15 Facts About Filippo Lippi: The Quattrocento Painter from Italy

The Renaissance was a period of rebirth and revival of the arts. Filippo Lippi was one significant artist of the Quattrocento whose impact on the Renaissance left everlasting effects.

Sep 19, 2020By Heidi Vance, BFA Studio Art w/ minor in Art History
filippo lippi coronation madonna
Detail/Self-Portrait of Filippo Lippi in The Coronation of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi, 1436-47 (left); with Detail of Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi, 1440 (center); and Self-Portrait of Filippino Lippi in The Dispute with Simon Magnus by Filippino Lippi, 1481 (right)


Filippo Lippi is one of the many significant Italian Renaissance artists of the Quattrocento. His works, while religious in context, reinvented the representation of biblical figures. His application of color and experimentation with naturalism allowed for a new way of viewing religious imagery. 


Filippo Lippi Biography

Detail/Self-Portrait of Filippo Lippi in The Coronation of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi, 1436-47, via The Uffizi Galleries, Florence


Filippo Lippi was born in Florence, Italy in 1406 to a butcher named Tommaso. When he was two years old, he was completely orphaned after the death of his father. He then lived with his aunt, who eventually placed him in Santa Maria del Carmine’s convent after being unable to afford to take care of him. Lippi’s first contact with art came from the frescoes by Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine. At sixteen he took vows as a Carmelite friar. Despite his position as a “holy man,” he was anything but. He repeatedly broke his holy vows, causing him to be an interesting foil to his contemporary Fra Angelico. The church released him from his religious obligations, being able to pursue painting in its entirety. Lippi created many important works that would shape not only the style of the Renaissance but art as a whole. 


1. His Paintings And Frescoes Can Be Seen All Over The World

Disputation in the Synagogue by Filippo Lippi, 1452, in The Duomo of Prato, via The Web Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Like many great artists, Lippi’s work has made its way into museums and private collections all over the world. Much of his work remains in Florence due to that being one of the epicenters of his artistic career. However, his work can be found outside the borders of Italy. During his lifetime, he made a minimum of 75 artworks (including paintings and frescos). The United States houses many of these works, some being in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., The Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, as well as a vast amount of other collections. His work can also be found in England, Germany, France, Russia, and other countries. 


2. He Was A “Bad-Boy” Of The Italian Renaissance

The Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, 1440/60, via The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


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When discussing Italian Renaissance artists, they tend to fall into one of two categories. They are completely devoted to their art and work, leaving little to no time for anything else, or their time is split between their art and other pursuits. Filippo Lippi falls into the latter of the two categories. Interestingly enough, many compare Lippi to his contemporary, Fra Angelico. Both came from wholly opposite backgrounds despite being friars. Firstly, Fra Angelico’s decision to enter the church was a personal choice. Lippi entered his service because he was a poor orphan with few opportunities available to him. Fra Angelico was a model friar: he was pious, he loved God, and he abided by the rules established in his commitment to the church. Alternatively, Lippi was quite the opposite. While he fulfilled his duties, he was a philanderer and generally considered a troublemaker. 


3. Despite His Temperament, Lippi Remained Involved In Extra Religious Activities

Annunciation with Two Kneeling Donors by Filippo Lippi, 1435, via Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (Palazzo Barberini), Rome


Although Lippi was a man with a murky reputation, he was able to climb the church ranks. He began as a monk after completing his vows at sixteen. In 1425, Lippi became promoted to a priest. Staying within the ranks of the church provided him access to various works of art and gave him a place to live and work. In 1432, he quit the monastery to travel and paint. Despite quitting, he was not released from his vows. He often referred to himself as the “poorest friar of Florence.” His financial issues followed him throughout his life, often spending large amounts of money for his romantic interests. In 1452, he became a chaplain in Florence, although where is up to some debate. Five years later Lippi became a rector. Despite the upward mobility of his positions accompanied by financial compensation, he continued to be a frivolous spender.


4. Filippo Lippi Moved All Over Italy

The Annunciation by Filippo Lippi, 1443, via Alte Pinakothek, Munich


Filippo Lippi was not the kind of man to stay in one place. He was born in Florence, living there for a significant portion of his life. As previously mentioned, there is conjecture as to whether or not he spent time in Africa. He supposedly visited Ancona and Naples for some time. Oddly enough, from 1431 to 1437, there is no account of his career. He later lived in Prato, staying there for at least six years, if not more. His final residence was in Spoleto, where he spent his final years working at the cathedral of Spoleto. His overall success and ability to travel can be directly related to his best patrons: the Medici. In a time where communication was slow, word of mouth (especially within socialite circles) meant everything.


5. Lippi’s Life Is Documented In The Lives Of The Artists

Giorgio Vasari Pitt. e Archi. Fior. by Cosimo Colombini, 1769-75, via The British Museum, London


Before the Renaissance, there was little art history scholarship. Aside from various primary sources including contracts, correspondence, and receipts, artists’ biographies were not typically written. In 1550, Giorgio Vasari first wrote The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, an artistic encyclopedia detailing the lives of Italian Renaissance artists. This book has two editions and is typically referred to as Lives of the Artists. There is some criticism of Vasari’s writings, as it highlights Italian artists primarily working in Florence and Rome, and only discusses artists that Vasari found worthy of discussing. Although Vasari did include artists whose work he did not enjoy, as he willfully mentions within their designated sections, it is still one of the best sources of Italian Renaissance scholars frequently reference


Vision of St. Augustine by Filippo Lippi, 1460, via The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg


Filippo Lippi’s section within Lives of the Artists offers significant insight into his life, both within and outside the realms of art. In it, Vasari provides a detailed account of Lippi’s movements across Italy, as well as information on his personal life. In fact, the majority of the facts on this list are from Lives of the Artists and then confirmed via external sources.


6. He Had Many Romantic Relationships And Affairs

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Two Angels by Filippo Lippi, 1440, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Filippo Lippi was the modern-day equivalent to a playboy. He had many affairs and mistresses, although as a monk his vows prohibited him from doing such. Giorgio Vasari went as far as to say, “[He] 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.” While working for Cosimo de’ Medici, Medici confined Lippi to his room to ensure he would work. However, this did not stop Lippi. He escaped, taking a multi-day break to relieve himself of his carnal needs. This kind of behavior repeatedly got Lippi into trouble, both financially and socially. 


7. During One Of These Affairs, He Impregnated A Nun

Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Filippo Lippi, 1460-65, via The Uffizi Galleries, Florence


Aside from his art, Lippi is most known for his scandalous affair with Lucrezia Buti. While a chaplain in Prato, Lippi “abducted” the nun from her convent. The two lived together in Lippi’s home, both breaking their vows to the church. Lucrezia not only became Lippi’s lover (and possibly wife), she was one of his primary models for his Madonnas. This affair sparked controversy within the church, causing many other members to break their vows and cohabitate. Later, they reentered their positions for a short time before leaving again. Lucrezia fell pregnant, giving birth to Lippi’s son Filippino in 1457. She later gave birth to Lippi’s daughter Alessandra. Despite their transgressions, neither of the pair faced any real punishment. Due to the help of the Medici, the pope dissolved Lippi and Buti’s vows. The two may or may not have married; some sources claim that Lippi died beforehand.


8. He Trained Other Important Italian Renaissance Artists

The Virgin Adoring the Child by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, via The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Filippo Lippi, like many important artists, had multiple pupils. One of his best-known pupils was none other than Sandro Botticelli. Lippi trained Botticelli from a young age, beginning somewhere around 1461 when Botticelli was likely seventeen. Lippi taught Botticelli the ways of Florentine art, training him in panel painting, fresco, and drawing. Botticelli followed Lippi around Florence and Prato, leaving his tutelage around 1467. Lippi likely trained other students based on the fact of him having a workshop. However, many go unnoted likely due to the saturation of artists of the Italian Renaissance and the artists being overlooked by Giorgio Vasari.


9. Filippo Lippi Introduced The World To The “Bourgeois” Madonna

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi, 1440, via The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Lippi’s Madonnas established a new kind of image for the Virgin Mary. These Madonnas reflect the then-contemporary Florentine society. Coined as the “bourgeoise Madonna,” these depictions reflect an elegant Florentine woman dressed in contemporary fashion and demonstrating the current beauty trends. During his lifetime, Filippo Lippi painted dozens of Madonnas, many of which demonstrated a fifteenth-century kind of opulence and grace. The intention was to humanize the Virgin Mary through realism. Before Lippi, Madonnas generally looked unlifelike. They were holy, higher beings, which inadvertently created a barrier between commonfolk and biblical characters. Lippi intended to have his Madonnas look like a woman that anyone could meet on the streets of Florence. Thus, making her relatable and highlighting her humanity. 


10. His Son Was Also A Painter

Self-Portrait of Filippino Lippi in The Dispute with Simon Magnus by Filippino Lippi, 1481, in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, via The Web Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Filippo Lippi’s trained his son, Filippo “Filippino” Lippi, early on to become a painter. After Lippi’s death in 1469, Filippino Lippi became a student of Sandro Botticelli, entering his workshop in 1472. Filippino was a painter and a draftsman whose work was lively and linear, as well as infused with a warm color palette. Unsurprisingly, his early work was heavily influenced by his two mentors. His first major project was the completion of Masaccio and Masolino’s fresco cycle in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine. Like his father, Filippino traveled across Italy, leaving his artistic mark where he went. Filippino completed a vast variety of fresco cycles and altarpieces, although much like his father, he left his final work, the Deposition for Santissima Annunziata, unfinished due to his death in 1504. Although Filippino was an accomplished artist, his contemporaries, Raphael and Michelangelo, overshadowed his works and contributions.


11. According To Legend, Filippo Lippi Was Abducted By Pirates

A French Ship and Barbary Pirates by Aert Anthoniszoon, 1615, via The National Maritime Museum, London


In 1432, the Moors on the Adriatic abducted Filippo Lippi while he was traveling with friends. These Moors, known as the Barbary pirates, held Lippi captive for roughly 18 months, perhaps longer. Some claim he became a slave in Northern Africa. Allegedly, his skill in portraiture was his key to escape. Supposedly he created a portrait of his captor (or in other stories the captain of the pirates). His captor was so impressed that he promoted Lippi to a painter. At some point, his painting earned him high status in Africa and eventually his freedom. Whether or not this story is true is up for debate. However, there is a gap within his career that conveniently aligns with his supposed abduction. 


12. Cosimo De’ Medici Was A Friend And Patron Of Filippo Lippi

Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder by Pontormo, 1518-1520, via The Uffizi Galleries, Florence


The Medici were one of the most powerful families in Europe, holding influence over the continent for roughly 500 years. They began as a prominent family of the Arte della Lana, Florence’s wool guild. The family later became known for banking, revolutionizing the entire process. Due to their wealth and status, they quickly infiltrated Italian politics. Their political dynasty began with Cosimo de’ Medici. Cosimo became an avid patron of the arts, allowing Florence to flourish as one of the Renaissance’s main artistic epicenters. 


The Adoration in the Forest or Mystical Nativity by Filippo Lippi, 1459, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


Cosimo became one of Lippi’s most influential patrons, awarding him multiple commissions. They even helped Lippi receive commissions from Pope Eugenius IV. Beyond his art, the Medici family used their influence to get Lippi out of trouble more than once. They aided in his release from prison for fraud, as well as attempted to release him from his holy vows so he could marry the mother of his children. 


13. Lippi Became A Major Source For The Pre-Raphaelite’s Second Wave

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874, via Tate, London


A group of English painters, poets and art critics established the Pre-Raphaelite movement in the mid-nineteenth century. The overall focus of the movement was to modernize art by going back through the appropriation of medieval and renaissance art. The group’s work generally had the following characteristics: sharp outlines, bright colors, attention to detail, and flattened perspective. The second wave of this movement occurred in 1856, ignited by the friendship of Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris under the mentorship of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This second wave focused on three main components: theology, art, and medieval literature. The pre-Raphaelites were wholly separate from the art world’s counterculture. They rejected the rules established by academic art. Lippi’s work was an inspirational reference- who could be more counterculture than a man whose work was highly religious yet refused to abide by theological rules? 


14. His Final Works Were Left Unfinished At The Time Of His Death

Scenes from the Life of the Virgin Mary by Filippo Lippi, 1469, Spoleto Cathedral, via The Web Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Filippo Lippi’s death was abrupt and unexpected, despite being an advanced age. Lippi died in 1469 at roughly 63 years old. At this time, he was working on Scenes of the Life of the Virgin Mary for the Spoleto Cathedral. Although he had already spent 2 or 3 years on this project, beginning in 1466 or 1467, it was left unfinished. It was quickly finished by his studio assistants, possibly including his son, in roughly three months. Lippi is buried within the cathedral in the south arm of the transept. Originally, the Medici family requested that the Spoletans return his remains to Florence for burial. However, the Spoletans made a compelling point. Unlike Florence, they had few distinguished men buried there. Lorenzo Medici commissioned Lippi’s son, Filippino Lippi, to design his father’s marble tomb


15. Filippo Lippi’s Cause Of Death Is Disputed And Unknown

Marsuppini Coronation by Filippo Lippi, 1444, via Musei Vaticani, Vatican City


Although it is difficult to determine the cause of death for historical figures, it is near impossible to establish Lippi’s. His death mirrored his life: full of tall tales and conspiracy theories and lacking any clear answers. Lippi died around October 8, 1469, at the age of 63. The circumstances of his death are generally unknown: although quite a few opinions suggest poisoning. Vasari suggested his death was due to his “romantic” behavior or a poisoning. Others speculate a jealous lover poisoned him. Some believe Lucrezia Buti’s family poisoned him, as retaliation for impregnating her and ruining her reputation. 


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By Heidi VanceBFA Studio Art w/ minor in Art HistoryHeidi Vance is a contributing writer to TheCollector, a practicing studio artist, and an emerging art conservation professional. She obtained her BFA in Studio Art and a minor in Art History from the University of Central Florida and will be pursuing her MA in Conservation of Fine Art at Northumbria University in Fall 2020.