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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Filippino Lippi (ca. 1457–1504)

Filippino Lippi was among the most gifted and accomplished Florentine painters and draftsmen of the second half of the fifteenth century. He was born around 1457, the product of a famous and illicit relationship between the painter Fra Filippo Lippi and the young nun Lucrezia Buti. Trained first by his father, he entered the workshop of Sandro Botticelli in 1472, three years after his father’s death. He went out on his own a few years later, having developed a manner that was deeply imbued with the influence of his two great masters.

From the first, Filippino’s style as a painter and draftsman was marked by animated form and line, as well as a rather warm colorism. These features are evident in relatively early works such as the Tobias and the Angel (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.) and the Adoration of the Kings (National Gallery, London), which also contain a vivid and naturalistic rendering of landscape.

Filippino’s first major project was the completion of the fresco cycle begun by Masaccio and Masolino in the Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, which had remained unfinished for more than half a century. Here Filippino adjusted his style to allow his contribution to seamlessly mesh with Masaccio’s more monumental manner.

Throughout the period of his early maturity, Filippino made numerous drawings in metalpoint and white gouache on prepared paper, in which he took full advantage of the nuanced line and subtle tonal effects that can be achieved with this technique. A fine example is the study of two male figures in the Metropolitan Museum (36.101.1). Although this technique was common in Florence in the fifteenth century, Filippino employed it with an unusual degree of assurance and freedom.

In the mid-1480s, Filippino produced the Madonna and Child in the Metropolitan Museum (49.7.10) and his greatest panel painting, the Vision of Saint Bernard, now in the Florentine Badia. In both, the artist combines a reflective and poetic interpretation of his subjects with warm colors, a new subtlety of chiaroscuro, and a Netherlandish interest in genre detail and landscape.

Soon thereafter he was commissioned by Filippo Strozzi to paint his chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence (1488), but a year later Filippino had moved to Rome, where he made numerous freely interpreted studies after Roman antiquities. His major project in Rome was the series of frescoes in the Chapel of Cardinal Carafa in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, commissioned in 1488 but not completed until five years later. His work there contains a new animation of form and a lively, personal interpretation of the antique vocabulary that he gained on his Roman visit. After several years spent mostly in Rome, Filippino returned to Florence in 1493, where he remained until his death.

The greatest work of this period and of his career is the series of frescoes for the aforementioned Strozzi Chapel, which were finally completed in 1502 (Raising of Drusiana). In them he attains a new mastery of compositional complexity combined with energetic, brilliantly colored form. During this later part of his career, Filippino drew more frequently with pen and ink than before, achieving great spontaneity and creative energy in his forms, as in the Virgin and Child Attended by Angels in the Metropolitan Museum (68.204).

Among his later paintings, The Wounded Centaur (Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford) deserves special mention for its moving poetic expression. Filippino died in April 1504 in Florence. His most notable follower was the painter Raffaellino del Garbo, whose drawings have occasionally been mistaken for those of his master.