lucrezia buti: the meeting with fra’ filippo

In January 1466 Fra Filippo received the balance of the payment for his frescoes, which cost all of 1,962 florins (including the materials and scaffoldings), but with the complete satisfaction of the clients. The following year, Filippo and his entourage moved to Spoleto, to fresco the apse of the Cathedral there.
At the same time, the artist received an order from the convent in Prato of the Servi di Maria for an altarpiece entitled The Presentation at the Temple (still on view in the church of the Holy Spirit), painted almost entirely by his collaborators, in 1467-68, on models painted by the master, with an interesting setting in perspective that opens outward.

The Spoleto frescoes were completed shortly after the death of Fra Filippo, in October 1469; for a few years his workshop, directed by Fra Diamante, continued to operate in Prato. For the monastery of St. Margaret, of which Fra Diamante was the chaplain, in 1470-72 an altarpiece was painted depicting the Nativity, now at the Louvre (it was carried off by the French government in 1812). The City Museum still has the predella (now part of the exhibition The Treasures of the City), with three scenes: The Presentation in the Temple; The Adoration of the Magi; The Slaughter of the Innocents, painted by Fra Diamante and collaborators. Many critics see in the Adoration – with its dynamic, dramatic sketching of a small, airy landscape – an early work of the young Filippino Lippi.

filippino and alessandra

Only Lucrezia remained, eventually having two children: Filippino, born perhaps that same year, 1457, and Alexandra, who arrived in 1465. Alexandra is reported with her mother Lucrezia in the testament that Filippino made, before going to Rome, 21 September 1488. From this testament we know that the girl in 1487 had married Ciardo di Guiliano Ciardi from Tavola, in the county of Florence.

The forced commitment of young women to the monastery was a problem to be found in the society for several following centuries. Filippo Lippi himself had been placed as a boy at the Monastery of Santa Carmine in Florence not for vocation but because of the poverty of his family and his situation as an orphan. And their case was not isolated (as demonstrated by the abrupt arrival of Spinetta and the three other novices at Lippi’s house). One anonymous report (the so-called tamburazioni, a frequent event of the time) on May 8th 1461, revealed not only the case of the Chaplain Fra’ Filippo that had a son “already big and living in the house of his father”, but also told how the solicitor of the Convent of Saint Margaret had had since two months a son from one of the nuns of that convent. Once more the situation was saved by the benevolence of Cosimo Il Vecchio and his admiration for the the art of Fra’ Lippi.

To placate the scandal, the Cosimo de Medici obtained from Pope Pio II that the Friar and the Nun be dissolved of their vows so that they could freely be joined in matrimony. This event, however, never came to pass, given that Filippo never married Lucrezia, perhaps, as Vasari says with a touch of malice, “in order to be able to do for himself and his appetite as he wished”. Their story, however, will be talked of for a long time, so much so that parts can be found in the 58th novel of the collection of Bandello, from which perhaps Vasari takes. Additionally, in the first edition of the ‘Lives’, the biography of Fra’ Filippo was curiously preceded by a few comments (not present in the edition of 1568) on the ‘virtue’ of artists. The love story of Lucrezia and Fra’ Filippo, centuries later, would be treated by the romantic poet Robert Browning with the poem ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ and Gabriele D’Annunzio, who would declare himself ‘the second lover of Lucrezia Buti’ and has sung of her charms in his ‘Electra’.

filippo lippi a prato