Fra Filippo Lippi - The Annunciation (c. 1450): An Extraordinary Story

November 5, 2018






  Cosimo de Medici also commissioned paintings by Filippo Lippi. Fra Filippo Lippi was (off the record) a completely useless monk who did manuscript illumination. He was useless because he was an excessive drinker and would get absolutely blind drunk. Once Cosimo de Medici locked him in a room when he was drunk, however Lippi tied the bed sheets together and climbed out of the window! Cosimo realised and famously said "Artists are not cart-horses for hire", i.e. they are geniuses. 


   Lippi also once got a nun pregnant and Cosimo, being the type of patron he was, paid compensation for Lippi to the Nunnery and the Monastery, and then put him up when he was kicked out. Cosimo had a great respect for artists.










The Annuciation


   The Annunciation depicts the moment the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary she is having a baby. Here, Mary represents humility - her body language says 'I'm not worthy'. Her head is bowed looking down on a Dove (the holy spirit) flying towards her. In the middle top of the painting you can see God's hand blessing Mary. 

   Both individuals are in profile, kneeling, with their heads bowed. This is actually in order for them to fit into the painting, also seen by the way Gabriel's wings fit into the arch. The painting's focus is split by the vase in the centre of the painting, marking the change in setting. The left is set outside and the right is inside. The Virgin Mary is inside because she represents a good woman in a domestic interior, her bedroom; Madonna here becomes earth-bound.

   The composition of the painting is very contemporary because Lippi includes a vanishing point. This is above the painting, so God's hand is noticed. Cosimo de Medici has also placed his coat of arms at the base of the vase - three feathers crossed with a diamond and cartouche ring. Lippi's style is extremely delicate, and the whole feel of the painting is calm and holy. There is also a certain warmth to the painting due to the use of such earthly colours.


   This art work was put inside the Medici Palace and there is a stark contrast between masculine outside of Medici palace and the feminine interior objects.



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