Artist
Filippo Lippi
Italian Renaissance painter, ca.

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Filippo Lippi
Italian Renaissance painter, ca.
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Average: 5 (1 vote)

Birth Date

1406

Death Date

October 08, 1469

Arty Fact

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Contributor

Fra Filippo Lippi was a monk who knew how to paint and how to party.

While you might think a painting monk from the Renaissance would be boring, you’d be wrong. Lippi has made some beautiful paintings and frescoes, and he had a life full of scandal and intrigue, including an affair with a nun and lots of lawsuits.

Although few things that happened in the 15th century are concretely known, Fra Lippi was born around 1404 in Florence. Both of his parents died when he was young, and he moved into the Santa Maria del Carmine monastery when he was 8 and took his vow to the big man when he was 14. Many children who were unwanted, orphaned, or unaffordable ended up in monasteries and nunneries, and although they were given food, shelter, and sometimes an education, it was no walk in the park. Fra Lippi himself would have even encountered and survived a nasty bout of the plague that hit Santa Maria del Carmine in 1417. Yikes!

As a child he was not so into his religious studies, a pattern he kept up with later in life. He was reportedly very sociable, especially with the ladies, and really needed his freedom. This teenage desire to shake loose the chains of his monastic duties survived into his adulthood, when he reportedly made a dramatic escape after his patron trapped him in a room to ensure Lippi finished the painting he had commissioned. Accounts vary, but it was either a real fine shorty down the road or just pure rebellion that pushed him to shimmy down a sheet out the window.

Most of Lippi’s training is a complete mystery, as there are no records of him as an apprentice in any of the workshops in Florence. For a long time, his lack of training was believed to speak to a pure natural talent. Now with better technology, the many reworkings of his pieces detectable by X-ray under their finished surface illustrate he was learning as he went. This lack of training may have been an advantage, as his unawareness of traditional knowledge may have led him to disregard stylistic boundaries.

In 1430 Lippi was a qualified painter and was permitted to leave the Carmine to work. This is when fun Fra gets on the scene. While it may seem strange that one of the brothers was allowed to just roam free, because religious art was thought to be divine and important, it was quite normal for those artsy monks to be out and about. This divine gift idea definitely went to Lippi’s head, and he really went for it, sending sassy letters to his rich and scary patrons the Medicis. These letters often droned on about how much he was doing to meet the desires of his patrons, while also calling himself the poorest friar in all of Florence. Even when he was making stacks - we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars in today’s money - he was constantly broke. He could not handle his purse strings and he was always asking for advances and loans from his patrons.

Even with rich patrons like the Medicis, he didn’t find any long term financial stability until 1442, when he became the rector of San Quirico, which only lasted until he was brought to court over a forged payment. During proceedings he eventually confessed to the forgery, only to later claim he only admitted to it because he was tortured. That defense didn’t work and he was still found guilty. Duh.

I guess if you were a powerful man in the 15th century you could just do whatever you wanted, because he received another leadership position only a few years later. I’m so glad things have changed. In 1456, after more years of painting, Lippi became chaplain of Santa Margherita nunnery in Prato, Italy.

There is much debate over what happened at Santa Margherita, but most Lippi scholars agree that by the end of Lippi’s first year as chaplain two nuns, Lucrezia Buti and her sister Spinella, moved out of the convent and into Lippi’s home. Three other nuns accused of sexual relations with men moved out as well, leaving only one to two nuns left in the convent for two years. Sounds like people were sure having a good time for a nunnery.

In 1457, Buti gave birth to Filippino “Little Filippo," Lippi’s only confirmed son (there were probably some other Filippino’s running around across Italy). Eventually, at the end of 1459, most of these nuns moved back to the convent and renewed their vows. Two years later the nunnery’s legal agent had a formal complaint lodged against Lippi in reference to relationships and illegitimate sons with nuns in the convent. Even with that very serious accusation, Lippi remained a popular painter and didn’t seem to lose much work. We’re not totally sure what happened to Lippi in reference to this relationship with Buti, but according to his son Filippino’s will that they definitely had a second child together, Alessandra.

It's important to note that there is a lot of debate about the nature of Lucrezia’s and Filippo’s relationship. Whether he abducted Lucrezia, or they ran off together, the verdict is still out. Some scholars believe that circumstances led both Lippi and Buti to join the religious order out of necessity, not choice, and that it was a natural progression for them to break out of it. Still, others would argue about the plausibility of a woman rejecting the advances of a man in direct power over her in the 15th century, or feeling able to escape. It’s generally accepted that the two never married, although they continued to live together until Lippi’s death.

Before his death in 1469, Lippi founded his own workshop where he trained Sandro Botticelli, who taught Filippino Lippi (a total hottie by the way) after his father’s death.

Sources

Sources

  1. Anderson, A. J. The Joyous Friar ; the Story of Fra Filippo Lippi. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1927.
  2. Holmes, Megan. Fra Filippo Lippi the Carmelite Painter. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 1999.
  3. "One of Our Nuns Is Missing | Art | Agenda." Phaidon. Accessed January 26, 2019. https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2011/october/07/one-of-our-n....
  4. Strutt, Edward C. Fra Filippo Lippi. London: G. Bell, 1901.
  5. "Fra Filippo Lippi." The National Gallery UK. Accessed January 29, 2019. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/fra-filippo-lippi. Updated January 2019
  6. "Fra Filippo Lippi." Artist Information. Accessed January 29, 2019. https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1489.html. Updated January 2018.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Filippo Lippi

Fra' Filippo Lippi, O.Carm. (c. 1406 – 8 October 1469), also called Lippo Lippi, was an Italian painter of the Quattrocento (15th century).

Biography

Lippi was born in Florence in 1406 to Tommaso, a butcher, and his wife. When he was still a small child, both his parents died. He was sent to live with his aunt Mona Lapaccia; however, because she was too poor to rear him, she placed him in the neighboring Carmelite convent. He was eight years old when he left for the convent and started his education there. In 1420 he was admitted to the community of Carmelite friars of the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Florence, taking religious vows in the Order the following year, at the age of sixteen. He was ordained as a priest in approximately 1425 and remained in residence of that priory until 1432.Giorgio Vasari, the first art historian of the Renaissance, writes that Lippi was inspired to become a painter by watching Masaccio at work in the Carmine church. Lippi's early work, notably the Tarquinia Madonna (Galleria Nazionale, Rome) shows that influence from Masaccio. In his Lives of the Artists, Vasari says about Lippi: "Instead of studying, he spent all his time scrawling pictures on his own books and those of others." Due to Lippi's interest, the prior decided to give him the opportunity to learn painting.

In 1432 Filippo Lippi quit the monastery, although he was not released from his vows. In a letter dated 1439 he describes himself as the poorest friar of Florence, charged with the maintenance of six marriageable nieces.

According to Vasari, Lippi then went on to visit Ancona and Naples, where he was captured by Barbary pirates and kept as a slave. His skill in portrait-sketching helped to eventually release him. Louis Gillet, writing for the Catholic Encyclopedia, considers this account "assuredly nothing but a romance".

With Lippi's return to Florence in 1432, his paintings had become popular, warranting the support of the Medici family, who commissioned The Annunciation and the Seven Saints. Cosimo de' Medici had to lock him up in order to compel him to work, and even then the painter escaped by a rope made of his sheets. His escapades threw him into financial difficulties from which he did not hesitate to extricate himself by forgery. His life included many similar tales of lawsuits, complaints, broken promises, and scandal.

In 1441 Lippi painted an altarpiece for the nuns of S. Ambrogio which is now a prominent attraction in the Academy of Florence, and was celebrated in Browning's well-known poem Fra Lippo Lippi. It represents the coronation of the Virgin among angels and saints, including many Bernardine monks. One of these, placed to the right, is a half-length figure originally thought to be a self-portrait of Lippo, pointed out by the inscription is perfecit opus upon an angel's scroll; it was later believed instead to be a portrait of the benefactor who commissioned the painting.

In 1452 Lippi was appointed chaplain to the nuns at the Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene in Florence.

In June 1456 Fra Filippo is recorded as living in Prato (near Florence) to paint frescoes in the choir of the cathedral. In 1458, while engaged in this work, he set about painting a picture for the monastery chapel of S. Margherita in that city, where he met Lucrezia Buti, a beautiful novice of the Order and the daughter of a Florentine named Francesco Buti. Lippi asked that she might be permitted to sit for the figure of the Madonna (or perhaps S. Margherita). Under that pretext, Lippi engaged in sexual relations with her, abducted her to his own house, and kept her there despite the nuns' efforts to reclaim her. This relationship resulted in their son, Filippino Lippi, who became a famous painter following his father.

In 1457 he was appointed commendatory Rector (Rettore commendatario) of S. Quirico in Legania, from which institutions he occasionally made considerable profits. Despite these profits, Lippi struggled to escape poverty throughout his life.

The close of Lippi's life was spent at Spoleto, where he had been commissioned to paint scenes from the life of the Virgin for the apse of the cathedral. In the semidome of the apse is the Christ Crowning the Madonna, with angels, sibyls, and prophets. This series, which is not wholly equal to the one at Prato, was completed by one of his assistants, his fellow Carmelite, Fra Diamante, after Lippi's death. Lippi died in Spoleto, on or about 8 October 1469. The mode of his death is a matter of dispute. It has been said that the pope granted Lippi a dispensation for marrying Lucrezia, but before the permission arrived, Lippi had been poisoned by the indignant relatives of either Lucrezia herself or some lady who had replaced her in the inconstant painter's affections.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Filippo Lippi.