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

Madonna with the Child and Scenes from the Life of St Anne

Tempera on wood, diameter 135 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

Criticism usually holds that this was painted about 1452 and that it is to be identified with a painting recorded documentarily as done for Lorenzo Bartolini. The tondo form, the themes of birth and fecundity, and the possible intention of having the family coat-of-arms painted on the reverse of the panel all suggest that the tondo was intended to commemorate the birth of one of the Bartolini children and derives from the "desco da parto" tradition.

The painting (also called the Pitti Tondo) is one of the most celebrated and most beautiful works of Filippo Lippi. The shape of the circular panel, which was such a favourite in the Quattrocento for religious compositions, is used by the artist with perfect skill. The pure face of the Virgin coincides almost exactly with centre of the panel, as it is also the spiritual fulcrum. She and the Child, who is posed with infantile grace, constitute the principal object of veneration and of vision. The two lateral scenes, linked together by the beautiful figures of the women who approach the newly made mother, St Anne, lying on the bed on the left, form almost exactly two segments of the circle. In allusion to the future birth of the Virgin is the Meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate on the right above - small figures which stand out in the luminous geometry of the walls, windows and staircase.

The clearly marked drawing has a great importance in the painting of Filippo Lippi. His is a subtle line in continual movement and curve, repeating itself with the lightness of an arabesque around the slender, elongated figures. The utmost purification of the human form, as the artist loved it, appears in the sensitive and refined figure of the Virgin. To bring it into harmony with the delicacy of the line and its prepondering part, Lippi's colour has a great transparence, with light tones, somewhat subdued, and very subtle in their gradations: pinks, ivory whites and transparent greens.