LIPPI, Filippino
(b. ca. 1457, Prato, d. 1504, Firenze)

Apparition of The Virgin to St Bernard

Oil on panel, 210 x 195 cm
Church of Badia, Florence

The high point of the early phase of Lippi's development is the Vision of St Bernard, one of the finest lyric pictures of the entire Renaissance. St Bernard of Clairvaux, seated at a desk with his pen poised, experiences a vision of the Virgin, who regularly had been the subject of his writings. The confrontation takes place out-of-doors (rather than in his study or in a church), enframed ingeniously by an outcropping of rock that creates a natural bench and bookshelves for the scholar. Behind Bernard, in the dark reaches of the rock, are two chained demons, while in the zone above, Cistercian monks converse or look heavenward in front of their fine Renaissance abbey. Still higher in the composition, a sick old man is being carried down toward the building. On the other side, a sweet landscape sweeps the eye into the distance.

The format of the main figural group is echoed by the stony backdrop which, roughly speaking, forms a pyramid. Also included are the donor, Francesco del Pugliese, matched pictorially on the other side by the blond angel, leaning inward, hands clasped in prayer. The colours are confident, bright, and direct, adding to the exceptional visual excitement of the painting. Mary hovers above the ground facing Bernard. Her elegant form and finely silhouetted head are not dependent upon vigorous light-to-dark juxtapositions or even, as with Botticelli, a felicitously found, heavily accented line, but rather on the operation of fragile edges. The same is true for the figure of the saint, where light, colour, and lustrous paint, presumably oil, combine to produce the desired effect. The landscape is rather flat, despite all the implications of deep space. The painting, although not dated, may have been finished by 1485, the approximate completion date for another project of considerable importance, the Brancacci Chapel frescoes.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.