Lippo di Andrea di Lippo
(Florence 1370 c. - 1447/1451)
A Prophet, c.1420 - 1430
tempera on panel, gold ground, 20,4 x 14,2 cm (8.03 x 5.59 inches)
- Reference: 727
- Provenance: Milan, Private collection
A half-length portrait of a prophet in three-quarter view is inserted in a quatrefoil moulding. He holds in his left hand the canonical ‘rotulo’, which reveals traces of Hebrew letters. Due to the lack of iconographic detail or a legible inscription on the scroll, it is impossible to identify the prophet: when represented amongst a series painted on intrados of arches entering a chapel, or as figures of pillars in polyptychs, such characters frequently lose their individuality. The sixteen prophets have a historical consistency as a group or as a series: all together they anticipate the miracle of the incarnation, and, precursors of a greater story, the vague representation is instrumental to a homogeneous message that diachronically involves the various phases of the human existence.
In origin, this precious small panel, enriched by the delicate punching defining the halo, the continuous beading around the moulding, and the leafy motifs of the gilding at the four angles of the frame, was likely the element of the left pilaster of a polyptych, as the prophet’s gaze towards the viewer’s right suggests. Through comparison it with the counterfort of Lorenzo Monaco’s impressive altarpiece, today displayed at the Uffizi Gallery, we can confirm this function. Angelo Tartuferi[i] attributed our panel to the Florentine painter Lippo d’Andrea di Lippo, formerly known by the conventional name of Pseudo-Ambrogio di Baldese[ii]. In order to define the formal features of our painting, we will have to focus on this small master, who repeated the models learnt during his training in Agnolo Gaddi’s workshop until the mid-XV century, therefore managing to satisfy the requests of those patrons who had not yet been influenced by the revolution of the new Renaissance style.
Raimond Van Marle proposed the name of “Pseudo-Ambrogio di Baldese”[iii]: at the beginning of the XX century, Osvald Sirén had published a small group of paintings suggesting the hand of Ambrogio di Baldese[iv] – documented in Florence since 1372 (born, therefore, around 1350) and who died in 1429. The Dutch scholar realized that the style of the works identified by Sirén was not in line with the early chronology of Ambrogio’s activity. The stylistic oeuvre was, therefore, attributed to an anonymous painter, and a large number of works were later catalogued by Georg Pudelko[v], Federico Zeri[vi] and Carlo Volpe[vii]; lastly, having identified the same hand of the frescoes with the Stories of the Passion of the Nerli chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Serena Padovani then analysed the sources (and Vasari’s ancient mention of the work) and attributed the nucleus to Lippo d’Andrea[viii].
As previously stated, Lippo d’Andrea likely trained in Agnolo Gaddi’s workshop in the last decade of the XIV century; yet, the early works of his formal journey (the frescoes with the Stories of saint Bernardo degli Uberti in the castle of Vincigliata in Fiesole[ix] and those of the Nerli Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine) reveal the personality of a perspicacious painter, also – or perhaps mainly – interested in the expressive poetics that Spinello Aretino had brought in Florence. Since the second decade of the XV century, his main influences are Gherardo Starnina and Lorenzo Monaco: these are the years of the triptych with the Madonna and Child with four saints of the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven[x], of the panel with Saint Michael the Archangel, previously in the church of San Domenico in San Miniato near Pisa (today preserved in the Museo Diocesano),[xi] and of the triptych with the Madonna and Child among two Donors and saints Francis, Peter, Paul and Augustine of the Museo Civico in Colle val d’Elsa (Siena) [xii]. Yet, already in these paintings, and more apparent after 1430, the painter tends to interpret the solemnity and the power of the Giottesque physiognomies with a Late Gothic approach: the outlines are frontal and isolated, in no way broken, while allowing the figures to come out of the background. Later, for almost thirty years the master’s decorative and linear intelligence is inspired by Masolino and his compromise with the new features of the Renaissance. Nonetheless, Lippo seems to be proudly out-dated with his obstinate attachment to the tradition of the XIV century, from which he even adopts the physiognomic models of the saints: an aesthetic choice that is certainly anomalous, but that does not disrupt his success.
Our panel can be situated within Lippo’s central career, when Lorenzo Monaco and Gherardo Starnina’s International style influenced our artist, as the similarity of the folds of the cloak with the ones of the figures of the two triptychs, today in New Haven and Colle Val d’Elsa respectively, reveal. As for the features of our prophet, with large slightly oval eyes and a carefully defined beard, they recall the figure of Saint Paul in the painting of Yale University, while the discursive and almost popular nature of the face is similar to the one of Saint Peter in the panel of Colle Val d’Elsa – and this panel is also a term of comparison for the similar punching of the haloes. The minute dimensions of the figure, understandable due to the size of the panel, prove that the painting is datable to before the retrospective approach to the XIV century characterizing the style of the artist’s mature activity, with more solemn and hieratic shapes. For this reason our panel is closer to the paintings of the predella of the polyptych made for the Ospedale di San Paolo in Florence, today part of the collection of the Galleria dell’Accademia[xiii], dated to 1429-30, or to the Nativity of the Pinacoteca Vaticana – another small panel similarly dated– or, more in general, to his miniature production, until now only marginally studied[xiv]. Finally, the similarities with the panel of the predella with the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, whose location is unknown [xv], have to be considered among the other ‘minute’ works. This brings us to highlight the closeness of our panel with other important works of representatives of the Florentine Late Gothic, Giovanni dal Ponte and Bicci di Lorenzo, to whom, as Mauro Minardi verbally noticed, the physiognomy of our figure is comparable. Among the many, also the comparison with the Christ of the Crowning of the Virgin of the Musei Capitolini in Rome supports the attribution of our painting[xvi].
Our Prophet, therefore, attests to the resilience of specific aesthetic features in a phase of great formal revolutions. The dating of this painting to the 1420s, when Brunelleschi was raising the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore and Masaccio was giving a new significance to the space in the frescoes of the Brancacci Chapel, is extremely suggestive, as it shows the various facets that characterized the artistic and intellectual life in Florence in what was one of the most productive phases for the city’s creativity.
[i] Oral communication.
[ii] Several contributions have been dedicated to the definition of the painter’s oeuvre. Among the most recent: L. Pisani, Pittura tardogotica a Firenze negli anni trenta del Quattrocento: il caso dello Pseudo Ambrogio di Baldese, in “Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz”, 2001, 1/2, pp. 1-36; S. Chiodo, Lippo d’Andrea: problemi di iconografia e stile, in “Arte cristiana”, 2002, 808, pp. 1-16; A. Staderini, ‘Primitivi’ fiorentini dalla collezione Artaud de Montor. Parte I: Lippo d’Andrea e Stefano d’Antonio, in “Arte cristiana”, 2004, 823, pp. 259-262; F. Fedeli, in La collezione Corsi: dipinti italiani dal XIV al XV secolo, by S. Chiodo and A. Nesi, Florence 2011, pp. 150-159, nn. 15-17; D. Parenti, Un polittico di Lippo d’Andrea per l’ospedale di San Paolo a Firenze, in “Paragone”, 769/771, 2014, pp. 66-79.
[iii] R. Van Marle, The development of the Italian schools of painting, IX, Late Gothic painting in Tuscany, The Hague 1927, pp. 86-92.
[iv] O. Sirén, Trecento pictures in American collections, in “The Burlington Magazine”, XIV, 1908/09, pp. 325-326; Id., A descriptive catalogue of the pictures in the Jarves Collection belonging to Yale University, New Haven (CT) 1916, pp. 58-62. The artist’s identification of Ambrogio di Baldese was later questioned by R. Offner, Studies in Florentine Painting. The Fourteenth Century, New York 1927, p. 90.
[v] G. Pudelko, The minor masters of the Chiostro Verde, in “The Art Bulletin”, XVII, 1935, pp. 83-89.
[vi] F. Zeri, La mostra “Arte in Valdelsa” a Certaldo, in “Bollettino d’arte”, XLVIII, 1963, pp. 247-248, 256-257.
[vii] C. Volpe, Arte in Valdelsa dal secolo XII al secolo XVIII, in “Arte antica e moderna”, 24, 1963, pp. 388-391.
[viii] S Padovani, in Tesori d’arte antica a San Miniato, by P. Torriti, Genoa 1979, pp. 55.57. The frescoes of the Nerli chapel were discovered and published by Ugo Procacci: U. Procacci, Relazione dei lavori eseguiti nella chiesa del Carmine di Firenze per la ricerca di antichi affreschi, in “Bollettino d’arte”, XXVII, 1933/34, pp. 327-334.
[ix] M. Gregori, in Mostra dei tesori segreti delle case fiorentine, exhibition catalogue (Florence, Circolo Borghese e della Stampa, 11/6-11/7/1960), Florence 1960, n. 6. The scholar reports Roberto Longhi’s oral opinion, who associated the master of the frescoes of the castle in Vincigliata with the master of the Nerli chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
[x] C. Seymour Jr., Early Italian Paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (CT) 1970, pp. 112-114. The attribution of Lippo di Andrea was confirmed by Miklós Boskovits, but questioned by Laurence B. Kanter and Katherine Smith Abbott. Here Boskovits’ opinion is considered to be correct. M. Boskovits, Il percorso di Masolino: precisazioni sulla cronologia e sul catalogo, in “Arte cristiana”, 718, 1987, p. 51, fig 6; L. B. Kanter, Italian Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I. 13th-15th century, Boston 1994, p. 149 note 1; K. Smith Abbott, in The art of devotion. Panel painting in early Renaissance Italy, exhibition catalogue (Middlebury (VT), Museum of Art, 17/9 – 13/12/2009), Middlebury 2009, pp. 88-89, n. 7.
[xi] Zeri cit., 1963, pp. 257-258; S. Pasquinucci, Note sulla cultura figurativa a San Miniato fra Trecento e Quattrocento, in Sumptuosa Tabula Picta. Pittori a Lucca fra Gotico e Rinascimento, by M. T. Filieri, exhibition catalogue (Lucca, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, 28/3 – 5/7/1998), Livorno 1998, pp. 118-119.
[xii] Pudelko cit., 1935, pp. 88-89.
[xiii] Daniela Parenti lists the historical mentions of the painting: Parenti cit., 2014, pp. 74-75, note 1.
[xiv] L. B. Kanter, in Painting and illumination in early Renaissance Florence 1300-1450, by A. Lucke, exhibition catalogue (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17/11/1994 – 26/2/1995), New York 1994, pp. 318-321, n. 45. The panel with the Nativity of the Pinacoteca Vaticana is the central section of a predella; the other panels are today in the Philbrook Art Center in Tulsa and in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenaghen respectively: Pisani cit., 2001, p. 34 note 42.
[xv] Pisani cit., 2001, p. 24.
[xvi] The work was mistakenly catalogued as by Ventura di Moro by A. G. De Marchi, in Pinacoteca Capitolina. Catalogo generale, by S. Guarino and P. Masini, Milan 2006, pp. 58-59, who reports also on Federico Zeri’s attribution to Pseudo-Ambrogio di Baldese.
Born circa 1370, our Florentine painter was documented from 1395, when he became member of the Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali. Despite having trained with Agnolo Gaddi, from his early works he reveals a great interest for the expressive shapes of Spinello Aretino. After 1410, his style is closer to the ‘international’ updating that Gherardo Starnina and Lorenzo Monaco brought to Florence. The latter, in particular, became his model, and Lippo di Andrea’s activity, after the fresco cycles of his early career, mostly focused on panel paintings.
Serena Padovani’s research on the sources has been pivotal for the construction of his oeuvre, and the paintings grouped around the conventional name of Pseudo-Ambrogio di Baldese were attributed to him. The historiographical gathering of Lippo’s personality supported the definition of the features of a master who remained tenaciously close to his training, the last derivations of the Giottesque tradition in Florence. In the 1420s, the same years of the appearance of the Renaissance style, Lippo polemically recovers an idea of space that is purposely out of his time, connected with the models of Giotto and Taddeo Gaddi. His figures are isolated in the search for a monumental solemnity: these are the years of the polyptych with the Madonna and Child on a throne with Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Francis, Augustine and Mary Magdalene, made for the Hospital of San Paolo in Florence and today part of the collections of the Galleria dell’Accademia, dated to circa 1430, that still purposely revealed a XIV century style.