Filippo Lippi

Self-portrait of Fra' Filippo Lippi (1452)
Filippo Lippi

c. 1406
Died8 October 1469(1469-10-08) (aged 62–63)
Other namesLippo Lippi
Known forPainting, fresco
innovative naturalism
Notable workMadonna and Child Enthroned, Annunciation
MovementEarly Renaissance

Filippo Lippi O.Carm. (c. 1406 – 8 October 1469), also known as Lippo Lippi, was an Italian painter of the Quattrocento (fifteenth century) and a Carmelite priest. He was an early Renaissance master of a painting workshop, who taught many painters. Sandro Botticelli and Francesco di Pesello (called Pesellino) were among his most distinguished pupils.[1] His son, Filippino Lippi, also studied under him and assisted in some late works.


Lippi was born in Florence in 1406 to Tommaso, a butcher, and his wife. He was orphaned when he was two years old and sent to live with his aunt,[2] Mona Lapaccia.[citation needed] Because she was too poor to rear him, she placed him in the neighboring Carmelite convent when he was eight years old. There, he started his education. In 1420, he was admitted to the novitiate of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, known commonly as the Carmelites at 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 at the priory until 1432.[2] Giorgio Vasari, the first art historian of the Renaissance, writes in his Lives of the Artists 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.[3] Vasari writes of Lippi: "Instead of studying, he spent all his time scrawling pictures on his own books and those of others."[4] Due to Lippi's interest, the prior decided to give him the opportunity to learn painting.

Devotional image of the Madonna and Child before a golden curtain, the Workshop of Filippo Lippi (c. 1446–1447),[5] Walters Art Museum
Adoration in the Forest (1459)
Madonna and Child (1440–1445), tempera on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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.[6]

According to Vasari, Lippi then went on to visit Ancona and Naples, where he was captured by Barbary pirates and kept as a slave. Reportedly, his skill in portrait-sketching helped to eventually release him.[7] Louis Gillet, writing for the Catholic Encyclopedia, considers this account and other details reported about Lippi, as "assuredly nothing but a romance".[2]

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 imprison him 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.[2] His life included many similar tales of lawsuits, complaints, broken promises, and scandal.[3]

In 1441, Lippi painted an altarpiece for the nuns of Sant'Ambrogio that now is a prominent attraction in the Academy of Florence and was celebrated in Browning's well-known poem Fra Lippo Lippi. The painting 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 Lippi, pointed out by the inscription is perfecit opus upon an angel's scroll.[1] Later, it was believed instead to be a portrait of the benefactor who commissioned the painting.[8]

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

Madonna with the Child and two Angels (1465), tempera on wood, Uffizi, (also called "Lippina" – Lucrezia Buti is thought to be the model)

Fra Filippo is recorded as living in Prato (near Florence) in June 1456 in order to paint frescoes in the choir of the cathedral. In 1458, while engaged in this work, he set about creating a painting for the monastery chapel of St. Margherita in that city, where he met Lucrezia Buti, a beautiful boarder or novice of the Order and the daughter of the Florentines, Caterina Ciacchi and Francesco Buti. Lippi asked that she might be permitted to sit for the figure of the Madonna (or perhaps St. Margherita). Lippi engaged in sexual relations with her, abducted her to his own house. She remained there despite efforts by the nuns to reclaim her.[citation needed] This relationship resulted in their son, Filippino Lippi in 1457, who became a famous painter following his father,[6] as well as a daughter, Alessandra, in 1465. Lucrezia is thought to be the model for many of his paintings of the Madonna as well as for Salome in one of his monumental works.

In 1457, he was appointed commendatory Rector (Rettore commendatario) of San Quirico [it] in Legnaia, 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. His son, Filippino, served as workshop adjuvant in the construction. In the semidome of the apse is the Coronation of the Virgin, with angels, sibyls, and prophets. This series, which is not wholly equal to the one at Prato, was completed after Lippi's death by assistants under his fellow Carmelite, Fra Diamante.

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 in order to marry Lucrezia, but before the permission arrived Lippi had been poisoned by indignant relatives of Lucrezia or, in another version, by relatives of someone who had replaced her in the painter's affections.[6]


The frescoes in the choir of the cathedral of Prato, which depict the stories of St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen on the two main facing walls, are considered Fra Filippo's most important and monumental works, particularly the figure of Salome dancing, which has clear affinities with later works by Sandro Botticelli, his pupil, and Filippino Lippi, his son, as well as the scene showing the ceremonial mourning over Stephen's corpse. This latter is believed to contain a portrait of the painter, but there are various opinions as to which is the exact figure. The representation of dancing Salome in the depiction of Herod's Banquet is believed to be a portrait of Lucrezia. On the end wall of the choir are St. Giovanni Gualberto and St. Alberto, while the vault has monumental representations of the four evangelists.[6]

For Germiniano Inghirami of Prato he painted the Death of St. Bernard. His principal altarpiece in this city is a Nativity in the refectory of St. Domenico – the Infant on the ground adored by the Virgin and Joseph, between Saints George and Dominic, in a rocky landscape, with the shepherds playing and six angels in the sky. A Vision of St. Bernard is held in the National Gallery, London.

In the Uffizi is a fine painting of the Virgin, also called "Lippina", adoring the infant Christ, who is held by two angels. The model for the Virgin is Lucrezia. A sometime lecturer at the gallery, art historian Rocky Ruggiero identifies the painting as "one of the most beautiful paintings of the Italian Renaissance" and asserts that arguably, Lippi "is the first Italian painter with a true sensibility for feminine beauty".[9]

The painting of the Virgin and Infant with an Angel that also is in the Uffizi Gallery is ascribed to Lippi, but that is disputable.[1][10]

Detail of Spoleto Coronation of the Virgin (c. 1469) – fresco – semidome of the apse of Spoleto Cathedral

Filippo Lippi died in 1469 while working on the frescoes of Scenes of the Life of the Virgin Mary, 1467–1469 in the apse of the Spoleto Cathedral. The Frescos show the Annunciation, the Funeral, the Adoration of the Child, and the Coronation of the Virgin.[10] A group of bystanders depicted at the funeral includes a self-portrait of Lippi and his helpers, Fra Diamante and Pier Matteo d'Amelia together with his son, Filippino. Lippi was buried on the right side of the transept, with a monument commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici.[4]

Francesco di Pesello (called Pesellino) and Sandro Botticelli were among his most distinguished pupils who participated in his workshop.[1]

Selected works



  1. ^ a b c d Rossetti 1911, p. 742.
  2. ^ a b c d Gillet, Louis. "Filippo Lippi". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Retrieved 4 April 2015
  3. ^ a b "Fra Filippo Lippi", The National Gallery, London
  4. ^ a b "Filippo Lippi", Virtual Uffizi Gallery
  5. ^ "Madonna and Child". The Walters Art Museum.
  6. ^ a b c d Rossetti 1911, p. 741.
  7. ^ Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. pp. 187. ISBN 0-14-028019-7.
  8. ^ Browning, Robert (2004). Robert Browning: Selected Poems. England: Penguin Books. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-140-43726-3.
  9. ^ Ruggiero, Rocky, Madonna and Child with Two Angels, Fra Lippo Lippi, Making Art and History Come Alive,, accessed 10 June 2023
  10. ^ a b Rowlands, Eliot. "Lippi". Oxford Art Online. Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  11. ^ "Madonna and Child". The Walters Art Museum. Retrieved 26 September 2021.

Further reading

Historical novels