Filippino was born in Prato in 1457 from the union of the Florentine painter, Fra’ Filippo Lippi and the beautiful nun, Lucrezia Buti. As a young boy he helped his father work on the frescoes in the apse of the cathedral in Spoleto. After his father’s death in 1469 he completed the work with Fra Diamante to whom he had been apprenticed. However, there are records stating that in 1472 he was working in the atelier of Sandro Botticelli, the most loyal of Filippo Lippi’s pupils, who in turn, made a major contribution to the development of Filippino’s style. The artist’s independent career developed in the early fourteen eighties the period to which major works such as the completion of Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci chapel, in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence are attributed (1482-1483). During those years, in addition to the painting of the Vision of St. Bernard, in the Badia Fiorentina (circa 1480) and the Otto Altarpiece, a public commission for Palazzo della Signoria (1485) in 1487 Filippino signed the contract for the frescoes in the Strozzi chapel in Santa Maria Novella that he only completed in 1502. Thanks to the intervention of Lorenzo the Magnificent, in 1488 Filippino was summoned to Rome to fresco the chapel of Cardinal Oliviero Carafa in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the most important Dominican church in Rome. The frescoes in this chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, contributed to the definition of Lippi as the anticlassical artist par excellence. Vasari often called him “bizarre” because of the imaginative and extremely detailed aspects of his frescoed scenes and his “grotesque” decorations inspired by the ancient paintings in the underground rooms of the Domus Aurea – Nero’s palace that had been “discovered” at the time. Upon returning to Florence Filippino, who had interrupted his work on the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, began interpreting the crisis caused by the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1492) and the preachings of Girolamo Savonarola as well as the many and gradual social and political changes taking place in the city. In the nineties, however, before Savonarola’s influence affected his style, the artist painted other works that still reflected suggestions of Roman art as well as Flemish painting such as the Nerli Altarpiece for the Florentine church of Santo Spirito. In 1496 the monks of the San Donato a Scopeti commissioned the Adoration of the Magi, that is now in the Uffizi to replace the one that Leonardo da Vinci had never finished. An evident spirituality and Savonarolan austerity are evident in the St. John the Baptist and the Magdalene (Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence) and another iconographically unusual and enigmatic piece entitled E prima vidit in which Christ and the Virgin Mary thank the Lord for the Resurrection on Easter Morning. In 1503 he received the important commission to paint a Deposition for Santissima Annunziata in Florence that was completed by Pietro Perugino in 1507. Filippino was highly esteemed by his fellow citizens, as an artist and for his modesty and mild manners. During the final years of his life he also held several honorary public positions such as member of the commission in charge of the restoration of the lantern of the Florence cathedral that had been damaged by lightning (1498) and the famous commission that decided where Michelangelo’s would be placed in 1504 – the year that Filippino died in Florence.
The Vision of St. Bernard
This altarpiece that is still in the Florentine Badia was painted for the chapel of Francesco del Pugliese in the monastery della Campora at Marignolle, on a commission from Piero’s son who is portrayed in the lower right in the traditional pose of the donor with joined hands. During the siege of Florence in 1529 the painting was kept in the sacristy of the Badia and later was moved into the church. It is one of Filippino most famous and widely admired works, especially because of the lively, Flemish-type colors and the attention to details that contribute to transforming the mystical atmosphere of the Virgin’s apparition to St. Bernard into a natural, almost everyday scene. The composition is set in against a rocky, wild landscape where we see St. Bernard’s splendid naturalistic lectern as he barely raises his pen from the homily he is writing in honor of the Virgin who suddenly appears before him. Some scholars have suggested that the figure of the Virgin Mary is a portrait of the patron’s wife and the angels his sons, but actually, the most interesting aspect is the demon behind the saint who is biting his chains. A Medieval hymn narrates that Mary liberated humanity from the chains of its sins. The devil, therefore, without hope of liberation, is venting his rage. Another interesting detail is the scroll on the rock with a line by Epictetus, the II century Stoic philosopher: Sustine et abstine, which is in perfect harmony with the teachings of St. Bernard.Iconography
Tobias and the archangels
Against a natural, rocky background, similar to the one we see in the Adoration of the Magi in London, the three archangels are coming forward: Michael on the right, Raphael with the young Tobias in the middle and Gabriele, lily in hand on the right. The four figures take up the entire foreground of the scene that is simple and essential, with few landscape details, and clearly inspired by the Journey of Tobias attributed to Botticini, formerly in Santo Spirito in Florence and now in the Uffizi. The grace of the figures and their light, moving garments shows the influence of Botticelli to whom Filippino had been apprenticed in 1472. And yet, at the same time the angels recall Filippino’s St. Peter Liberated from Prison, in the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine where he completed Masaccio’s frescoes. This painting, that had originally been attributed to Sandro Botticelli or his school, had been included in the group of paintings that Bernard Berenson had called “Friends of Sandro”, paintings by Filippino that were very similar to Botticelli’s. It was definitely attributed to Filippino Lippi first by Gamba and then by Scharf who dated it between 1480 and 1485. The painting has been in the Galleria Sabauda in Turin since 1865; it had belonged to the Mannelli-Galilei collection in Florence.
Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Victor, St. Bernard and St. Zenobius
This was a public commission for Filippino, for the Sala degli Otto di Pratico in Palazzo della Signoria. It is dated according to the Florentine calendar (with the year starting on 25 march) “Anno Salutis MCCCCLXXXV die XX februari” that corresponds to 1486. The painting had a public, commemorative purpose – with the shield with the cross at the top and the four protector saints of Florence arranged in pairs around the splendid architectural throne on which the Virgin, crowned by two angels, sits with the Child. According to the unanimous opinion of critics, this figure is Leonardesque in style, especially her down-turned eyes that recall the Virgin in the Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi) that Leonardo was supposed to have completed for the monks at Scopeti but never finished. Originally, it was believed that this painting by Filippino had been begun Leonardo himself or had been done to a drawing by the great master. Notwithstanding the apparent immobility of the scene, Filippino did create dynamism and rhythm through the sumptuous clothing, the poses and gestures of the saints that are particularly expressive and almost projected towards the outside of the uneven and asymmetrical perspective.
St. Philip Driving the Demon from the Temple of Mars
The decision to paint scenes from the life of St. Philip was certainly motivated by the desires of the patron, Filippo Strozzi who commissioned Filippino in 1487 to fresco his chapel in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella. This scene, on the right wall, is based on the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varagine that tells how Philip who had refused to sacrifice to the pagan idol of Mars, drove off the demon that had suddenly appeared in the guise of a dragon and with his poisonous breath had killed the high priest’s son. There is a famous anecdote related by Vasari regarding Filippino’s illusionist skills – he had involuntarily succeeded in deceiving one of his helpers who had tried to hide an object in a painted crack on the temple step that he had taken for a real opening in the wall. The scene is exceptionally lively and realistic. Even the architectural elements seem to have a life of their own, like the statue of Mars about to hurl a thunderbolt while caressing a wolf (that was sacred to the god) as if it were a domestic animal. Filippino enriched the scene with ancient details and imaginative, classically inspired decorations, while the characters make real, expressive, almost theatrical gestures such as the figure on the far left holding his nose against the dragon’s breath, or the priest standing before his dead son. The whole fresco with its elements taken from Roman traditions is decidedly anticlassical and bizarre.Iconography
The Torture of St. John the Evangelist
In addition to St. Philip, the Strozzi chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was also dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, and Filippino painted two scenes from his life. In this scene, in the lunette of the left wall, we see the torture of the saint as described in the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varagine. It tells how John, who had gone to Asia to preach the Gospel and build churches was imprisoned by the emperor Domitian who sentenced him to be tortured in boiling oil – the saint miraculously emerged unscathed. In the fresco John is in the pot, praying while his torturers are stoking the fire, urged on by the emperor on the left. The atmosphere that should be filled with intense drama is instead narrative – as it highlights the expressions and gestures of the individual figures as well as some curious details such as the decorations on the pot and on the base of the statue, the firewood on the right and the bundle that one of the torturers holds in hand as he tries to protect himself from the rising smoke. This original mode of interpreting iconography combined with lively and precious stylistic-formal qualities would always be the distinguishing features of Filippino’s art and make him unique among his contemporaries.Iconography
Annunciation with St. Thomas Aquinas Presenting Cardinal Oliviero Carafa
This scene is on the back wall of the Carafa Chapel, simulating an altarpiece painted on wood. Actually, it is a fresco with a mock frame in stucco – an expedient often used by fifteenth century Florentine painters. Filippino had received the commission to fresco Oliviero Carafa’s chapel in 1488 through the intervention of Lorenzo the Magnificent who knew the Neapolitan cardinal very well. In the painting he is portrayed kneeling, hands together and looking up at the beautiful, intent Virgin, as he is protected by the reassuring St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican philosopher and theologian whom he claimed as a distant relative. The scene of the Annunciation takes place in a simple, elegant interior that represents the cardinal’s palace as we can see from the coat of arms on the vault and the books and other objects on the shelves. The glass carafe, symbolizing transparency and purity is an allusion to his family name (Carafa), while the olive branch is an explicit reference to his first name (Oliviero). The Virgin Mary, to whom the chapel is dedicated, resembles the figure in the 1460 Annunciation by Antoniazzo Romano in the same church.
Virgin and Child with St. Martin of Tours, St. Catherine of Alexandria and Patrons
This painting, that was done for the Florentine church of Santo Spirito, where it still is today, is also known as the Nerli Altarpiece, for the patron, Tanai de’ Nerli and his wife, Nanna, who are both portrayed as donors. Even the presence of the two saints can be linked to the patron because he was particularly devoted to St. Catherine for whom he named his daughter, and he was a member of the company of San Martino de’ Buonomimi, which explains the other. The background, with a loggia that opens onto a landscape is of Flemish derivations, but is also related to late Roman architecture. There is an unusual view of Florence and we can recognize Porta San Frediano (although some maintain that it is another gate, Porta San Niccolò) and the Nerli palazzo in front of which a family scene is taking place: the merchant Tanai de’ Nerli is embracing his daughter while a servant cares for the horse and his wife is on the threshold. Some scholars have interpreted this scene as Tanai’s return from France in 1494 and used it as a pretext for dating the painting. Others maintain that it was done after Filippino’s Roman sojourn in 1488 since there are too many classical touches that reveal recent and direct knowledge of Roman art. Examples are the frieze on the loggia’s pillars, the ram’s head at the corner of the Virgin’s throne or the relief with the battle of the tritons, all of which, however, are interpreted with Filippino’s original and customary imagination.
St. John the Baptist
This panel, along with the Magdalene comes from the Valori chapel in the Florentine church of San Procolo. It was believed that the two panels were the sides of a triptych along with the Berlin Crucifixion, the central panel, that was destroyed during a bombing raid in 1945. This hypothesis was rejected because of the gold background on the lost panel that did not blend with the architectural niches that provide the background for the portrayals of the saints. The emaciated, dramatic rendering of St. John seems to be based directly on the austere, spiritual dictates of Girolamo Savonarola who between 1494 and 1498 influenced all aspects of political, social and cultural life in Florence. The patron of the St. John, the Magdalene (both solitary, hermetic saints) was Francesco Valori, one of Savonarola’s main supporters; after 1498 his family suffered severe economic problems. Therefore, the painting dates from before then, but definitely from the period of the friar’s preaching – he was executed in 1498. The religious atmosphere of the time made a strong impression on Filippino who created a suffering, touching portrayal of the saint, with a devoted expression and thin, bony body, using pale, wan tones.Iconography
The Magdalene is closely related to the Saint John the Baptist, both were painted for Francesco Valori’s chapel in the church of San Procolo in Florence. Here too, we must emphasize the mournful inspiration of the painting that was done according to the canons of decorum and simplicity expounded by Girolamo Savonarola when he preached in Florence and definitely followed by the man who commissioned the two works. Filippino captured the Magdalene’s penitent, ascetic appearance, with her head down and arms crossed over her chest she reveals her wasted body that is partly covered by long hair. The edifying austerity of this Magdalene recalls the identical dramatic inspiration of the Communion of St. Mary Magdalene by Antonio del Pollaiolo, or the Magdalene statues by Donatello and Desiderio da Settignano. Filippino succeeded in adapting his lively style to the new moralizing and spiritual trends. And yet, at the same time, until 1503 he also worked for very diverse patrons such as Alfonso Strozzi, bitter enemy of Savonarola for whom he completed the famous chapel in Santa Maria Novella. Therefore, Filippino’s latter phase cannot be classified as only restless and Savonarolan. His inventive skills and versatile, anti-conventional style reveal an artistic personality that was courtly and of the people, frivolous and devoted, extroverted and austere.Iconography
Adoration of the Magi
Signed and dated, this painting had been done for the monastery of San Donato at Scopeti to replace the one Leonardo had been commissioned to do in 1481 but never completed. It remained at San Donato until 1529 when it was acquired by Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici and it 1666 it was moved to the Uffizi. The Leonardesque arrangement was maintained, at least in the central portion, while the most evident and direct inspiration is Botticelli’s 1475 Adoration of the Magi that is also in the Uffizi. In fact the arrangement of the figures is very similar as they slope down on either side, with the Holy Family in a raised position surrounded by architectural elements. Both paintings also portray famous figures of the era including some members of the Medici family. In Filippino’s painting scholars have recognized some “secondary” Medici who, for political reasons, had supported Savonarola’s Republic: on the left is Pier Francesco de’ Medici, kneeling with a quadrant in hand, and standing behind him, his two sons, Giovanni holding a chalice and Lorenzo from whose head a page is removing the crown. Piero del Pugliese has been identified in the foreground in the group on the right. The general style of the painting is from Filippino’s later years, characterized by particularly refined details and a nervous rhythm in harmony with the typical, late fifteenth century Northern European influences and visible here in the beautiful background landscape.Iconography
The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine
This painting, with its warm, luminous colors is signed on the right. It is in the Isolani Chapel in the church of San Domenico in Bologna where the mortal remains of the Dominican Order’s founder rest in a splendid sculpted tomb. Around the central scene of the mystical marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria a Sacred Conversation is going on among Saints Paul and Sebastian on the right (Vasari said that Sebastian is worthy of great praise) and Saints Peter and John the Baptist on the left, slightly to the rear is a seated St. Joseph. The arrangement of the scene is quite classic – like the faces and poses – and Filippino’s bizarre decorations are barely recognizable in a few details such as the harpy carved on the corner of the Virgin’s throne or the fragment of wheel on which Catherine was martyred that seems to fall out of the painting. Even the architectural forms in the background are more classic and subdued and the typical towered landscape seems barely sketched in. It almost seems as if Filippino wanted to adapt to the composed nature of the artistic environment of Bologna where, in fact, the painting met with considerable success as we can see from two very old copies – one in the Bologna Pinacoteca and the other in a private collection in Rome.
1504 (terminata da Pietro Perugino nel 1507)
This is probably Filippino’s last painting that he did for the main altar in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Filippino died in 1504 and it was completed after his death by Pietro Perugino as noted in all sources, including Vasari. It was commissioned by Fra’ Zaccaria, a Servite, for 200 gold scudi in 1503 with the commitment that it be delivered in time for Pentecost in 1504. As we look at the painting we can recognize the parts by Filippino and those by Perugino. The figures in the upper part, atop the cross with the expressive faces and elegant clothing, rustled by the wind are immediately distinguishable from those on the bottom pervaded with the composed immobility typical of Perugino. However, we do know that in the end Perugino retouched Lippi’s figures, perhaps to create a uniformity of style for the whole composition. Some critics have hypothesized that the young Raphael worked on some of the lower figures, such as the Magdalene and St. John who are more dignified than the pious women on the left. Because of all the later work on the painting it is difficult to provide a clear opinion of Filippino’s work. The body of Christ that is being taken down from the cross by the figures on the ladders did, however, provide a dynamic and original model for the haunting Deposition by Rosso Fiorentino of 1521.