Study Guide

Fra Lippo Lippi Lines 344-392

By Robert Browning

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Lines 344-392

I have bethought me: I shall paint a piece
... There's for you! 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 whiteThe convent's friends and gives them a long day,
Job, I must have him there past mistake,The man of Uz (and Us without the z,
Painters who need his patience). Well, all these
Secured at their devotion, up shall come
Out of a corner when you least expect,
As one by a dark stair into a great light,
Music and talking, who but Lippo! I!—
Mazed, motionless, and moonstruck—I'm the man!
Back I shrink—what is this I see and hear?
I, caught up with my monk's-things by mistake,
My old serge gown and rope that goes all round,
I, in this presence, this pure company!
Where's a hole, where's a corner for escape?
Then steps a sweet angelic slip of a thing
Forward, puts out a soft palm—"Not so fast!"
—Addresses the celestial presence, "nay—
He made you and devised you, after all,
Though he's none of you! Could Saint John there draw—
His camel-hair make up a painting brush?
We come to brother Lippo for all that,
Iste perfecit opus! So, all smile—
I shuffle sideways with my blushing face
Under the cover of a hundred wings
Thrown like a spread of
kirtles when you're gay
play hot cockles, all the doors being shut,
Till, wholly unexpected, in there pops
The hothead husband! Thus I scuttle off
To some safe bench behind, not letting go
The palm of her, the little lily thing
That spoke the good word for me in the nick,
Like the Prior's niece . . .
Saint Lucy, I would say.
And so all's saved for me, and for the church
A pretty picture gained. Go, six months hence!
Your hand, sir, and good-bye: no lights, no lights!
The street's hushed, and I know my own way back,
Don't fear me! There's the grey beginning. Zooks!

  • Lippo's been thinking about this, and he's decided he's going to paint a piece.
  • For the guardsman? What's up with this "There's for you!" business? It sounds like Lippo is giving the guardsman something. Ah—this is probably a small sum of money offered as a bribe. Remember, a monk out from his monastery and skulking in the streets is a pretty obvious misdemeanor here, so Lippo's covering his tracks. If his smooth talking doesn't work, then his coin will.
  • He's going to paint something for the nuns at the basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. This piece, he tells us, will have God, the Virgin Mary, and the baby Jesus surrounded by a ton of angels. "Boewer, flower" is how Lippo describes them, and doesn't that just roll off the tongue? Well, it should, because it's an example of internal rhyme, which gives readers the flavor of poetry, but without end rhymes. This keeps the overall sound of the poem more conversational. (Check out "Form and Meter" for more on how the poem's constructed.)
  • He'll also throw in a few saints (in particular Saint John and Saint Ambrose, both of whom are important for Italy) and some illustrious Biblical figures, like Job of Uz. In lines 358-359, we get a bit of Lippo's monastic humor when he makes a joke about how painters need the patience of Job to do their jobs in the Church.
  • And whom shall he paint into the corner of the picture? Why, Lippo himself. He'll stick his own self-portrait down in the corner, "mazed, motionless, and moonstruck" (364). Browning gets his alliteration on here. (Check out "Sound Check" for more on the sounds at work in this poem.) He links amazement, stillness, and derangement with Lippo.
  • Lippo will be out of place in this painting, since he doesn't really belong among all of these higher-ups (literally, since they're in heaven).
  • Not so fast, though. Seriously—that's what one of the angels says to Lippo. As he tries to make his escape out of the painting (this is getting all very weird, isn't it?), he is stopped by a "sweet angelic slip of a thing" (370). Could this be more daydreaming about the ladies, eh, Lippo?
  • This angelic figure speaks to the assembled luminaries and tells them that he (Lippo) is their creator. They (the holy figures, which stand in in general for higher spiritual contemplation) come to Lippo to be painted. He's their man.
  • "Iste perfecit opus" means "This [man] caused the work to be done." Instead of just saying, "Dude did this," they have to go all Latin and make it sound fancy and impressive.
  • He imagines himself being flung into the crowd of angels and covered by their wings, which are like "a spread of kirtles when you're gay" (380). Translation? A "kirtle" is a loose gown worn by a woman. It would seem Lippo the Ladykiller has had quite a few romps upon discarded kirtles.
  • He also likens being in the midst of these angels to a game of "hot cockles," which is sort of like blindman's bluff.
  • Oh, snap—here comes the husband. Seems Lippo can't get away from metaphors involving action with the ladies and possible consequences. Here, though, the "hotheaded husband" is a metaphor for the Church and its moral restrictions on his art.
  • He doesn't let go of the pretty angel's hand. She's kind of like the Prior's niece, or maybe even St. Lucy.
  • It will all work out: he'll be spared by the guards, and the Church will get their painting.
  • Just check it out in six months if you don't believe me, Lippo tells the guardsman.
  • And Lippo rushes off into the night (dawn is about to break). He tells the guardsman he needs no light and can find his own way.

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