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

Coronation of the Virgin

Tempera on wood, 200 x 287 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Lippi's second prominent altarpiece, the Coronation of the Virgin for the main altar of Sant'Ambrogio, was painted in the decade after the Barbadori Altarpiece. The cast of characters has expanded dramatically with a host of accompanying saints in the zone below, pictured in a puzzlingly smaller scale in relation to those at the sides. Saint Ambrogio, the patron of the church, and Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence, dominate the sides of the composition. Mary is crowned not by Christ, but by God the Father in an expanded lunette above. The picture betrays a joyous, decorative appearance calibrated by strong colours which are highlighted by the white lilies.

The Coronation, despite certain inconsistencies, is a visual treat, since a recent cleaning has unveiled a wealth of vigorous although unnaturalistic colour. Here is a beatified world without conflict or blemish; the participants are untroubled, heavenly creatures undisturbed by self-doubts. Lippi's handsome figures, constructed sumptuously and optimistically, are much like their sculptured counterparts by Luca della Robbia, a temperamentally similar artist to whom Filippo Lippi owes a debt.

The Coronation exhibits important innovations: the Baptist, gesturing toward the Virgin on the painting's central axis, introduces the spectator to the action. Behind him, still in the foreground, is the donor, while from below an angel enters the scene, a device that will find an echo later, in the art of Andrea Mantegna and in the frescoes of Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Sassetti Chapel of Santa Trinità. Little is left that specifically recalls Masaccio's solutions in these large paintings.