LIPPI, Fra Filippo
(b. 1406, Firenze, d. 1469, Spoleto)

Madonna with Child (Tarquinia Madonna)

Tempera on panel, 151 x 66 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Lippi probably received the commission for this painting from Monsignor Vitelleschi, the Archbishop of Florence from 1435 to 1437. Vitelleschi owned a palace at Corneto, and had close family ties to that city's Augustinian convent of San Marco, where Lippi's Madonna and Child seems to have once been housed. As a dated work it is an important monument for the reconstruction of Lippi's career. (The painting is dated on a card at the base of the throne which reads "A. D. M. MCCCCXXXVII")

The painting is characterized by its spatial and perspectival structure, and a plastic quality in the figures that directly recalls the work of Masaccio. It documents a precise phase of the artists career before the influence of Fra Angelico became prevalent and before the artist began to distance himself from his interest in perspectival space. Lippi painted this work after his return from North Italy, where more consistent contacts with French, German, and Netherlandish painting can be assumed. The close affinity between Lippi's style in this period and Flemish painting has led some scholars to hypothesize a voyage to Flanders in around 1435. If indeed Lippi did make such a trip, he would have come into direct contact with the work of Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden.

The figures are substantial, especially the Child, whose large head, thick limbs, and heavy trunk are almost grotesque, as is the Child's inexplicable pose. The Madonna, with her nearly round head, a characteristic type for Lippi, her rigid right arm and squarish, stumpy hands with short fingers, and the ponderous, almost exaggerated draperies continue in his art. The perspective is also somewhat forced, but the sharply foreshortened upper shutter of the window is adventurous. Another effective feature of the painting is the vigorous light and shadow used both for building forms and for illumination within the interior space, although the source of light is not consistently distributed.