Madonna and Child with St. Lucy, St. Francis, St. Nicolas and St. John the Baptist
24 in. x 18 in.
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To distinguish clearly, after the lapse of nearly five centuries, between Uccello and Castagno, and to determine the precise share each had in the formation of the Florentine school, is already a task fraught with difficulties. The scantiness of his remaining works makes it more than difficult, makes it almost impossible, to come to accurate conclusions regarding the character and influence of their contemporary, Domenico Veneziano.
That he was an innovator in technique, in affairs of vehicle and medium, we know from Vasari; but as such innovations, indispensable though they may become to painting as a craft, are in themselves questions of theoretic and applied chemistry, and not of art, they do not here concern us. His artistic achievements seem to have consisted in giving to the figure movement and expression, and to the face individuality. In his existing works we find no trace of sacrifice made to dexterity and naturalism, although it is clear that he must have been master of whatever science and whatever craft were prevalent in his day.
Otherwise he would not have been able to render a figure like the St. Francis in his Uffizi altar-piece, where tactile values and movement expressive of character -- what we usually call individual gait -- were perhaps for the first time combined; or to attain to such triumphs as his St. John and St. Francis, at Santa Croce, whose entire figures express as much fervour as their eloquent faces. As to his sense for the significant in the individual, in other words, his power as a portrait-painter, we have several heads to witness, ranking among the first great achievements in this kind of the Renaissance.
Fra Filippo Lippi
No such difficulties as we have encountered in the study of Uccello, Castagno, and Veneziano meet us as we turn to Fra Filippo. His works are still copious, and many of them are admirably preserved; we therefore have every facility for judging him as an artist, yet nothing is harder than to appreciate him at his due. If attractiveness, and attractiveness of the best kind, sufficed to make a great artist, then Filippo would be one of the greatest, greater perhaps than any other Florentine before Leonardo.
Where shall we find faces more winsome, more appealing, than in certain of his Madonnas -- the one in the Uffizi, for instance -- more momentarily evocative of noble feeling than in his Louvre altar-piece? Where in Florentine painting is there anything more fascinating than the playfulness of his children, more poetic than one or two of his landscapes, more charming than is at times his colour? And with all this, health, even robustness, and almost unfailing good-humour! Yet by themselves all these qualities constitute only a high-class illustrator, and such by native endowment I believe Fra Filippo to have been.
That he became more -- very much more -- is due rather to Masaccio's potent influence than to his own genius; for he had no profound sense of either material or spiritual significance -- the essential qualifications of the real artist. Working under the inspiration of Masaccio, he at times renders tactile values admirably, as in the Uffizi Madonna -- but most frequently he betrays no genuine feeling for them, failing in his attempt to render them by the introduction of bunchy, billowy, calligraphic draperies.
These, acquired from the late Giottesque painter (probably Lorenzo Monaco) who had been his first master, he seems to have prized as artistic elements no less than the tactile values which he attempted to adopt later, serenely unconscious, apparently, of their incompatibility. Fra Filippo's strongest impulse was not toward the pre-eminently artistic one of re-creation, but rather toward expression, and within that field, toward the expression of the pleasant, genial, spiritually comfortable feelings of ordinary life. His real place is with the genre painters; only his genre was of the soul, as that of others -- of Benozzo Gozzoli, for example -- was of the body. Hence a sin of his own, scarcely less pernicious than that of the naturalists, and cloying to boot -- expression at any cost.
Renaissance Art, Renaissance Painting, Giorgione, Italian Art, Lotto, Giotto, The School of Leonardo, Raphael, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Velasquez, Longhi, Massacchio, Verocchio, Naturalism, Duccio, Simone Martini, Renaissance Painters, Donatello, Pisanello, Liberale, Boticelli, Melozzo da Forli, Luca Signorelli, Michelangelo, Butinole, Zenalle, Bramante, Bramantino, Correggio, Leoardo da Vinci, Tactile Values, Humanism, The School of Verona, The Umbrian School, The School of Perugia, Domenico Brusasorci, Vincenzo Foppa, Milanese Art, Venetian Art, The School of Piedmont, Florence Art