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Madonna with the Child and Scenes from the Life of St Anne (Madonna Bartolini)

Fra Filippo Lippi • Painting, 1452, 135×135 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Religious scene
Style of art: Renaissance
Technique: Tempera
Materials: Wood
Date of creation: 1452
Size: 135×135 cm
Artwork in selections: 14 selections

Description of the artwork «Madonna with the Child and Scenes from the Life of St Anne (Madonna Bartolini)»

One of the most famous works by the genius of the Quattrocento, Fra Filippo Lippi, is the Madonna with the Child and Scenes from the Life of St Anne. We have collected some interesting facts about it.

The painting is still hanging on the same wall where it was placed during the artist’s life

Art lovers can see the Madonna with the Child and Scenes from the Life of St Anne in the Florentine Palatina Gallery, which is located on the second floor of the Palazzo Pitti. Unlike the Uffizi gallery, which became a national property relatively early, the Palatina gallery was in private hands for a long time. The influential Florentine Medici and Bartolini families founded the collection. Cosimo de' Medici patronized Filippo Lippi and provided him with commissions. Thanks to this, the tondo work became an adornment of the Palazzo Pitti. The Palatina Gallery became the property of Italy only in 1911; the state tried to preserve the historical integrity of the Gallery, therefore it was decided to leave the works presented in the same places they occupied with their owners.

Fra Filippo Lippi was one of the first Italian painters (after Fra Angelico) to use tondo — round-shaped paintings

The term “tondo” comes from the Italian word rotondo meaning “round”. The architectural term “rotunda” is a relative of the pictorial tondo: both have no corners. Appearing in 15th century Italy, tondos quickly became fashionable. They were used for decorating both churches and homes. Tondos were often used instead of triptychs: three different, albeit interconnected, subjects, which would have previously occupied the main and two additional shutters of the triptych, were now placed in a single rounded space. In this tondo by Filippo Lippi, we can also see three subjects. The central is Madonna with the Christ Child. The other two show the parents of the Virgin Mary, the righteous Joachim and Anne: on the right is their meeting at the Golden Gate, on the left is the scene of the birth of Mary. According to the Bible, her parents were barren for a long time, but through their prayers and righteous life, a daughter was sent to them in old age, and Joachim and Anne promised to present her to God.

Another innovation by Fra Filippo are sacred scenes inscribed in the interior

Lippi is considered a pioneer in this. The first of his works to place biblical events in contemporary Florentine interiors was the early Madonna and Child with Saints, Angels and a Donor that was painted about 1428. Lippi used a similar technique many years later for this tondo. Comparing the two paintings, you can see how Lippi’s style has changed: the outlines of figures and objects have become much sharper and clearer, and the interiors have become more laconic and austere. The latter is not surprising: Lippi, apparently, studied the depiction of interiors from the Flemish artists, and they were not fond of ostentatious luxury and decorativeness, only trying to realistically show what is necessary for everyday life. 

Starting with this painting, all Madonnas by Fra Filippo Lippi would be similar to each other

This happened because during the creation of this painting the artist had a permanent model, Lucrezia Buti (another Madonna she modelled for). The love story of 21-year-old Lucrezia and 50-year-old Filippo began with a scandal, but ended with a wedding. It is presented in different tones, from romantic to anecdotal. When Lucrezia agreed to pose for Lippi, she was a nun, and Fra Filippo was the abbot of the monastery. The temperamental and loving Lippi kidnapped Lucrezia, who soon gave birth to his son Filippino (later he would also become a famous artist). The Rome learned about the scandal. But the Pope issued a special decree to allow the lovers to lay off their monastic vows and marry, noting: “Perhaps Fra Filippo was not created for the monastic life. Having lost his rank, he will only become closer to God.”

Written by Anna Vcherashnia