a cloud to release the dove of the Holy Spirit, which hovers before the Virgin's womb. Gold dots are used to represent the passage of the Holy Spirit from God's hand to the dove and thence to a small opening in the Virgin's garment. To judge from their shape, this picture and its pendant, Seven Saints, were possibly overdoors or bedheads. A Medici origin is almost certain. The pair were sold in the nineteenth century from the Palazzo Riccardi (formerly Medici) at Florence. On the centre of the parapet, represented in grisaille, are three feathers in a diamond ring, a device used by the Medici. Gabriel’s splendid peacock wings may also allude to the Medici, since the peacock was also a Medici device. The Annunciation was acquired by Sir Charles Eastlake from the Metzger brothers in about 1855 and was presented by him to the National Gallery in 1861.
*Seven Saints. Wood (rounded top), 68 x 152.
The saints are seated on a marble inlay stone bench against a wooded hillside. St Francis (golden rays emanating from the stigmata in his hands and feet) and St Lawrence (whose gridiron rests beside him) are on the left. The hermit St Anthony Abbot (with wooden staff) and St Peter Martyr (a knife in his skull) are on the right. John the Baptist, pointing towards heaven, is in the centre between the doctor saints Cosmas and Damian (whose small golden medicine boxes are on the ledge behind them). All seven saints are name saints of members of the Medici dynasty; John the Baptist was also patron of the city of Florence, and the doctor saints Cosmas and Damian were patrons of the Medici family. Acquired with the Annunciation in about 1848 from the Palazzo Riccardi by the Metzger brothers of Florence. The Seven Saints was bought from them by Alexander Barker, who sold it to the National Gallery in 1861.
*Trinity Altarpiece. Main panel, 184 x 182.
The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above the head of Christ on the cross. God the Father is seated behind, with his hands under the crossbar and his feet on a cloud. St Mamas (a teenage martyr of the third century) and St James the Great (with his pilgrim's staff) stand on the left. St Zeno (Bishop of Verona) and St Jerome (in a Cardinal's robes) are on the right. The predella contains scenes from the saints' lives: St Mamas is thrown to the lions; St James is beheaded; St Zeno exorcises the daughter of the Emperor Gallienus; and St Jerome removes the thorn from the lion's paw. A fifth predella panel, representing the legend of St Augustine and the boy on the seashore, is in the Hermitage at St Petersburg. This panel, with its parable of the mystery of the Trinity, would have been in the centre of the predella, beneath the representation of the Trinity in the main panel.
The altarpiece is unusually well documented. It was commissioned on 10 September 1455 by the Company of the Priests of the Trinity at Pistoia for the high altar of their church in Piazza Cino (now Gavinana). It was started in Florence by Francesco Pesellino, who died in July 1457 when it was half finished. It was completed in Prato between November 1458 and June 1460 in Fra Filippo’s Prato studio, which was largely or wholly responsible for the predella. The total price was 200 florins, with 85 paid to Pesellino and his heirs and 115 to Lippi. Lippi also painted a curtain for the altarpiece and a wooden altar-frontal (a Madonna della Misericordia sheltering the priests of the confraternity destroyed in Berlin in 1945). After the confraternity was suppressed in about 1783, the altarpiece was sold. The main panel was cut into five pieces and the predella separated from it. The parts were acquired by the National Gallery at various times between 1863 and 1937.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 30 x 24.
The Child holds a small bird (goldfinch?) to his lips. Completely repainted. The arch framing the figures is not original, and the arms in the corners (of the Strozzi and Gaetani families) were probably added in the sixteenth century. Often attributed, wholly or partly, to Lippi's workshop; but the picture's condition makes any assessment difficult. Acquired in Florence in 1874 by Lord Brownlow, who presented it to the Gallery in 1919.
London. Courtauld Institute Galleries.
Annunciation. Two panels, each 20 x 14.
These two exquisite small panels were bought by Mark Gambier-Parry in the mid-nineteenth century as by Filippo Lippi. They have often subsequently been ascribed to Francesco Pesellino. Jeffrey Ruda changed his mind about them, listing them as by Pesellino in the 1993 hardback edition of his monograph but then reattributing them to Lippi, with a dating of 1440-45, in the preface to the 1999 paperback edition. The Courtauld has retained the Pesellino attribution. The Gambier-Parry pictures, formerly at Highnam Court in Gloucestershire, were bequeathed to the Courtauld Institute in 1966.
Four Saints. Wood, each 48 x 13.
The male saints are Dominic (with lily), Peter (with key) and James the Less (with fuller's club); the female saint (with flail and martyr's palm) has not been identified. Four of a set of eighteen panels from Lippi’s workshop. They presumably belonged originally to some larger structure, but it is uncertain how they might have been arranged. (One suggestion is that they were framed in three rows of three to form the wings of a small reliquary altarpiece.) The panels were bought in Florence by the Irish diplomat Sir John Leslie in the mid-nineteenth century, and by 1926 all eighteen were in the collection of Viscount Lee of Fareham. He sold fourteen, which are now dispersed among American museums and a private collection, and retained four, which were bequeathed to London University with his collection in 1947. The eighteen panels, while homogeneous in style, differ somewhat in the quality of their execution. They are often now attributed to Fra Diamante, but other workshop assistants may also have been involved.
Lyon. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
St Catherine and a Male Saint. Wood, 107 x 62.
Catherine of Alexandria is identified by the spiked wheel she is holding; the male saint with a book is probably one of the Evangelists. The panel, presumably a fragment from the right side of an altarpiece, is attributed to Lippi as an early work. Stolen in 1979 from the parish church in Saint-Didier-au-Mont-d'Or, Lyon. Seized by the police in 1982 at an auction house in Milan, and subsequently deposited for safekeeping with the Lyon museum.
Mamiano (near Parma). Fondazione Magnani Rocca.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 80 x 53.
The figures (which are considerably worn) are shown behind a parapet and in front of an elaborately tooled cloth of honour, which is hung across a shallow rectangular recess. The picture probably dates from the late 1440s or early 1450s. Once owned by the Contessa Foglietti at Castello di Montauto (near Florence). First published in 1932 (by Pietro Toesca in L'Arte) when it was in a private collection in Nice.
Milan. Castello Sforzesco.
Madonna of Humility ('Trivulzio Madonna'). Wood (transferred to canvas), 85 x 168.
The Virgin and Child are surrounded by three saints and six kneeling children dressed in white. The saints were traditionally supposed to be Anne, Peter Martyr and Dominic, but are now identified as three Carmelites: the Blessed Angela of Bohemia (praying on the left), Angelo of Licata (with a knife in his head) and Alberto of Sicily (with a lily). Possibly Fra Filippo’s earliest surviving panel painting. It may have been painted for one of the altars of the choir screen of Santa Maria del Carmine (which were dedicated to St Angelo and St Alberto), and probably dates from the late 1420s or early 1430s. Until 1935 the picture belonged to the Trivulzio family of Milan, which probably acquired it from the Florentine Rinuccini family by dowry in 1831. Transferred from the original panel to canvas and quite damaged. Restored in 2013.
Milan. Museo Poldi Pezzoli.
Pietà. Wood, 54 x 29.
The grieving Virgin and St John the Evangelist hold the dead Christ upright in the marble sarcophagus. In the background looms the rock-cut tomb where, according to the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea placed Christ's body. This small, damaged panel is recorded in the collection of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli in 1881 as a work of the school of Murano. In the early twentieth century it was usually ascribed to Francesco Pesellino. An attribution to Lippi, as a very early work, was first suggested in 1901 but has only become widely accepted since the Second World War. Very abraded and retouched: parts of St John's face and hand, the Virgin's left shoulder and Christ's chest were reconstructed in a 1951 restoration.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
*Annunciation ('Le Murate Annunciation'). Wood, 202 x 184.
In the top left corner, God the Father, floating on a cloud and accompanied by angels, releases the dove of the Holy Spirit. The passage of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin is represented by golden rays formed by tiny dots. The figure of the Virgin is curiously elongated, with tiny head and hands. Her virginity is symbolised by the walled garden viewed through the Renaissance arches. As in several of Filippo's other Annunciations, the angel has splendid peacock wings. (It is known from the accounts of the Compagnia di Sant'Agnese, a confraternity based at Filippo's church of the Carmine, that peacocks' feathers were used to make the angels' wings used as props for religious spectacles.)
The Annunciation is one of two pictures mentioned by Vasari that were painted by Fra Filippo for Le Murate (‘the walled sisters’), a Benedictine convent on Via Ghibellina in Florence. It was situated on the high altar. In 1808 the convent was suppressed, and the Annunciation was acquired by Johann Metzger, acting as an agent for Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. The fate of the other picture mentioned by Vasari (which represented stories from the lives of St Benedict and St Bernard) is unknown. It is documented that the Annunciation was commissioned in 1443 by Giovanni d’Amerigo Benci (a leading figure in the Medici banking business) and that 200 florins were paid for the painting and other fittings. Some art historians have, however, dated the picture somewhat later on evidence of style. It has been suggested (but not demonstrated) that the small panels of the Meeting at the Golden Gate at Oxford and the Nativity at Washington formed parts of the predella.
*Virgin and Child. Wood, 76 x 54.
A mature work (about 1460?). X-rays suggests that it was started as a smaller version of the famous Uffizi Madonna and Child with Two Angels. The rocky background seems almost to anticipate the mysterious landscapes of Leonardo da Vinci. A classical church or temple is seen at the top of the escarpment on the right. Nothing is known of the history of the picture before 1808, when it was bought in Florence on behalf of Crown Prince Ludwig from a certain Abate Rivanni.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Three damaged fragments from an altarpiece painted, according to Vasari, for Alessandro degli Alessandri, and originally in the chapel of his villa at Vincigliata, near Fiesole. The main section (120 x 105) represents St Lawrence enthroned, with his feet on a gridiron, between the Medici saints Cosmas and Damian. The donor kneels in the foreground facing his two sons (Jacopo and Antonio). The two smaller fragments (72 x 38) represent St Anthony Abbot and a bishop-monk (St Benedict?) from the sides of the altarpiece. The main panel has been cut down and the background regilded. The portraits are among the better preserved parts. The picture probably dates from the late 1440s or early 1450s; it is conservative in its use of a gold ground and the representation of the donor figures as smaller than the sacred ones. When Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864) saw the altarpiece at the Palazzo Alessandri on Borgo degli Albizi in Florence, the central section had been given a circular shape so it could be hung as a pendant to a tondo attributed to Botticelli. The fragments remained in the possession of the Alessandri family until 1912, when they were sold to the American banking magnate John Pierpont Morgan. Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1935.
Madonna enthroned with Two Angels. Wood (transferred), 123 x 63.
The Virgin's throne of variegated marble may represent the throne of Solomon or Sedes Sapientiae (I Kings, 10: 18-20) and the rose she holds may represent the rose of Sharon (Song of Solomon, 2:1). The angel on the left holds a scroll inscribed in Latin: ‘Come over to me, all that you desire, and be filled with my fruit' (Ecclesiasticus, 24: 18). The centre panel of a triptych. The side panels, showing the Four Doctors of the Church, are in Turin. The triptych was a comparatively early work – about contemporary with, or perhaps just a little later than, the Tarquinia Madonna of 1437 in the Palazzo Barberini at Rome. The centre panel was in private collections in Cologne until 1894, when it was acquired by Ludwig Mond. It was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum by Jules Bache in 1949. The panels of the triptych were reunited for the exhibition From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca, held at the Metropolitan Museum and Brera in 2004-5.
*Double Portrait. Wood, 64 x 42.
This rare secular picture by Fra Filippo is usually dated about 1435-45 and is remarkable on several counts. It is one of the earliest Italian portraits with a domestic setting or landscape background, the earliest surviving Italian double portrait and also one of the earliest Italian portraits to feature a woman. She is richly dressed: a woollen surcoat (giornea) lined with fur is worn over a velvet dress (cioppa) with gold-embroidered sleeves, and her headdress is encrusted with pearls. The word 'lealtà' (loyalty) is embroidered on the cuff of her wide sleeve. She is fashionably round-bellied but not necessarily pregnant.
A man leans through a window on the left to face her. (His head is, however, slightly lower than hers, and he does not make eye-contact.) On the strength of the coat-of-arms embroidered on the cloth hanging over the sill, the man is usually identified as Lorenzo di Ranieri Scolari (1407-82), who married Angiola di Bernardo Sapiti in 1436. The portrait could commemorate the couple's betrothal or marriage, the birth of their first child (Ranieri Scolari in 1444) or even Angiola's death. An alternative identification of the couple as Francesca di Matteo Scolari and Bonaccorso di Luca Pitti (who married in 1444) was proposed in 2013 (by Katalia Prajda in the Metropolitan Museum Journal); it assumes that the coat-of-arms refers to the bride's family rather than the groom's. Another theory is that the picture does not represent a married couple but rather a young man and the lady for whom he had an idealised (Platonic or Petrarchan) devotion. There have been conflicting views on whether the man's portrait is likely to have been added later, after the female one had been painted, or was part of the original composition.
The picture was acquired in Florence around 1829 (as a work of Masaccio) by the Reverend John Sanford. It was sold by his heir, Lord Methuen, in 1883 to the New York financier Henry G. Marquand, who donated it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1889. It was catalogued by the museum (1905) as 'school of Masaccio', while Berenson (1909 Lists) favoured Uccello. An attribution to Filippo Lippi was first published in 1913 (by Joseph Breck in Art in America), and is now generally accepted.
Four Saints. Paper (transferred from panel), 142 x 100.
A very damaged fragment from the right-hand side of a large altarpiece. The two saints on the left might be Augustine (the grey-beared bishop) and Louis of Toulouse (the youthful bishop), and those on the right might be Francis (in a brown habit) and Benedict (in a black habit). Bought in 1917 from Jane Newell Moore (who had earlier donated it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which had failed to exhibit it). Because of its condition, it is not normally on show.
Two panels of Saints. Wood, each 48 x 13.
The monk with a dragon on a leash is St Bernard of Clairvaux. He wears the white habit of the Cistercian order. The other saint, wearing a grey cloak over a brown habit, is unidentified. The small vertical paintings are two of four such panels bought by Robert Lehman in 1928; he subsequently sold two and these are now in the Fogg Museum, Cambridge (Mass.). The panels are products of Lippi’s late workshop and have been often attributed to Fra Diamante.
Annunciation. Wood, 40 x 70.
This small panel, presumably from a predella, has been variously attributed to Fra Filippo, his workshop and Francesco Pesellino. It may date from the mid-1440s. A scene from the life of St Benedict in Washington is identical in size and similar in style, and could have come from the same predella. Bequeathed in 1943 by Maitland Fuller Griggs.
New York. Frick Collection.
*Annunciation. Wood, each panel 62 x 23.
The scene is set in a bare vaulted room. The youthful Gabriel approaches with graceful reverence, holding the long stem of a lily in one hand and gathering up his cloak with the other. The dove of the Holy Spirit flies down towards the Virgin, who raises her hands in surprise and bows her head in modest acceptance. The play of light and shade is subtly observed. The angel casts his shadow on the floor and the Virgin casts hers against the wall behind her. The frame is modern, and the two panels were probably originally framed separately as the wings of a small triptych or tabernacle. Comparatively early (1435-1440?). Acquired by the art historian Langton Douglas from the Calcagno family of Palermo; in the Frick Collection since 1924.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
The Meeting of Joachim and Anne. Wood, 20 x 48.
There is no Gospel authority for this popular subject, which appears, however, in the second-century Protevangelium of James and other early apocrypha. Joachim and Anne, the elderly childless parents of the Virgin Mary, meet at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem after Anne's miraculous pregnancy had been announced by an angel to Joachim in the wilderness. The pair of deer in the landscape on the right may symbolise piety and chastity and the pair of storks (or herons) the Annunciation or devotion to children. The small panel probably came from a predella representing scenes from the life of the Virgin. It is usually dated to the early or mid-1440s and is sometimes thought to have come from the same predella as a Nativity, of roughly similar dimensions, in Washington. It has been further conjectured (but not demonstrated) that this predella belonged to the altarpiece of the Annunciation at Munich. Presented to the Ashmolean in 1850 by the diplomat William Fox-Strangways, who formed a remarkable collection of early Italian paintings (now mainly at Christ Church) when he was Secretary of Legation at Florence. Rather cracked and worn; restored in 2004.
**‘Barbadori Altarpiece’. Wood, 208 x 244.
The Virgin, standing in the centre of a railed-off sanctuary, supports her Child on her hip in a sling. She is significantly larger than the bishop saints, Frediano and Augustine, who kneel before her. Adolescent angels hold long-stem lilies. The white-robed monk on the extreme left with his chin on a balustrade is probably a self-portrait of Fra Filippo, while the corresponding figure in a hat on the extreme right conceivably represents the donor. The altarpiece is an early example of a Renaissance pala – an altarpiece with an unsegmented main panel; but the three arches of the frame and the painted marble columns flanking the Virgin are concessions to the traditional triptych form. The altarpiece was painted for a funerary chapel in the sacristy of the Augustinian church of Santo Spirito in Florence. The donor was Gherardo di Bartolommeo Barbadori (d. 1429), who left most of his estate to the captains of the company of Orsanmichele to build a chapel or altar dedicated to San Frediano. A progress payment of forty florins was made on 8 March 1437. The picture is mentioned in a letter, sent from Perugia in 1438, by Domenico Veneziano to Piero de’ Medici which says that Fra Filippo ‘cannot finish it in five years, though he should toil at it night and day, so great a work is it.’ In fact, it was probably finished by August 1439, when Fra Filippo wrote to Piero de’ Medici threatening to leave Florence for lack of work. It was acquired by Vivant-Denon, Director of the Musée Napoleon, on his trip to Italy in 1811. The predella, showing scenes from the lives of the two saints and the Virgin, remained in Santo Spirito and is now in the Uffizi.
Prato. Galleria Comunale.
Madonna and Child with Saints ('Pala del Ceppo'). Wood, 187 x 120.
Badly damaged. From a tabernacle commissioned by the Ceppo Nuovo of Prato to go over a well in the courtyard of their palazzo. The fee was 85 florins, and the final payment was made on 25 May 1453. The donor, portrayed in a scarlet hat and gown, is a posthumous portrait of the wealthy merchant Francesco di Marco Datini, whose bequest in 1410 founded the Ceppo hospital. Datini was the subject of Iris Origo's 1957 best seller The Merchant of Prato. He introduces four diminutive kneeling Buonomini (members of the governing body), whose names are Andrea di Giovanni Bertelli, Filippo Manassei, Pietro Pugliesi and Jacopo Obizzi. The two saints are Stephen (dressed as a deacon and with stones embedded in his head) and John the Baptist (dressed in camel hair and holding his scroll and reed cross). They are the patron saints of Prato and Florence.
Adoration with Saints George and Vincent Ferrer. Wood, 146 x 157.
A Nativity scene. Two shepherd boys, seated on a rock, play bagpipes and a horn. St George stands on the left with his red-cross banner. On the right, the Dominican preacher St Vincent Ferrer experiences a vision of Christ with the Cross. His open book is inscribed with the apocalyptic message: 'Fear God, because the hour of judgement is coming'. From the refectory of San Domenico at Prato, and presumably one of two paintings by Fra Filippo seen there by Vasari. Transferred to the Gallery in 1866 when San Domenico was suppressed. A late work of Fra Filippo and his workshop (critics have sometimes seen the hand of Filippino or Botticelli).
Madonna and Child with Saints and Donor ('Madonna della Cintola'). Wood, 191 x 187.
The Virgin ascends from her tomb, which has filled with roses, and gives her girdle to St Thomas ('Doubting Thomas'). On the left, St Margaret presents a kneeling Dominican nun as donor, and St Gregory the Great (wearing a papal tiara) raises his hand in blessing. St Augustine and Tobias and the Angel are on the right. Probably the picture painted for the high altar of the Dominican convent church of Santa Margherita; Vasari says that it was during the painting of this picture that Fra Filippo’s passion was aroused for the young nun Lucrezia Buti. A late work (mid-1450s to mid-1460s), perhaps started by Lippi and finished by Fra Diamante.
Prato. Cathedral. Choir.
**Lives of St Stephen and John the Baptist. Frescoes.
The left wall illustrates the (mainly apocryphal) life of St Stephen, patron saint of Prato. The lunette shows Stephen's birth. A demon steals the new-born child and substitutes a changeling. To the right, the child, having been suckled by a doe, is entrusted to the care of Bishop Julian. The middle fresco combines three episodes: Stephen takes leave of Bishop Julian (left); he performs an exorcism (centre); and he disputes with members of the synagogue (right). The bottom fresco shows the stoning of Stephen (right) and his funeral (set in a magnificent early Christian basilica). The numerous mourners at the funeral are thought to include Carlo de' Medici, illegitimate son of Cosimo (third from the right), Pope Pius II (in front of Carlo in red robes), and Fra Diamante and Filippo himself (the two figures in black robes on the far right). The inscription on the step in the bottom left corner gives Filippo's signature and the date 1460. Carlo de' Medici was officially appointed Dean of the Cathedral on St Stephen's Feast Day in 1460, and the fresco may commemorate the event.
The right wall is devoted to John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence. The lunette shows his birth. The middle fresco combines three episodes: he takes leave of his parents (right); he prays before an angel (centre); and he preaches (left). The bottom fresco shows the dance of Salome with the beheading of the Baptist (left) and the presentation of the head to Herodias (right). Salome is said to be a portrait of Lucrezia Buti.
On either side of the window are St Giovanni Gualberto (founder of the Vallombrosan Order) and St Alberto of Trapani (a recently canonised Carmelite saint), while the four Evangelists (St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke and St John the Evangelist) are depicted in the triangles of the vault. Fra Filippo probably also designed the stained glass, which was executed by Prete Lorenzo da Pelago in 1460.
The commission was given to Lippi after Fra Angelico had turned it down. Work on the frescoes was underway by May 1452, but the final payment was not made until 18 November 1465. The commune ran out of money and the roof had to be repaired several times; but the slow progress also seems to have reflected Fra Filippo’s tardiness. In April 1464, Carlo de’ Medici sent the artist an ultimatum threatening dire consequences if the work was not finished quickly. Fra Filippo was paid a total of 1,962 florins – the largest sum recorded for any fresco cycle in fifteenth-century Tuscany.
While the cycle was executed largely in buon fresco (ie. on wet plaster), additions and corrections were often made a secco (ie. on dry plaster), and these parts have mostly scaled off or been removed by old attempts at cleaning. The gilded wax used to embellish vestments, headdresses and haloes has blackened. The frescoes were restored in 2001-7.
*Death of Saint Jerome. Wood, 268 x 165.
The body of the saint, laid out on a bier covered with a cloth of gold embroidered with red pomegranates, is mourned by weeping monks. A monk kneeling on the left encourages a crippled boy to heal himself by touching the bier. The donor, Geminiano Inghirami, kneels on the right. The eminent lawyer, papal ambassador and humanist had a particular devotion to St Jerome and built a chapel in Prato dedicated to the saint. The donor's family coat-of-arms appears at the bottom of the picture. In the backgound are small scenes of the Nativity of Jesus (left), St Jerome penitent before a crucifix (centre) and St Jerome’s soul appearing to St Augustine (right). The upper part, with the Trinity and angels, is ascribed to Lippi’s workshop. The picture was formerly in the right transept of the Cathedral. An inscription there gives the date as 1440; but the picture must have been painted between 1451 and 1460, when Geminiano Inghirami was preposto (spiritual governor) at Prato. The picture is highly praised by Vasari, who, however, calls the subject the 'Death of St Bernard'. Restored in 1987.
Prato. Santo Spirito.
Presentation in the Temple. Wood, 198 x 168.
The high priest Simeon wears a jewelled tiara like that worn by Popes. Joseph holds the dove required for the Jewish purification rite. Four saints – Bartholomew, two bishops (perhaps Zenobius and Augustine) and a friar – watch from behind marble balustrades at the sides. The monks kneeling in the foreground are the Servite saints Philip Benizi and Peregrine Laziosi. The picture is possibly Fra Filippo's last ever panel painting. It was commissioned for the high altar of the church of the convent of the Servi di Maria, which formerly occupied the building. It was unfinished when Fra Filippo left Prato for Spoleto, and appears to have been completed by an assistant (Fra Diamante?) from his design. It is recorded over the high altar in March 1468. Fra Filippo received only twelve ducats for the picture. Previously repainted in oil and much abraded.
Rome. Galleria Nazionale (Palazzo Barberini).
*‘Tarquinia Madonna’. Wood, 151 x 66.
The earliest painting by Fra Filippo to bear a date – 1437, inscribed in Roman numerals on the trompe-l’œil cartellino (the first known use of this device in Italian painting). It was discovered in 1917 by the art historian Pietro Toesca, who spotted it hanging high up on a wall in the church of Santa Maria Valverde at Tarquinia, called Corneto in the Renaissance. It was probably painted for the warrior prelate Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi, who 'shed the blood of Christians with the sword of Peter' when leading the papal forces against insurgents in 1434. Vitelleschi, who served as Archbishop of Florence in 1435-37 and was a friend of Cosimo de’ Medici, was a native of Corneto and built a palace there. The heavy proportions of the Madonna and (almost grotesquely enormous) Child are reminiscent of Masaccio, while the homely interior setting – a bedchamber with a view into a courtyard through an open door – and the treatment of light, shadow and texture suggest familiarity with the work of Flemish painters, such as Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden. The delicately carved late Gothic frame appears to be largely original.
*Annunciation. Wood, 155 x 144.
Little is known about this picture, which was once with the Piccardi family at Bagni a Ripoli (some 5 km from Florence) and later in the collection of the industrialist Ludwig Mond. It was bequeathed to the Italian State in 1915 by the German-born philanthropist Henriette Hertz. It was once supposed that the picture’s original location was the Oratorio de Larioni at Bagni a Ripoli and that the two donors, kneeling behind a wooden balustrade or prayer stand on the right, were members of the Larioni family. However, Parronchi (Paragone, 1964) thought that the picture might have been commissioned for the hospital church of Sant’Egidio in Florence and identified the donors as Folco and Folconaccio Portinari. The wooded garden, seen through the arch and separated by a stone wall from the rocky hills beyond, is a familiar metaphor for Mary's virginity. The significance of the two figures dressed in white, seen through the doorway in the right background and apparently running away up a flight of stairs, has not been satisfactorily explained. The panel may have been cut down at the top and left. It is usually dated around 1440-45.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
*Coronation of the Virgin. Triptych: centre panel: 170 x 95; side panels 164 x 83.
This altarpiece, undocumented but recorded by Vasari. is a mature work, painted probably in the later 1440s or the 1450s. It was originally a large single panel with arches, and was probably divided into three and reframed in the eighteenth century. In the centre, Christ places the crown on the head of the kneeling Virgin. His throne is a magnificent construction – raised on three steps, faced with precious marbles, and with a back formed by a scallop-shell niche. The donor in black, portrayed in the right-hand panel, is Carlo Marsuppini (1399-1453), Chancellor of the Florentine Republic, who commissioned the altarpiece for his family chapel in the Olivetan Benedictine monastery of San Bernardo at Arezzo. The older donor in scarlet on the left is probably his father, Gregorio di Domenico Marsuppini (d. 1444), former Governor of Genoa. The two bearded monks who introduce the donors are probably St Benedict and St Bernard of Clairvaux (to whom the monastery at Arezzo was dedicated). The saint standing on the far left (identified by the dove whispering in his ear) is Gregory the Great (Gregorio Marsuppini's name saint). The monk on the far right is probably Bernardo Tolomei (founder of the Olivetans). The angels in the background of the two side panels may have been executed by an assistant. They play musical instruments – shawms, a tambourine, cymbals and bagpipes. When the convent of San Bernardo was suppressed in 1785, the picture passed into the hands of the Lippi family of Arezzo. It was bought in 1841 by Ugo Baldi, who later sold it to the picture dealer Carlo Baldeschi, from whom it was purchased by Pope Gregory XVI for the Latern Pinacoteca.
Rome. Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj (private appartments).
*Annunciation. Wood, 118 x 175.
The angel enters, unusually, from the right. The Virgin is seated on a lettuccio (bench), decorated with intarsia. Only the hands of God the Father are visible, as he releases the dove of the Holy Spirit. The passage of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin is represented by fine golden rays. In the background, an arched hallway leads to a garden. This beautiful and exceptionally well preserved picture is a mature work, dating probably from the mid or late 1440s. Nothing is known of its history before it entered the Doria collection in the mid-nineteenth century. The architectural background was probably designed by Lippi but executed by an assistant. It uses the geometry of one-point perspective, with the vanishing point located around the top of the angel's head.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
*Vision of St Augustine. Wood, 29 x 52.
The panel illustrates the story of St Augustine meeting a child (really Christ) on the seashore, spooning water from the sea into a hole in the ground. When Augustine pointed out the absurdity of this task, the child replied that it was even more foolish to try to understand the mystery of the Trinity. The well-known story does not appear in any of Augustine's own writings, but is found in an apocryphal letter of Cyril of Jerusalem. As recognised by Dillian Gordon (1996), the panel was originally part of the predella of the Trinity Altarpiece, which was started by Pesellino in 1455 and finished in Fra Filippo’s workshop in Prato. The rest of the altarpiece is in the National Gallery, London. The St Petersburg panel was once in the collection of Nicholas I’s daughter, the Duchess Maria Nikolayevna, in her villa near Florence. It was exhibited with the rest of the predella in London in 1996.
Salt Lake City. Utah Museum of Fine Arts.
Madonna. Wood; lunette, 81 x 100.
This arched panel, showing the Madonna half-length in front of a niche with a marble columns, might originally have hung over a doorway or niche. It is gravely damaged: much of the paint is lost from the Virgin’s face and hands and the Child’s body. Once owned by Baron Raoul Kuffner (patron and later husband of the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka) and given to the museum in 1951 by Winifred Hudnut (widow of the cosmetics manufacturer Richard Hudnut). When it entered the museum it was heavily restored and even had a faked craquelure. It was attributed to a follower of LIppi by Burton Fredericksen and Federico Zeri in their 1972 census of Italian paintings in American museums. A reattribution to Lippi himself followed a restoration in 1977-82, which removed the extensive repaint and exposed the original damaged surface. Probably quite early (mid-1430s?).
Spoleto. Cathedral. Apse.
*Frescoes: Life of the Virgin.
The first three scenes are frescoed on the concave wall of the apse. The Annunciation is on the left. Mary, framed in a large arch on the ground floor of a grand Renaissance palazzo, is seated at her desk, while Gabriel kneels outside. The angel's wings have all but disappeared, as has the blue on the Virgin's mantle. The Holy Spirit, represented by golden rays, enters the Virgin's chamber through a barred window. The Death of the Virgin is in the centre. Only the outlines remain of the mandorla in which Christ was shown receiving the Virgin's soul. Fra Filippo has portrayed himself (dressed in a Carmelite habit and looking directly at the spectator) among the mourners on the right. He has also (supposedly) shown his adolescent son Filippino (dressed in white like an angel and holding a large candle). The Nativity is on the right.
The Coronation of the Virgin is represented in the semi-dome. The Virgin is crowned by God the Father against the background of a blazing sun and within a circle formed by a rainbow. A great host of angels is shown singing, dancing, playing musical instruments and holding lilies. Below on the left, Adam, John the Baptist and a series of Old Testament Prophets (including Daniel, Elijah, Joshua and Amos) are depicted kneeling in a row. The corresponding row of kneeling figures on the right are Old Testament female characters (including Eve, Rachel and Bathsheba) and Sibyls.
The frescoes were begun by May 1466 and unfinished when Fra Filippo died on 9 October 1469. They were completed by 23 December 1469 by Fra Diamante, who received a fifth of the total fee of 697 ducats. Lippi seems to have been responsible for most of the figures on the left side and Fra Diamante for much of the work on the right side. The Umbrian painter Piermatteo d'Amelia is also documented as working with Filippo at Spoleto (as a garzone). As at Prato, the frescoes were worked over extensively in tempera, and most of these a secco additions have disappeared. The frescoes were restored in 1983-90. Fra Filippo’s tomb, erected by order of Lorenzo de’ Medici and designed by Filippino Lippi, is in the south transept.
Turin. Accademia Albertini.
Four Doctors of the Church. Two panels, each 129 x 65.
One panel depicts St Augustine (looking over his shoulder at the viewer) and St Ambrose (holding a whip). The other panel shows St Gregory (wearing a papal tiara) and St Jerome (wearing a monk's habit rather than his usual cardinal's robes). The two panels were the wings of a triptych. The centre panel, representing the Madonna enthroned with Two Angels, is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Comparatively early (about 1437-40). Donated to the Accademia in 1828 with the collection of Archbishop Vincenzo Maria Mossi. The panels at Turin are better preserved than the Met panel (which has been transferred to a new support and has lost its original mouldings). Cleaning in 2004 revealed the almost enamel-like brilliance of the colours.
Venice. Fondazione Cini.
Madonna and Child with Saints, Angels and Donor. Wood, 47 x 36.
The scene is staged in a Renaissance apse, with the Madonna enthroned in front of a shell niche. The Christ Child – a toddler rather than babe in arms – reaches for his mother, while turning towards the viewer. The saints include Peter, John the Baptist, Vitus (with bird perched on his sword), Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment), Anthony Abbot and Sebastian (with arrow). Two angels are seated at the base of the throne playing a fiddle (rebec) and double flute. In the foreground, a kneeling donor is greeted by an angel. This small panel came to general notice only in 1949, when it was included in an exhibition in Florence. It was immediately attributed to Filippo Lippi, as a very early work, because of its close similarity with the triptych at Cambridge. The central part of the composition appears to have been influenced by a marble relief from Donatello's workshop (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum).
Washington. National Gallery.
*Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 137 in dia.
The attribution of this splendid tondo has been much discussed. While it is generally agreed that Fra Filippo painted much of the picture (including most of the figures in the foreground), significant parts (including the Madonna and Child) have often been ascribed to Fra Angelico or his workshop. A popular theory (first published by Berenson in 1932) is that Lippi’s workshop took over a picture left unfinished by Angelico’s (eg. because Angelico was called to Rome or because of his death in 1455). Ruda (1993), reversing the order, suggests that it was begun by Lippi but finished by ‘an assistant trained by Fra Angelico’. Some have seen the hand of Benozzo Gozzoli, either in the role of Angelico’s chief assistant or as an independent painter. (The oversized peacock perched on the stable roof is very similar (in reverse) to one on the wall to the left of the altar in Gozzoli’s Medici Chapel frescoes.) Though documented as being in the possession of the Guiccardini family from the seventeenth century, the picture was probably a Medici commission. It has often been identified with a large tondo in a gilded frame of ‘Our Lady and Our Lord and the Magi who come to bring offerings’, attributed to Fra Angelico and valued at one hundred ducats, recorded in the 1492 inventory of the Palazzo Medici. This picture was displayed not in the chapel but in the princely Camera di Lorenzo on the ground floor, along with Uccello’s three paintings of the Battle of San Romano. The tondo remained with the Guiccardini family until 1810, when it was sold with a Botticelli tondo of the same subject (now in the National Gallery, London) for 50 zecchini each to François-Honoré Dubois, the French Commissioner of Police in Florence. In England by 1826, it was acquired by Sir Francis Cook in 1874 at the sale of Sir Alexander Barker’s collection. After being sent, with other important pictures from the Cook collection, to the United States for safekeeping during the Second World War, it was bought by Samuel H. Kress (on the recommendation of Bernard Berenson) in 1947.
*Madonna and Child. Wood, 80 x 51.
The melancholy Madonna stands in a shell niche, supporting the Child who sits on a parapet before her. Sometimes identified (though without much justification) as the ‘half tondo’ recorded by Vasari in the Palazzo Vecchio. Always accepted as an autograph work, though datings have ranged from the early 1430s to the 1440s. Acquired by the Prussian State in 1821 with the Solly collection. Sold by the Berlin Museum in 1937 to Duveen, from whom it was purchased by Kress a year later. X-rays have revealed an unfinished earlier version (the outline of which is just visible through the paint layer of the architecture).
*Rescue of St Placidus. Wood, 41 x 71.
When Placidus fell into a river fetching water, St Benedict had a premonition of the danger and ordered another young disciple, Maurus, to rescue him. Maurus, miraculously able to walk on water, grasped Placidus by the hair and pulled him to the riverbank. A predella panel (though an unusually large one). Possibly from the lost altarpiece with scenes from the legends of Saints Benedict and Bernard which Vasari records was begun in 1443 for one of the altars of Le Murate in Florence, or from the Coronation of the Virgin, which was painted for the Olivetan Benedictine monastery in Arezzo and is now in the Vatican. An Annunciation in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, may have come from the same predella. Formerly in French private collections (Edouard Aynards’ at Lyon and later Mme Douine’s at Siene-et-Oise); acquired by Kress in 1942.
Nativity. Wood, 23 x 54.
Also from a predella. Sometimes thought to have come from the same altarpiece as the Meeting at the Golden Gate at Oxford. Abraded and restored. Sometimes ascribed to Fra Filippo and sometimes to a pupil or follower (such as the ‘Master of the Castello Nativity’). Formerly in the De Lezze collection at Nice; acquired by Kress in 1937 from Contini Bonacossi.
Annunciation. Wood, 103 x 163.
The angel has gorgeous peacock wings and holds the traditional long-stemmed lily. A tiny dove of the Holy Spirit flies above her head, emitting golden rays. On the other side of the pietra serena column, the Virgin kneels in her room, which is sparsely furnished with wooden shelves and a bed on a wooden platform. The panel is much damaged and restored (the Virgin’s face is completely repainted), and probably cut down (it may originally have had an arched top). Likely to have been an overdoor decoration. It has been identified with a picture of this subject mentioned by Vasari and the Anonimo Magliabechiano in the Palazzo Vecchio, and claimed as a companion panel to the damaged Saint Bernard (documented as painted in 1447) in the National Gallery, London. However, this identification is rejected by Miklós Boskovits, who (in the 2003 catalogue of the fifteenth-century Italian pictures at Washington) considers the picture an early work of about 1435-40. First certainly recorded only in the 1920s in the collection of Achille Chiesa of Milan. Acquired by Kress in 1940 from Duveen.
Worcester (Mass.). Art Museum.
Two Saints. Wood, each 48 x 13.
The saint holding a martyr's palm and standing on a spiked wheel must be Catherine of Alexandria; the male saint has not been identified. From the series of eighteen panels of saints once owned by Viscount Lee of Fareham. Bought in 1926 by the Worcester multmillionaire inventor, businessman and newspaper publisher Theodore T. Ellis, whose collection was bequeathed to the museum by his widow in 1940. The panels are products of Fra Filippo's late workshop and have been often attributed to Fra Diamante.