Although many of the Italian Renaissance artists worked in Florence, artists like Filippino Lippi flourished in Venice, a powerful city-state populated by rich bankers and merchants. Born in Prato, Tuscany, about 1457, Lippi arrived into the world in an unusual manner. He was born of the illegitimate union of Fra Filippo Lippi, a Catholic monk, and Lucretia Buti, a nun.
Fra Lippi was an early Renaissance painter who trained his son until his death in 1469. Filippino learned much from his father and also studied under another Renaissance great, Sandro Botticelli. Art historians classify Filippino Lippi’s early pieces as reflective of Botticelli’s style. In the beginning, Lippi completed a fresco cycle at the Brancacci Chapel in Florence’s Santa Maria del Carmine. His efforts were a continuation of an unfinished project by Masolino and Masaccio. Lippi was also hired by Filippo Strozzi to paint works in the Strozzi Chapel, but he did not complete these works until after his patron’s death.
Lippi completed other works with Catholic themes besides frescoes, including the Apparition of the Virgin to St Bernard (1480), an altar piece, and Madonna and Child (c. 1485). The former was created as a commission for a Florence merchant, Piero del Pugliese, to adorn the altar in his family chapel at Santa Maria alle Campora. A beautiful work of landscape and human figures, Lippi creates a realistic rendering of the Virgin and Saint Bernard. Mary is surrounded by angels at the foreground of the painting with St. Bernard. In the background, a rocky mount rises up behind them with the hint of a town in the upper right corner.
Permanently housed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Madonna and Child is a vivid depiction of the Virgin Mary. She wears a brilliant scarlet dress and a black cape. Her dark blonde hair is held back by a delicate blue scarf. The baby she holds is creamy and plump with an old man’s face. Baby Jesus studies the Bible. In the upper left corner of the canvas, there is a view of a loggia which shows the impact of Flemish painting on Lippi. Madonna and Child contrasts nicely with his father’s similar painting, Madonna and Child Enthroned With Two Angels. Mary has a lighter, rounder face, wears a red blouse and flowing blue skirt, and looks sadly away from the observer. Jesus and the two angels are also fair-haired and somber. While both works are serious in tone and keeping with the Catholic art of the Renaissance, they reflect how a father and a son could interpret the classic Madonna and Baby Jesus work differently.
As a tribute to the social climate of the Renaissance, the younger Lippi was able to achieve considerable success despite his illegitimate heritage. He died in 1504.