Fra Filippo Lippi
Biography of Early Renaissance Florentine Painter.

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Annunciation (c.1443-50) (detail)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Fra Filippo Lippi (c.1406-69)


Early Years
Mature Artworks
Final Years

For details of the pigments
used by Fra Filippo Lippi
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.


One of the best known Old Masters of the quattrocento, Fra Filippo Lippi (also known as Fra Filippo Lippi of the Carmine) was an important figure in the Renaissance in Florence during the 15th century. (He is not to be confused with son and pupil, Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), who became a successful painter in his own right.) Lippi specialized primarily in religious art, including altarpiece and fresco paintings. He painted in oils as well as tempera, and as well as being a great colourist, he showed skill in drawing and remarkable technical knowledge for the time.

What little we know of Lippi's life is derived from Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century biographer and historian of the Italian Renaissance. Much of his life was spent in poverty although he appears to have received patronage from the powerful Medici family in Florence, beginning with Cosimo de' Medici. His fame spread beyond Florence but was marred occasionally by lawsuits and scandals. Lippi's early style of painting was based on that of the revolutionary Early Renaissance artist Masaccio (1401-28/9) but later he moved towards a more decorative, colourful and lyrical style. Lippi's best known religious paintings are his frescoes in the Prato and Spoleto cathedrals.



Early Years

Lippi was born in Florence in about 1406. Both his parents died when he was still a child and at 14 he was sent to live with the Carmelite friars in Florence. In 1421, at the age of 16 he took his vows and entered the monastery of Santa Maria del Carmine. There, he could observe Masolino and Masaccio who were engaged in painting the Brancacci Chapel frescoes, which had a major influence on him. According to Vasari, the young Lippi was not interested in book study, preferring to spend his time drawing caricatures. The prior of the monastery noted his obvious talent and gave Lippi the opportunity to learn painting. Although Lippi was to quit the monastery eventually, it appears he did not revoke his vows because in a letter he wrote in 1439 he claimed he was the 'poorest friar of Florence'.

Lippi's career between 1431 and 1437 is largely unaccounted for, the majority of his surviving works are dated from 1440 onwards. In 1441 he painted an altarpiece for the nuns of Sant' Ambrogio, now in the Academy of Art in Florence. This artwork contains a self portrait of the artist. The SMPK Gemaldegalerie in Berlin owns a wonderful tempera on panel painting by the artist dating from 1447 entitled the Miracle of St Ambrose. The scene depicts the miraculous healing of child who lies in bed surrounded by a group of colourfully clad women. The foreshortening and wide-angle technique employed by Lippi demonstrate an influence from Flemish painting of the same period. He regularly painted decorative artworks for his benefactors. The National Gallery of London own several pieces by Lippi, including The Annunciation and the Seven Saints (both 1450-3) which were brought from the Medici Palace in Rome. This pair of paintings was probably once set into furniture, maybe over a door or into a bed head.

Mature Artworks

In 1456 Lippi began his major contribution to the Florentine Renaissance - namely his frescoes in Prato Cathedral near Florence. Two years later he met Lucrezia Buti, the daughter of a wealthy Florentine family who had either been placed in the care of nuns at Prato convent or was a novice. He requested that she sit for one of his portraits of the Madonna and then abducted her. She became pregnant and was he was finally allowed to marry her. Their son, Filippino was to become a highly successful painter in his own right. The frescoes Lippi painted in Prato cathedral are considered his most important and monumental works and depict the life of St John the Baptist and St Stephen. The figure work he employed influenced his future pupils, including his son Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). A highly respected figure in Early Renaissance painting, Lippi produced many large scale works, but his small paintings commissioned by wealthy merchants of Florence were unsurpassed in his day, earning the frequent praises of Michelangelo (1475-1564).

Final Years

Lippi died in 1469 while working on frescoes at Spoleto cathedral. The frescoes contain paintings of the Annunciation, the Funeral, the Adoration of the Child and the Coronation of the Virgin; in the crowds he added a self portrait, together with images of his apprentices and son. The nature of his death remains controversial. There are rumours that he may have been poisoned by his wife's family, or even by Lucrezia herself, but this is probably just speculation. He was buried in Spoleto cathedral and marked with a monument commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was survived by his son, as well as students including Sandro Botticello and Jacopo del Sellaio of Florence (1441-93).



Other Works

Madonna of Tarquinia (1437) Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.
Barbadori Altarpiece (1437) Louvre Museum, Paris.
Martelli Annunciation (c.1440) San Lorenzo, Florence.
Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement (1440) Metropolitan Museum NY.
Madonna and Child (c.1452) Pitti Gallery, Florence.
Annunciation (c.1443-50) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Annunciation (1445–50) Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome.
Miracle of St Ambrose (1447) Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin
Lives of St Stephen & St John the Baptist (1452–66) Prato Cathedral frescoes.
Madonna and Child (c.1455) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Adoration in the Forest (c.1450s) Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Paintings by Fra Filippo Lippi can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world, notably the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

• For more biographical details about Italian Renaissance painters, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important works, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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