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

St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis

Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Towards the end of his life, Filippino returned to Florence where he obtained a lucrative and challenging assignment, the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella. The conditions in Florence were by then very different, because Leonardo had returned from Milan and Michelangelo, after a successful five-year stay in Rome, was also in the city. Filippino rose to the occasion and produced his most engaging work in the fresco. Opting for large format scenes rather than the relatively constricting system that he faced in the Brancacci Chapel, for example, he filled the space with a nearly surrealistic collection of real and invented imagery.

Even in their chronology, the dramatic frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel mark the end of an era. The balance and harmony upon which all of Florentine Humanism had been centred were now broken. The rhetorical gestures, the charged expressions, the unreal colours, but above all the ambiguity between architecture and figures, already belonged to a new age. The calm certainties of the 15th century were disappearing, giving way to the more troubled, questioning details common during the 16th century.

The eccentric altar in the painting deserves a note to itself. At the foot of the altar steps crouches the dragon that the saint is exorcising. The composed and measured perspectives that Tuscan painters preferred almost to the end of the 15th century, their regular architecture and classical rhythm are here abandoned in favour of an eclectic and deliberately confused rag-bag of architectural motifs. These are bizarrely interwoven in a way that breaks every rule. The overall effect is one of instability that also infects the groups of characters. There is a sense of unending clash between sculpture, reliefs, votive offerings, coloured statues, and lifelike details. We are seeing nothing less than the air of tension that followed the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

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