LIPPI, Fra Filippo
(b. 1406, Firenze, d. 1469, Spoleto)
Adoration of the Childc. 1455
Tempera on wood, 137 x 134 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
From the mid-1450s through the mid-1460s, Filippo Lippi evolved a new presentation of the Virgin and Child that became popular in the second half of the Quattrocento in Florence. The composition and iconography were grounded in two traditions: St Bridget of Sweden's account of her vision of the Virgin adoring the Christ Child lying upon the ground, and early Renaissance Tuscan depictions of the Nativity. Fra Filippo transformed the subject into a distinct devotional image set within an elaborated forested landscape with a rich imagery of sylvan flora, geological features, and atmosphere, which functioned as visual metaphors for the Incarnation, penitence, and eremitical religious devotion.
Fra Filippo's first version of this type was this Adoration (ostensibly a Nativity), made for the Benedictine Annalena nunnery in Florence around 1455. In this composition St Joseph is present beside the Virgin and Child, the ass and ox lie placidly in the manger, and shepherds look on, while angels bearing the inscription "Gloria in excelsis Deo" hover above.
Lippi's subsequent elaborations of this type, however, omit these narrative markers: the triptych for Alfonso of Naples, whose lost central panel is known only through a rapid sketch by Fra Filippo and the surviving wings representing Sts Anthony Abbot and Michael, the altarpiece for the chapel in the Palazzo Medici, and a painting said to have come from a cell in the Camaldoli hermitage, dedicated to the Baptist and patronized by Piero di Cosimo de' Medici and his wife Lucrezia Tornabuoni, built in 1463.
These images are set in a dark, wooden landscape where the Madonna kneels, her hands clasped together in devotion, before the Christ Child lying virtually nude upon the verdant forest ground. God the Father (or simply his hands) in the Camaldoli picture) appears above and the Holy Spirit descends toward the Child, proceeded by tongues of fire. The Child is surrounded by an aura of dancing gilded flames and the Virgin and Child truly glow with divine light.
In this version the Holy Family is represented together with St Hilary, St Jerome and St Magdalene.