Artibus et Historiae no. 19 (X)

1989, ISSN 0391-9064

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ELIOT W. ROWLANDS - Filippo Lippi and His Experience of Painting in the Veneto Region

From 1437 onwards, Fra Filippo Lippi executed a series of paintings remarkable for their depiction of space. Works such as the San Lorenzo Annunciation, the Barbadori Altarpiece, and the Uffizi Coronation of the Virgin include spatial settings that, in their originality and "compositional exuberance", have no precedents in the history of the Florentine painting. Where had Filippo learned such spatial devices as the unusual framing elements in his Coronation of the Virgin and Barbadori Altarpiece, and the illusionistic stage effects of the latter painting and his Annunciation in San Lorenzo? Nothing in Lippi's paintings prior to 1437, nor his Masacciesque heritage, hints at this tendency. Earlier works by the artist are either lost or remain the subject of controversy. Lippi is last recorded in Florence in 1432 and is next heard of in distant Padua, two tears later. By the time he returned to Florence in 1437, he was producing mature works such as the three above-mentioned paintings. The author of this article maintains that an essential, yet hitherto unexamined, catalyst to Lippi's style was his experience of painting in northeastern Italy.

Vasari records the high esteem in which two revolutionary Quattrocento artists, Mantegna and Donatello, held the frescoes of Altichiero, and in works such as the San Lorenzo Annunciation and the Barbadori Altarpiece, Lippi also reveals himself as an eager student of this North Italian master. The articulation of the figure groups in the Uffizi Coronation, and the use of framing elements recall features found in the oeuvre of another great North Italian - Guariento, as in his Paradise fresco, which Lippi would have seen in the Doge's palace in Venice. (The Coronation's iconography also had precedents in North Italian rather than in earlier Florentine painting.) In Lippi's later works, namely the fresco cycle in Prato, Altichiero's example continued to influence our painter, as witnessed by the harmonious relation of figure to setting in the frescoes, and by the use of a rich architectural backdrop to enhance his narrative.

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