by Heidi Elaine
Strozzi's patronage and Lippi's work in Strozzi Chapel
|NOTE: My footnotes would not copy into this format, I apologize, and I promise I'm not plagarizing, I can send the full document in an e-mail attachment if you'd like to see the footnotes.
Filippo Strozzi's Patronage and Filippino Lippi's Works in the Strozzi Chapel
Patronage in Renaissance Florence
October 20, 2007
Under the patronage of Filippo Strozzi, Filippino Lippi completed a number of works in the Strozzi Chapel at Santa Maria Novella. Filippino Lippi was an important artist during the Renaissance. He took a long time to complete the Strozzi chapel, but Strozzi did not seem to mind, and provided Lippi with funds. It seems the patron and the artist had a decent relationship, however; Lippi turned to litigation when he later had trouble with the Strozzi heirs. This paper will explain Lippi and Strozzi, their relationship, the legal conflict which arose as a result of their relationship, and it will touch on the artwork in the Strozzi chapel completed by Lippi.
Filippino Lippi is described as “one of the great draftsmen of the fifteenth century.” Lippi was the son of another important artist, Fra Filippo Lippi. Lippi used “ancient decorative motifs” in his work, and was considered to be ahead of his contemporaries; the “ornamental character of some of Filippino’s drawings is closer of those which were made by later artists during the sixteenth century.” Lippi’s sketches that have been discovered and are often studied and then praised for the techniques he used. If what is said about Lippi is true, it would not be hard to understand why someone with as much social prominence as Filippo Strozzi chose Lippi to work in the chapel.
The Strozzi chapel was built around 1340-48 with the construction and decoration of the building directed by Fra Jacopo Talenti. The building was part of the Dominican church, Santa Maria Novella. The Strozzi’s were a politically important and wealthy family in Florence, having an estimated 35 urban households in 1378. Filippo Strozzi was the one who commissioned all the work to be done on the chapel. Strozzi had spent time in Florence as a child, but at age thirteen he went to live with some cousins who had been exiled from or had chosen to leave Florence. Obviously, the Strozzi were not very popular in Florence, but Filippo would change this when he reached adulthood. In 1466, Strozzi returned to Florence with the Medici family’s support, and after having convinced the Medici’s his loyalty and willingness to work and be active politically, he rose to a great position of political power. After establishing his power in Florence, Strozzi then turned his attention to his new chapel; “between April and July 1486, Filippo Strozzi acquired the rights to a chapel formerly belonging to the Boni family situated to the right of the choir.”
Documents exist which outline the projects Strozzi commissioned for his chapel. The documents have been described as “a view of a patron’s long range plans and of his business with other artists and artisans as well,” and the document is considered one of the most telling and organizing of Renaissance patronage and commission. Filippino Lippi’s instructions are explained in this document. Fillipino was to do frescoes in the chapel, the subjects were going to be chosen by Strozzi, and there were going to be “four figures in the vault and two scenes on either side of the walls.” Strozzi left the specific nature of the subjects out, so he could choose them as he wanted. Filippino was supposed to receive 300 florins for his work, and was given 35 at the time he signed his contract. It would take years for Lippi to actually complete the work he agreed to do. According to the documents, Lippi is documented in receiving 143 florins in 1501, the remainder of the money owed to him for working on the chapel. One can assume that Strozzi must have been very patient with Lippi to let him abuse the contract’s completion date. Strozzi names the deadline to be March 1, 1490, but Lippi did not complete the majority of the works until 1495.
Strozzi’s patron relationship with Lippi was an interesting one. While Lippi had issue with some of Strozzi’s relatives, there is evidence that Lippi got along with Filippo Strozzi. As mentioned preciously, Lippi did not meet the deadline named in the contract. He instead began on another contract from Cardinal Carafa which was offering him more money than what he would have received from the Strozzi project, which he later held over Strozzi’s head in a letter, making Strozzi sound like a stingy man who was holding out on Lippi. Strozzi liked to seem as if he were a humble man. When his palace was being built in Florence, Strozzi’s son said Filippo stated publicly that “a comfortable everyday house was all he needed,” however; Strozzi was inwardly delighted when he found out the over-the-top plans for his palace, and did nothing to simplify them. Perhaps this is why Strozzi granted Lippi an extension on the chapel, if Lippi was as extraordinary an artist as the articles claim, the work would be worth the wait. Unfortunately, Strozzi would never see the frescoes completed, because he died in May 1491. While Strozzi had shown that he displayed much patience with Lippi, Strozzi’s death was the beginning of Lippi’s problems with the remaining family members.
Strozzi’s family claimed that Lippi stopped working on the frescoes after Strozzi’s death, and the annual amount of florins he received dwindled, but Lippi felt the family was not holding up their end of the contract, and he argued that the prices for the materials were too high to afford given the payments he was receiving. Lippi ended up taking the Strozzi’s to court, because he had only received about two thirds of what he was supposed to be paid. The case went in Lippi’s favor, and in 1501 he received the last of his money. [ ]
Despite the complications, arguments, and length of time taken to complete his work in the chapel, Lippi created some beautiful artwork. The work that Lippi did is reminiscent of its time, and respects the classical devices or art and architecture for the time. We can see the humanism of the people portrayed in their idealized and beautiful bodies. Lippi did work on two stained glass windows; he provided the composition and drew on the glass. The first portrayed the Madonna and Child, and the second depicted St. John and St. Philip. St. John and St. Philip are in quite a few of the pieces that Lippi painted.
Lippi also painted beautiful frescoes for the Strozzi chapel. The Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist depicts the sufferings of St. John as he was put into a cauldron of burning oil. In the painting, one can find the classical devices, columns and capitals, in the background. The image of St. John in the vat of oil praying is the focal point, and it is very gripping to see. The humanistic beauty of the male body is seen in each of the people in the painting. The Raising of Drusiana by St. John the Evangelist shows us the other classical device, arches, in the background. This painting is beautiful. The bright colors give the painting life, which seems to fit, since the theme of the poem is the resurrection performed by St. John. St. John the Evangelist is regarded as the apostle of charity. Since Strozzi often tried to seem humble, and considering his place in politics, it is not surprising that St. John the Evangelist is portrayed more than once. Lippi is noted for his attention to ornate detail which can be seen in these paintings. [ ]
St. Philip Exorcizing the Demon is another painting done by Lippi. Once again we see the capitals and columns in this piece. A surviving sketch done before the painting was finalized at the Strozzi chapel gives us some insight to Lippi’s style. “At an earlier stage of conception, the high priest’s son, who in the fresco has collapsed in the right side of the composition, was part of the left hand group… Despite the compositional differences between the drawing and the fresco, the costumes and ancient trophies that accompany the figures are very similar.” The use of ancient motifs by Lippi seems to correspond with the humanist idea that the classics should be studied and appreciated.
Finally we have the painting, The Martyrdom of St. Philip, which shows St. Philip being crucified. In this painting, as with the others, we see the classical devices columns and capitals, but in this painting the columns are crumbled to the ground. The ancient costumes can be seen on the soldiers as well. The bodies are also all portrayed in very idealistic ways.
While Lippi may not have seemed to be as excited about being commissioned to do work for the Strozzi chapel as he was about doing the work for Cardinal Carafa, he still did a beautiful job. It is unclear why Strozzi showed so much patience towards Lippi’s failure to meet the deadline, it could have something to do with the money Lippi was holding over Strozzi’s head. Perhaps Strozzi simply wasn’t in a rush. For whatever reason, the patron and the artist seemed to get along. Even though Filippo’s family had their legal issues with Lippi, they paid him what they owed, and still let him finish in their chapel. Strozzi liked big and grandiose things, and he certainly got what he wished for by trusting Lippi with the artwork, even if he never got to see it.
Ames-Lewis, Francis. “Review of The Drawings of Filippino Lippi and His Circle [Exhibition Catalogue] by George R. Goldner; Carmen C. Bambach.” Master Drawings 37, no. 1 (1999): 62-66.
Borsook, Eve. “Documents for Filippo Strozzi’s Chapel in Santa Maria Novella and Other Related Papers-I”. The Burlington Magazine 112, no. 812 (1970): 737-745+747.
Brucker, Gene A. Renaissance Florence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1969.
Corti, Gino. “Notes on the Financial Accounts of the Strozzi Chapel.” The Burlington Magazine 112, no. 812 (1970): 746-747.
Giles Arthur, Kathleen. “The Strozzi Chapel: Notes on the Building History of Sta. Maria Novella. The Art Bulletin: 65, no. 3 (Sept. 1983): 367-386.
Gregory, Heather. “The Return of the Native: Filippo Strozzi and Medicean Politics.” Renaissiance Quarterley 38, no. 1 (1985): 1-21.
“Saints and Angels.” Catholic Online. http://www.catholic.org/saints/.
Shoemaker, Innis H. “Drawings after the Antique by Filippino Lippi.” Master Drawings 16, no. 1 (1978): 35.