Study Guide

Fra Lippo Lippi Art and Culture

By Robert Browning

Art and Culture

A-painting for the great man, saints and saints
And saints again. (48-49)

Who is "the great man" here? Does this refer to Cosimo Medici, or the Prior of the monastery? How do we sense Lippo's frustration here with his artistic subject?

"That's the very man!
Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog!
That woman's like the Prior's niece who comes
To care about his asthma: it's the life!'' (168-171)

In this dramatic monologue within a dramatic monologue we see Lippo's fellow monks marveling over the painting he has done of various everyday people. He has captured in realistic detail not only the boy who pats the dog, but also the Prior's niece. "It's the life" nicely sums up just how realistic these paintings are. (And, as an aside, we get the feeling this niece is no real niece, but rather a mistress of the Prior's.)

Your business is to paint the souls of men (183)

This short statement gets right to the crux of Lippo's internal conflict: the Church (here represented by the Prior's voice) wants him to paint subjects in a manner that will allow viewers to contemplate holy and spiritual things, not just marvel at the human forms and natural figures represented.

"Your painting serves its purpose!" Hang the fools! (335)

Since Lippo's painting of St. Ambrose being roasted gets the parishioners to take out their holy fury on the three slaves who turn him on the grill, it has served its purpose. Check out Lippo's response here, which really highlights his anger and scorn. They're "fools" for not getting where Lippo is coming from.

Give me six months, then go, see
Something in Sant' Ambrogio's! Bless the nuns!
They want a cast o' my office. I shall paint
God in the midst, Madonna and her babe,
Ringed by a bowery, flowery angel-brood,
Lilies and vestments and white faces, sweet
As puff on puff of grated orris-root
When ladies crowd to Church at midsummer.
And then i' the front, of course a saint or two—
Saint John' because he saves the Florentines,
Saint Ambrose, who puts down in black and white
The convent's friends and gives them a long day,
And Job, I must have him there past mistake,
The man of Uz (and Us without the z,
Painters who need his patience). (345-359)

Lippo plans out what will become his masterpiece, "The Coronation of the Virgin," which he painted for the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. As he plans this out, he's quite dismissive of his subject. We get this through his description of a "bowery, flowery angel-brood," which makes the conventional representation sound a bit ridiculous. He also gets a little dig in at the end in his reference to Job, saying painters need the patience of that long-suffering figure just to be able to please their masters, as well as their own artistic muse.

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