Renaissance Tales – IV: Filippo & Filippino Lippi

Filippo Lippi is not a name that rings a bell for those who are not familiar with Renaissance Art. The young Filippo who became a friar was definitely not the kind of ‘friar’ that the Church would hope for. More interested in painting than in his religion classes, he finally left the monastery, but kept his religious vows. One adventure after another, it was his artistic wizardry that saved him from the pirates that had kidnapped him and took him to North Africa for sale.

Back to Italy, his talent did not go unnoticed. The Medici took him under their patronage, and would save him later on when he did the unthinkable (and the unforgivable). It was while painting a picture for a monastery that he first met the charming Lucrezia Buti, a young nun (some say a girl in the custody of the nuns) that bewitched him. He convinced the nuns to let Lucrezia pose for the figure of the Madonna, and before they knew it, he had kidnapped her, had his way with her, and refused to give her back.

The scandal was assured, and so was the reaction of the Pope, if it was not for the intervention of the Medici, thanks to whom the Pope settled for a milder measure: a pardon for marrying Lucrezia, who bore him a child no less talented than his father: Filippino Lippi.

Unlike his father, Filippino gained the respect and appreciation of his fellows. Following an initial apprenticeship with Botticelli, he started receiving one commission after another, cementing his fame and his status among his contemporaries. His art had more ‘content’ than his father’s, and it hid many messages alluding to his intellectual activity. The day Filippino died, all the workshops in Florence closed in grief. Lippi the son was nothing like Lippo the father, but they both share the holy spirit (of artistic mastery).

Filippino Lippi Self-Portrait

Renaissance Tales – III: Savonarola and Botticelli

They call him the Prophet of Doom, a man whose fanatical discourse seemed completely out of place in XV-century Florence, a city completely transformed and re-invented through the minds and spirits of Renaissance men like Dante, Boccaccio, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and others. Florence became the undisputed centre of humanist learning, the essence of which was challenged by one man: Savonarola.

The man who started humanism at a young age and was on his way to studying medicine eventually underwent a radical change, becoming a preacher. Sadly, he succumbed to his imperfections and fears, and launched a ruthless attack against all the values of Renaissance, condemning the revival of pagan traditions and ideals, and threatening the people of Florence with a divine punishment for their loose morality.

As he criticized the Medici and all the power structures in the community in the name of religion and social justice, his sermons became more appealing to the masses, and his audience base became broader. His ‘visions’ became more scary and his status grew steadily as he managed to stop the King of France from ruining Florence, having met him as part of a delegation dispatched by a terrified Florence.

Then started the processions that he sent to collect what he deemed ‘objects of vanity’: jewelry, mirrors, wigs…but also poetry books, paintings depicting mythological subjects…they were all collected. In February 1497, the sky of Florence turned black with the ashes of all these objects, burned in a huge bonfire known in history as ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’. The scene seemed to defy all logic, dealing a strong blow to the progress that Renaissance Florence stood for. Even more scary was the influence that he exercised even on the most refined of minds: how about Botticelli sending some of his paintings to the Bonfire?!

Then came the fall as Savonarola committed the classical mistake: attacking the Vatican and the Pope. The Pope responded aggressively, preventing him from preaching and threatening the entire city. Savonarola had insinuated at his ability to work miracles, but when put to the test he seemed confused and attempted an escape. A failed one.

Imagine this: in 1498, people gathered to witness yet another bonfire at the Piazza della Signoria. This time, it was Savonarola and two companions burning, accused of heresy (among other things). The river Arno carried away the ashes, but not the memory: a commemorative plaque marks the site of the execution, and a high tower (that of Palazzo Vecchio) cast its shadow, sealing the victory of the Renaissance refinement.