Filippino Lippi
High Renaissance Florentine Fresco Painter.

Pin it

Apparition of The Virgin to St Bernard
(1485) Badia Fiorentina, Florence.
By Filippino Lippi.

Filippino Lippi (1457-1504)


Early Life and Training
Renaissance Painter

Adoration of the Magi (1495)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
By Filippino Lippi.

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

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


Among the most inventive of Old Masters active in High Renaissance art, and a leading exponent of the tradition of fresco painting, Filippino Lippi was the son of the renowned Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-69), an important figure in the Florentine Renaissance of the mid-15th century, who died when Filippino was twelve. An innovative and expressive painter, greatly influenced by Botticelli (1445-1510), Filippino's first major project (1485) was to finish the Brancacci Chapel frescoes begun by Masaccio (1401-1428) and Masolino (1383-1440). This coincided with the completion of his finest panel painting - the charming Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard (1485, Badia, Florence), in which he reveals a Flemish interest in genre detail and landscape. His most memorable work of Renaissance art is probably his cycle of frescoes for the Strozzi Chapel, S. Maria Novella, Florence (1488-1502). Although later overshadowed by Botticelli (though not during his lifetime), Filippino Lippi remains an important contributor to Renaissance art in Florence during the difficult final years of the quattrocento, which was marked by the fundamentalist demagoguery of Savonarola and the banishment of the Medici Family from the city. His reputation also spread throughout Italy, and in addition to his murals he also produced some outstanding religious paintings for churches in Milan, Bologna and Genoa, as well as Rome and Florence. Indeed his sacra conversazione (informal grouping of the Virgin and Child with saints) had a strong influence on High Renaissance painting (1490-1530). Despite this, his eclipse by the giants of the 16th century - Raphael (1483-1520) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) - has meant that much of his success has now been forgotten.



Early Life and Training

Born in Prato, Tuscany, the product of a famous and illicit elopement between the painter Fra Filippo Lippi and a young nun Lucrezia Buti, Filippino trained first under his father. When the latter died in 1469, Filippino completed his frescos in the cathedral at Spoleto, Perugia, before finishing his training in the workshop of Botticelli (1445-1510), who himself had been a pupil of Lippi senior. During his apprenticeship Filippino would have learned tempera painting and fresco work, and also oil painting, although use of the latter was still uncommon. Draughtsmanship was another vital skill, given the Florentine respect for disegno: he began by drawing in metalpoint and white gouache on prepared paper, turning to pen and ink drawings only later in life. Around 1472 he opened his own workshop, having developed a style of painting that was deeply influenced by his two great masters. As it was, his first works were marked by animated form and line, as well as a warmth of colour, as illustrated in paintings such as Tobias and the Angel (1480, National Gallery, Washington, DC.) and the earlier Adoration of the Magi (c.1473, National Gallery, London), which also contains a colourful and naturalistic landscape background. The latter work has contributions from Botticelli. It was during this early period that Filippino joined Perugino (1450-1523), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94) and Botticelli in decorating Lorenzo de' Medici's villa at Spedaletto, north of Florence.

Renaissance Painter

Filippino received his first major commission - the completion of Masaccio's decoration of the Brancacci Chapel of S. Maria del Carmine - about 1484-5. His additions - including Quarrel with Simon Magus in face of Nero, Resurrection of Teophilus' Son, Saint Peter Jailed, and Saint Peter's Crucifixion - are so in harmony with the grave genius of Masaccio that it is hard to distinguish Filippino's painting from that of his illustrious predecessor. However, according to his biographer Giorgio Vasari, in the scenes from the Acts of the Apostles he introduces a range of contemporary costumes as well as portraits of numerous contemporary figures, including: Botticelli, the sculptor Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98), and the poet Luigi Pulci.

In 1486, he began work on the Sala degli Otto di Pratica, in the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. In the same years he was commissioned by Piero di Francesco del Pugliese to paint the altarpiece known as the Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard (1486, Church of Badia, Florence). This is Lippi's most popular work: a composition of unusual shapes, with its elongated figures, set against a dreamlike scenario of rocks and anthropomorphic trunks.

The following year he was commissioned by Filippo Strozzi (1428-91) to decorate the Strozzi family chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, with scenes from the lives of St. John and St. Philip. The paintings occupied him intermittently until 1503, a year before his death, and contain a mass of dramatic and fantastic figures, shapes, backgrounds and colours. Indeed this supremely creative work of Biblical art reveals the imaginative genius of Filippino Lippi like nothing else. In the scene St. Philip compels a demon to enter the idol of Mars, the Apostle such a commanding gesture that Raphael reproduced it in his painting the Preaching of St. Paul. Filippino's imaginative architecture anticipates the style of the great Baroque architects Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), while his patriarchs (like Adam and Jacob) foreshadow the Prophets in the Genesis fresco by Michelangelo, and some of the female figures are reminiscent of the "St. Anne and the Virgin" by Leonardo (1452-1519).

In 1488, Filippino moved to Rome, having been recommended by Lorenzo de' Medici to Cardinal Oliviero Carafa (1430-1511), who commissioned him to produce a series of frescoes on the life of St Thomas Aquinas, for the family Carafa Chapel in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome. The paintings took five years to complete (1488-93) and reveal a new animation of form and a highly innovative interpretation of Greco-Roman elements, such as foliage, garlands, masks and trophies, all of which he enriched with Moorish and Oriental motifs. Raphael borrowed heavily upon these works when formulating his first ideas for the School of Athens and the Disputa in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican.

In 1493 Filippino returned to Florence in 1493, where he remained until his death. Among his final works was the Adoration of the Magi (1495, now in the Uffizi), painted for the Convent of Scopeto, near Florence. This is an extraordinary work, an eccentric jumble of oddities. Another, more conventional picture from this period is his Virgin with Four Saints (1498, Museo Civico, Prato), one of his simplest and most delightful figures. His last painting is the Deposition for the Santissima Annunziata church in Florence, which remained unfinished at his death. It was completed in 1507 by Perugino, and now hangs in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Florence.

Filippino Lippi died in April 1504 in Florence. On the day of his burial all the workshops of the city remained closed.

Paintings by Filippino Lippi can be seen in some of the best art museums throughout the world.


• For more about High Renaissance painters in Italy, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important frescoes, oils and tempera pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

© All rights reserved.