Fra Filippo Lippi

Recently, I have been looking into some artists from the time period of the Italian Renaissance. One artist that has captivated me is Fra Filippo Lippi. His life is interesting not only because of his artwork, but also because of his scandalous life where he had a son, Filippino Lippi who became a great artist though not as popular as his father, with a nun when he was a friar. Yet Fra Filippo’s work reflects deeply on his Carmelite order; he truly explores real beauty in his religious artworks (and all his artworks). His artworks are probably one, along with many others, of the best during the Renaissance (in my opinion).

One particular artwork that I would like to talk about is the Martelli Annunciation created in 1440 and currently hung in the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy.

Lippi, Martelli Annunciation, 1440

This painting takes a different approach to the Annunciation scene compared to others before its time. Normally/usually annunciation scenes include the archangel Gabriel and Mary placed in a secluded area. Here it is unclear whether this is placed a private space; even though this scene is placed in an open area, there seems to be no one around other than Mary and the Angels.

Lippi plays with the idea of architecture in this work. He uses architecture to divide this scene into two scenes including two angels and the Annunciation. Lippi creates a real sense of depth and space within this work. Additionally, what’s radically different is that Mary is not the center or near the center focus; instead, she is put off to the right, and our focus seems to go on the pillar in the middle.

Mary is also not in her usually attire. Here she wears a dark grey/blue clothes when usually she wears red/pink clothes and a blue cloak. Mary is also looking down at the archangel Gabriel and seems to be accepting his words from God. Additionally, on the left, above one of the angels is a dove which is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. This is most likely the Holy Spirit coming to impregnate Mary.

Each of the figures, including the dove, wear a halo.

Annunciation - close up of doveWhat’s interesting is the appearance of the heaviness of the halo. Except for the dove, most figures seem to have a heavy gold plate as halos on their heads.

Additionally, Lippi does create very soft toned faces. Yet the Madonna’s face is a bit different from his other Madonnas.

Annunciation - close up of MaryThere is one artwork, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, created in 1437 where the Madonna has a similar face structure to this piece; however, much of his other Mary paintings look slightly different.

Lippi, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels, 1437

Maybe this was a beginner face type he had for Mary, where her face is a bit longer than most other works by Lippi.

Compare this Annunciation Madonna to the Madonna and Child which was also created in the early 1440s.

Lippi, Madonna and Child, 1440s

The face type of Mary seems similar in both; though, the Mary in the Madonna and Child seems to have a wider face and maybe a more universal face compared to the Annunciation Mary who appears more individualistic. I think it’s interesting to see the different types of approach Lippi took, within the 1440(s), on the beauty of Mary.

Self Portrait of Lippi seen in the Coronation of the Virgin, 1441-7

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