Fra Filippo Lippi, Vergine delle Rocce
Filippo Lippi (Filippo di Tommaso di Lippo), Florentine painter, was brought up as an unwanted child in the Carmelite friary of the Carmine, where he took his vows in 1421. Unlike the Dominican Fra Angelico, however, Lippi was a reluctant friar and had a scandalous love affair with a nun, Lucrezia Buti, who bore his son Filippino and a daughter Alessandra. The couple was released from their vows and allowed to marry, but Lippi still signed himself “Frater Philippus”.
This work by Filippo Lippi, painted around 1465, is one of his best known and most admired paintings of the Renaissance.
The life of Filippo Lippi, a Carmelite monk, makes an interesting tale. The monk was not exactly devoted to his religious duties and fell in love with a nun, Lucrezia Buti. His love was returned by the nun Lucrezia and, after years of a passionate “secretive” affair, they both were forced to renounce their religious votes. They had two children, a daughter and a son, Filippino, who would later become a a brilliant painter following in the steps of his father.
The popularity of this work of art likely comes from the fact that many think the semblance of the Madonna may actually be the portrait of Lucrezia Buti. (From the Guide to Uffizi Gallery Museum)
Fra Filippo Lippi, Adoration in the Forest.
Lippi’s biography is one of the most colourful in Vasari‘s Lives and has given rise to the picture of a great Renaissance artist, rebelling against the discipline of the Church.
Vasari’s tale of Lippi’s life is richly embroidered with romantic details and adventures. It includes capture of the artist by The Barbary pirates, sometimes called Barbary corsairs or Ottoman corsairs. Lippy, it is said, idly draws a portrait of the pirates’ leader and the pirate, impressed beyond measure, immediately releases Filippo from captivity. Here’s Vasari’s passage about Fra Lippi:
It is said that Fra Filippo was so lustful that he would give anything to enjoy a woman he wanted if he thought he could have his way, and if he couldn’t buy what he wanted, then he would cool his passion by painting her portrait and reasoning with himself. His lust was so violent that when it took hold of him he could never concentrate on his work. Because of this, when he was doing something for Cosimo de’ Medici, Cosimo had him locked in so he wouldn’t wander off. After he had been confined for a few days, Fra Filippo’s amorous, or rather animal, instincts drove him one night to seize a pair of scissors, make a rope from his own bedsheets, and escape through a window to pursue his own pleasures for days on end!
Lippi was one of the first artists to paint tondo, the format that became characteristic of the era. (A tondo — plural “tondi” or “tondos” — is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art, either a painting or a sculpture.)
The paining above is from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Arts, and I’ve seen it numerous times. Should I’ve known then about the rebellious lovelorn Frater-artist as much as I know now, I’d be looking at his works with more curious eyes. I knew that Filippino Lippy was a superbly talented son of Fra Filippo — it’s written in every brochure and on the plate on the wall. What I didn’t know was the story of Fra Lippi and Lucrezia Buti — a monk and a nun.
Fra Lippi must certainly have had a more eventful life than most. Unfortunately, in spite of Vasari’s best efforts, there is little documentary evidence of his character and personality. However, on Internet Archive, a great site I very much recommend to anyone who is interested in anything, something or everything, I found this book and paged through it. Not a terribly exciting read but then, again, it warms your heart to know that some love stories don’t die.