A glorious celebration of love and beauty (from a notorious monk)

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Picture: Uffizi gallery

Some more musings on art during our ‘enforced incarceration’ in the coronavirus pandemic.

I noted, when taking a new look at Botticelli’s Spring a few days ago, that the first few rooms of the Uffizi gallery contain little more than a succession of crucifixions, annunciations and virgins with child, so that Botticelli’s two enormous pictures, Spring and The Birth of Venus, overpower us, in-your-face acclamations of the Renaissance at its height.

But just before you’re knocked-out by Botticelli, there is one painting of a Madonna and child that you must see. In fact, I think it’s my favourite painting in all of the Uffizi — and perhaps one of the most important in proclaiming the values of humanism and the realistic representation of people, however saintly they may be.

It is Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels, painted in the 1460s and seen in reproduction above. Absolutely beautiful, but also sensual, playful, even mischievous.

Compare this with the idealised solemn representations in the mediaeval paintings that preceded it. Mary is a beautiful and serene young woman, though perhaps saddened by the foreknowledge of her son’s death.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

And… look at the second angel, what earlier painter would ever dare hide much of an angel’s face behind the arm of the baby Jesus? Both these angels are real kids, the sort that could be found playing in the streets of 15th century Florence. The cheeky-faced angel in the foreground is my favourite.

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And… look how clever Lippi has been to make the frame of the window almost the frame of the painting.

And… look at the background through the window, a landscape painted in bold perspective, in sharp contrast to the gold monotone backgrounds surrounding earlier Madonna’s.

And… look at the sinuous, translucent drapery on Mary’s head. Botticelli was a pupil of Lippi’s and you can see where he learned the techniques.

And…

There is so much more to see in this wonderful painting. So, don’t pass it by when you are hurrying to see the Botticellis.

And what of the painter? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, Filippo Lippi was not the ideal monk! He was notorious in his pursuit of pleasure. His vows of celibacy meant nothing and eventually, released from them, he married an ex-nun.

I like this story about Lippi by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists: “He was taken into great favour by Cosimo de’ Medici, but being devoted to pleasure, he neglected his work for it. Cosimo therefore, when he was working for him in his house, caused him to be shut in, so that he could not go out and waste his time; but he, cutting up the sheets of the bed with a pair of scissors, made a rope and let himself down by the window.

“When after many days he returned to his work, Cosimo gave him his liberty, considering the peril he had run, and sought to keep him for the future by many favours, and so he served him more readily, saying that genius is a heavenly being, and not a beast of burden.”

I’m not sure how heavenly Filippo Lippi was, but his painting certainly is, and it has made him immortal.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.

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