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


Tempera on panel, 117 x 173 cm
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Fra Filippo devoted a surprising number of pictures to the Annunciation, of which the most significant example is perhaps the one in the National Gallery in London, although others can be found in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the Uffizi in Florence, the Galleria Nazionale in Rome, and the National Gallery in Washington. The artist's fondness for the theme almost certainly derives from the interest aroused in it by the Dominican priest Antonino Pierozzi, Archbishop of Florence in 1446 (died in 1459), and famous for the sermons he gave in the cathedral and which are collected in the 'Summa theologica.' Outstanding among these were the long dissertations, with which Lippi was undoubtedly familiar, on the subject of the Annunciation.

It is very likely that this picture was painted in just those years, between 1445 and 1450.

The metaphor of light as a metaphysical vehicle, the allegorical significance of the heavenly communication that touches the Virgin on the shoulder, 'super brachium,' and is impressed like a seal, 'ut signaculum,' strongly stimulated the imagination of the painter, who was faced, like so many artists before and after him, with the insoluble problem of how to depict the conception of the Mother of God: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" (Luke, 1, 35).

In this picture, in which the architectural framework may be the work of an assistant, the artist has painted the hands of God at the top, emerging from the clouds and releasing the dove of the Holy Ghost. The dove descends along a luminous trail running toward the Virgin's shoulder, transmitting the Divine Will through materialized light.