Friday, November 4, 2011

Filippino Lippi in the Florence of Botticelli

The Madonna in Adoration of the Child, Filippino Lippi, 1478

We're spoiled for choice in Rome right now with all the great new exhibits on at the moment. The Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition is particularly fascinating, but the biggest new show is that of Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli at the Scuderie del Quirinale. The Scuderie plays host to some of the most important exhibitions in the city, such as the mind-blowing Caravaggio exhibit last year, and Lorenzo Lotti earlier this year, so everyone had high hopes for this exhibit.
Filippino Lippi (not to be confused with his better-known father Filippo Lippi) is not a household name. If you are not a scholar of 15th century Florentine art, you may never have heard of him. Luckily for this exhibit, there is a VERY big name in the title. When something has the name Botticelli in it, people line up. But there are very few Botticelli pieces on display, and only one truly famous one, The Adoration of the Magi, below. For this reason, some people I've talked to were quite disappointed with the exhibition.  In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with it, in fact, it was spectacular and extremely well curated. The only problem was the title.
Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli

I begin looking for exhibits two or three months before they open, so I can tell you that the original title of this one was Filippino Lippi in the Florence of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Sandro Botticelli. Quite a mouthful, and perhaps not as enticing. It was changed therefore to Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli in the Florence of the 1400s. That's better! Now more people will come.... only to be disappointed that the exhibit is about Lippi.
Yes there are Botticelli works, but their main purpose is to illustrate Lippi's development as an artist. Botticelli had studied under Filippo Lippi (father) and eventually surpassed him. Years later, Filippino Lippi (son) studied under Botticelli. Lippi the younger's early works resemble Botticelli's so closely, particularly the unmisktable oval faces and light curly hair and the flowing garments, that at first it is difficult to tell if it is the work of the master or the student. This is most noticeable in Three Archangels and the Young Tobias (below), painted when Lippi was just 20 years old. As he matured, he began to come into his own, and just a year later in The Madonna in Adoration of the Child (top) we see him developing his own style.
Three Archangels and Young Tobias, Filippino Lippi, 1477
I am in no way trying to suggest this exhibit isn't worth visiting. It is beautifully done, and the works displayed are exceptional examples of Renaissance art. Just don't go hoping to see the Primavera or The Birth of Venus. Lippi is the star of this show, not Botticelli.

A few highlights: the treating of the same subject, The Story of Virginia, by both artists; a set of unspeakably beautiful doors in inlaid wood by Il Franciano (Francesco di Giovanni) and Giuliano da Maiano, one depicting Dante, the other Petrarch; and an anonymous police report of Filippino Lippi's illegitimate birth, to Fra Filippo Lippi, a Carmelite monk, and Lucrezia Buti, a nun! Nothing like a little Renaissance gossip! See the Exhibits on now page for practical information.
The Story of Virginia, Sandro Botticelli

The Story of Virginia, Filippino Lippi

All images provided courtesy of Azienda Speciale Palaexpo

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