Fresco: Quick Bite

Happy Friday! It’s good to be back 🙂  Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re rolling back the clock to 15th century Italy and digging into Filippino Lippi’s, Portrait of an Old Man (c1485). Painted on an embrice (terracotta roof tile), this 500+-year-old fresco is fresh, bright, and true. Let’s zoom in for a closer look…

Portrait of an Old Man (c1485) by Filippino Lippi, Uffizi, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Starting at the top, note the man’s cuffed hat, quirked ear, and deeply lined face. If you look closely at his cheek, you’ll see a scratch in the plaster which looks like a scar. It is unclear if Lippi intended this detail or if it is due to wear and tear over the centuries.

Close-Ups of Portrait of an Old Man (c1485) by Filippino Lippi, Uffizi, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Moving down note the folds in the man’s simple, priest-like robes, and how his creamy white clothing and pale face pop against the bright blue background.

Close-Ups of Portrait of an Old Man (c1485) by Filippino Lippi, Uffizi, Photo by cjverb (2019)

According to the Uffizi, “the naturalism of [the man’s] face betrays the influence of Flemish painting.” His pensive gaze and solemn expression begs the question, what is he thinking? Is he distracted by inner thoughts, the goings-on beyond the canvas, or is he bored and tired after prolonged sitting for this portrait? You decide!

Despite its simple subject matter, Portrait of an Old Man is captivating. When I stumbled across it at the Uffizi, I was struck by Lippi’s realistic, snapshot-like portrayal. It may be small in size, but Lippi’s brilliant fresco added a festive splash of color to the exhibit room. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend you see this lovely portrait in person.

Fun Fresco Fact: A fresco is a type of mural painting that uses layers of plaster, water-based paint, and cartoons (i.e., a sketch used to trace art onto plaster).

If you’d like to see a brief demonstration on how to create a buon frescoe, a technique used by Lippi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and their fellow Renaissance artists, click on this informative Alchemy of Art: Fresco video link, courtesy of the Columbia Museum of Art.

Close-Up of The Creation of Adam (1508-1512) by Michelangelo,

Sistine Chapel, Photo by janeb13, Pixabay

Brief Artist Background: Filippino Lippi (1457-1504) was born in Prato, an Italian city located in the republic of Firenze (aka Florence). The eldest son of Fra’ Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) and Lucrezia Buti (born c1435), Filippino (aka little Filippo) began his art studies under the apprenticeship of his famous father. However, when Filippino was 12 years old, his father died. Talented and hardworking, the young boy completed his father’s unfinished commissions and settled his accounts.

Left: Portrait of a Youth (c1485; possible self-portrait) by Filippino Lippi, National Gallery of Art

Right: Announcing Angel and Annunciation Virgin (1482-1484)

by Filippino Lippi, San Gimignano Civic Museums, WikiArt

Filippino subsequently trained with his father’s former student, Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510), and at age 16 he completed his apprenticeship. A patron of the powerful Medici family, Filippino worked on various projects with his former teacher, Botticelli, as well as painter, Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494), and other fellow Medici patrons. Best known for his frescoes and altarpieces, Filippino’s first known solo work, the Announcing Angel and Annunciation Virgin (1482-1484) debuted a decade later. His reputation grew and within a year he created Portrait of an Old Man (c1485), and soon after his best-known work, the altarpiece, Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard (1486).

Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard (1486) by Filippino Lippi, Badìa Fiorentina, Wikipedia

In 1489, when Filippino was in his early 30s, he moved to Rome to work on several commissions, most notably frescoes in the Chapel of Cardinal Carafa in Santa Maria sopra Minerva. During his time in Rome, Filippino also developed a passion for Roman antiquities. After several years, he returned to Firenze and continued to work on projects for the Medicis, until his death in 1504 at the age of 47. So well-loved in Firenze, many shops closed in honor of Filippino’s death. If you’d like to view more of his work, click on this Filippino Lippi link, courtesy of WikiArt. If you’d like to learn more about the Renaissance, click on this Museum Bites: Renaissance Man link.

Left: St. Jerome in His Study (1493) by Filippino Lippi, El Paso Museum of Art

Center: Mary Magdaline (1500) by Filippino Lippi, Gallerie dell’Accademia, WikiArt

Right: The Virgin of the Nativity (1500) by Filippino Lippi, Metropolitan Museum of Art, WikiArt

Filippino Family Fact: Filippino’s parents were embroiled in a notorious scandal. His father was a friar and chaplain at Santa Margherita Monastery and his mother was a nun. The couple met when Filippo was working on a painting of the Virgin Mary.

He asked the local mother superior for a model and she volunteered Lucrezia. Filippo and Lucrezia fell in love and the young nun ran away with the artist. Both had been pressed into religious service at a young age, because of their families’ poverty. Filippo’s powerful patron, Cosimo ‘il Vecchio’ de’ Medici (1389–1464) intervened on their behalf and had Pope Pio II (1405-1464) dissolve their religious vows. The couple never married, but had two children, Filippino and Alessandra.

Madonna and Child with Two Angels (1465) by Filippo Lippi, Uffizi

That concludes our look at Filippino Lippi’s, Portrait of an Old Man. I’ll be back next week with highlights from my road trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Until then, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover image: Self Portrait (no date; fresco on detached tile) by Filippino Lippi, Uffizi, WikiArt


Britannica: Filippino Lippi

Google Arts & Culture: Portrait of an Old Man (c1485) by Filippino Lippi

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Filippino Lippi

Museum Bites: Renaissance Man

Tate: Fresco

Vasari, Giorgio, Lives of the Artists (1550), translated by George Bull (1965)

Virtual Uffizi: Filippino Lippi

Virtual Uffizi: Filippo Lippi and His Life Troubles

Web Gallery of Art: Filippino Lippi

WikiArt: Filippino Lippi

Wikimedia Commons: Filippino Lippi

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