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

The Funeral of St Stephen

Duomo, Prato

Among the more complex and monumental scenes in the fresco cycle of the Stories from the Life of St Stephen is the Funeral of St Stephen, wherein the right portion depicts the stoning of Saint Stephen which is continued on the adjacent wall. Or reading the situation differently, the stoning seems to have intruded upon the contiguous scene which is represented in the interior of a full-blown contemporary church. This scene is in the lowest zone, which is the last part painted according to usual practice, it is signed and dated 1460.

The deceased saint is laid out on the central axis of the nave, distinguished by large columns and clustered pilasters, at a point which must be regarded as the crossing. The young and handsome deacon saint is laid out on his bier in the sweet sleep of death. He is surrounded by mourners, including two women seated on the ground, one of which may be the saint's mother.

On either side are figures in modern dress who are in many cases portraits of persons in Prato. In the distance we notice the simply decorated main altar with only a cross, casting its shadow upon the curved surface of the niche-like apse. The spatial perspective is carefully worked out through the lines of the tiled floor and the coffered ceiling.

In this scene, the body of the saint lies within a church setting, but at the right of the scene, through an open door, there is a glimpse out onto the sharp incline of a mountain scape - a curious detail in the somber scene. Even more bizarre is the rugged rock that actually intrudes into the church interior. Compositionally, this rock outcrop links the funeral scene with the adjoining martyrdom of the saint.

In these frescoes Lippi proves himself to be an inventive painter of first rank.