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Posts Tagged ‘Fillipino Lippi’

Fillipino LippiExorcism of the Demon in the Temple of MarsStrozzi ChapelSanta Maria NovellaFlorence

Fillipino Lippi
Exorcism of the Demon in the Temple of Mars
Strozzi Chapel
Santa Maria Novella
Florence

Fillipino Lippi created one of the most complex frescoes of the Renaissance in the Strozzi Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. By some it is called the Exorcism of the Demon in the Temple of Mars. By others, the Miracle of St. Phillip. This is, regardless of its given name, a challenging and surprising work of art.

First, there is a hideous demon, exorcised by Saint Phillip. Lippi has created a malignant beast, one that mythology proclaimed issued breath so poisonous that anyone who inhaled the fumes died.

The god Mars, portrayed on a dais within the temple named for him in the city of Hieropolis, holds a broken lance over his head. Saint Phillip who, taken under arms to the temple to make a sacrifice, chooses to exorcise the demon that lived therein.

The noxious fumes emitted by the demon, so the myths continue, killed the high priest’s son, along with a few others. Not surprisingly, the high priest was not happy for not only had he lost his son; the object of veneration in the temple had also been removed. In a frenzy of retaliation, the priests crucified Saint Phillip. It is written that he was placed on the cross upside down, as was Saint Peter.

Now, for the back story.

It was in the latter part of the 15th Century that the buried corridors of the “Golden House”, the sumptuous palace built by Nero, were rediscovered in Rome. The ‘house’, a huge complex in reality, was connected to the Palatine Hill by those subterranean passages. What the Romans did not expect were the frescoes and what they depicted; inhuman depravity of the most extreme. The church classified the frescoes as “damnatio memoriae”, essentially a conviction of Nero and his excessive style of living, in abstentia, for the crudity displayed. The Romans eventually built directly over the remains of the temple and tunnels in an attempt to banish them from memory.

In spite of the church’s condemnation of the frescoes, artists of the day flocked to study them, to better understand Roman fresco technique and style.

Lippi was one of the artists who viewed those frescoes and there is no doubt, Lippi wrote about this in his papers, that the images he saw in the frescoes deeply affected his work on the fresco cycle in the Strozzi Chapel. On the left side of the fresco are people who hold their noses against the ghastly odor of the beast. Some of those in the temple are overwhelmed by the fumes.

Detail LippiExorcism of the Demon

The beast,  a vision from the  imagination of the artist as to what hell, sin, paganism created must surely have been affected by the frescoes that Lippi studied in those Roman tunnels.

The symbolism of the fresco is complex. Here, in one fresco, is a depiction of Christianity confronting Paganism. Saint Philip’s right arm is raised in the course of the exorcism (a clear reference to the reliquary of the saint’s arm that was at one time housed in the baptistery in Florence-and was reported to have created many miraculous cures) as the pagan god seems to glare at the saint in a direct confrontation. Lippi depicts the victory of Saint Philip’s exorcism and the evocation of Christ by portraying a cross carrying Christ  appearing in the far upper corner of the fresco, an indication that the saint is not only a true communicant of Christ’s; he is able to call for the sanctification of an unholy, pagan, temple.

Discussions abound about the symbolism of the wolf and the bird (woodpecker?) that are on the dais with Mars. These were signs of nature attributed to the god Mars in mythology and, were that god blind as he is often depicted, the position of the head and the posture of the body clearly still direct their attention to Saint Philip.

There is one other possible interpretation of the fresco. Fillip Strozzi II was married to Clarice Medici, she a daughter of Piero de Lorenzo de’ Medici. While he was, indeed, married to a member of the most famous and wealthy family of Florence, Fillipo was vehemently against the social, cultural and political power of the Medici. So strongly opposed was Fillipo II that he became a leader in the 1527 uprising against that family.

Perhaps it is not too liberal an interpretation to imagine that Fillipo’s commission was a not so subtle snub at the Medici family. The demon might represent the exorcism of that family’s power, the stench of the animal’s breath a direct reference to the despised proclamations of the renaissance city’s leaders. The hand of Saint Phillip raised in the course of the exorcism, the evocation of a cross carrying Christ, a sign of hope for a day when the Medici’s would no longer rule.

Regardless, this is an unforgettable fresco, but one panel of a series painted in the Strozzi Chapel, and one that should not be missed during a visit to bella Firenze!

Strozzi ChapelSanta Maria Novella, Florence

Strozzi Chapel
Santa Maria Novella, Florence

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Il Torchio - OltrarnoVia dei Bardi

Il Torchio – Oltrarno
Via dei Bardi

When you cross the Ponte Vecchio, and leave the cacophony of central Florence behind, you enter a world apart. This is the Oltrarno, the south side of the city and its creative center. Small workshops line narrow lanes. Borgo San Jacopo, a shady narrow medieval street, leads west away from the Via Guicciardini, Via dei Bardi leads east to shops as varied as high end hand crafted jewelry to Il Torchio, a book press whose owner creates gorgeous leather bound journals and multicolored Florentine paper.

Along the Via Santo Spirito, just past the south end of the Ponte Santa Trinita is the small workshop of Ippogrifo, where a couple create gorgeous etched copper prints. See my blog post about Ippogrifo.

It was in the fourth or fifth century that the first church structure was built on the site of present day Santa Felicita. Dedicated to St. Felicity of Rome, the building was to go through several expansions, reductions and redesigns over the course of the next thousand years. Within the, now, 18th Century interior are works by Taddeo Gaddi, Pontormo, Francesco d’Antonio and Neri di Bicci. While many art historians discount the comparative value of the frescoes and painting in the church, this is a rarely visited treasure of Florence.

Facade Santa FelicitaVasari Corridor

Facade Santa Felicita
Vasari Corridor

Santa Felicita shares a unique and unusual architectural feature unlike any other church in Florence. The power and influence of the Medici family is seen throughout the city. It was in 1564 that Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici commissioned Georgio Vasari to design and oversee construction of what is called the Vasari Corridor. This elevated enclosed walkway was built to provide the Medici family and court to move between the family’s Palazzo Pitti on the Oltrarno to what is now the Uffizi gallery-at the time the offices (uffizi) of the Medici family business.

The fact that the corridor slashes directly across the facade of Santa Felicita is symbolic of the Medici influence on the church. Their money patronized the monastery of San Marco, the church of the family’s patron saint, San Lorenzo. Here, at Santa Felicita, the imposing presence of the corridor overstates “Io sono Medici”, “I am Medici and I can build over the facades of churches with aplomb.”

The final unique design of this church is the presence of an open gallery above the nave from which the Medici family could hear (attend) mass without having to mingle near or in churchgoers from the city.

Jacopo PontormoDeposition, 1568Cappela Capponi, Santa Felicita

Jacopo Pontormo
Deposition, 1568
Cappela Capponi, Santa Felicita

The most striking of the works of art in the church is Jacopo Pontormo’s Deposition, painted by commission of Ludovico Capponi in 1565 for his family’s private chapel within the church. The fresco was completed in 1568. Pontormo’s vision of the deposition created an outcry among the Florentine artistic community. Gone were the conventions of cross and location of the grief-stricken in proximity to the cross. In their place was a work that focuses on Jesus’ mother, Mary. The swirl of figures around her, the placement of the body of Jesus in the lower left quarter of the painting and the use of unusual colors created a vortex of grief, unseen prior to this monumental work. It was the birth of the “Mannerist” style.

If you leave the Church of Santa Felicita and walk west, generally paralleling the Arno River, you will pass a small church along the Borgo San Jacopo. This narrow medieval lane is lined with buildings constructed after World War II. During the German retreat in 1944, the ancient buildings along this section of the river were destroyed. Time and loving care restored the tiny church of San Jacopo Sopr’Arno.

The church is famous as much for its architectural design than for any art contained within. The

San Jacopo Sopr'ArnoFlorence

San Jacopo Sopr’Arno
Florence

arches that support the church are suspended above the Arno river, literally supporting a portion of the floor above the water.

Heavily modified over the course of centuries, its most famous claim to fame is that Filippo Brunelleschi studied architecture in the structure and built (later destroyed) a small version of the dome that now towers over the city at the Duomo of Santa Maria dei Fiori. Please see “If You Go” below for information on hours and gaining access to the church.

Not a great distance beyond San Jacopo is the Church of Santo Spirito, one of the last churches that Brunelleschi worked on. His plans for the building began in 1428. Upon his death in 1468 the responsibility for the completion of the building was given to others who had worked in Brunelleschi’s workshop: Manetti, Gaiole and Salvi d’Andrea.

While the facade was never completed to Brunelleschi’s design, the simplicity of the facade seem appropriate, a moment of calm before visitors encounter the incredible collection of art housed within.

Interior, Santo Spirito

Interior, Santo Spirito

Over forty side chapels, decorated by artistic commissions by different families of the city, line each side of the nave. Works by the 15th century sculptor Rossellino share space with 14th Century Triptychs by Maso di Banco; frescoes by Andrea Sansovino in the Corbinelli Chapel occupy walls near  a Doubting Thomas, a work attributed to the 15th century painter Neri di Bicci. This is yet another treasure of Florentine art contained within the walls of a seemingly unassuming church.

Only a few minutes walk further west of Santo Spirito is Santa Maria della Carmine, which houses one of the most famous works of 15th Century Renaissance art in the city.

The church was established in 1268 by a group of friars from Pisa who dedicated the church to “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”. The city of Florence provided assistance, along with wealthy families of the city, to support the cost of the church. The complex was consecrated in 1422, yet the building process continued until its 1475 completion. The facade of the Church is not finished. As with many other churches in Florence including San Lorenzo, only a brick and mortar wall greets visitors.

Branacci ChapelSanta Maria della Carmine, Florence

Brancacci Chapel
Santa Maria della Carmine, Florence

The interior of the church was heavily damaged by fire in 1771 and was rebuilt in a Rocco Baroque style. What the fire did not destroy, and the art world is grateful for this seemingly supernatural intervention, were a cycle of frescoes painted by commission of Felice Brancacci a wealthy businessman. Two masters of early Renaissance art began work on this cycle in 1425, Masolino and Masaccio. After Masolino died, Masaccio completed three of the frescoes – Expulsion from Paradise, The Tribute Money St Peter Healing a Lame-Man, and St Peter Raising Tabitha from the Dead. As with so many talented artists of the Renaissance, Masaccio’s life was cut short. He was called back to Rome, before the frescoes were done, where he died at the age of 27. The frescoes were completed by Fillipino Lippi, a student of both artists.

Rather than attempt to describe what these artists accomplished, I have included a few photos of the works below. I let them stand on their own – as incredible evidence of talents that established the school of early Renaissance painting in Florence.

DisputationMassacio, Branacci Chapel

Disputation
Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel

Tribute Massacio Branacci

Tribute, Masaccio Brancacci Chapel

To walk into this chapel, be surrounded by such incredible colors and beauty is breathtaking.

So . . . when the crowds of the city overwhelm you, when the heat gets to be too much, or you simply wish to take in some of the lesser visited treasures of Florence, walk the Oltrarno. Surprises and pleasures await.

IF YOU GO:

Santa Felicita

Piazza di Santa Felicita, 3, 50125 Florence, Italy

Phone:+39.055.213.018
Entrance tickets: Free
Hours: Wednesday ONLY 9:30 am–12:00 pm, 3:30 pm–5:30 pm

San Jacopo Sopr’Arno

Note: The church is now deconsecrated, and used for a variety of cultural events. If it is closed, the priest of Santa Felicita has the key.

Borgo San Jacopo – Firenze

Hours:  9:00-12:00/15:00-19:00

Entrance tickets: Free

Tel: +39.05.233.20

Santo Spirito

Piazza Santo Spirito – Firenze

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9:30am -12:30 pm and 4:00pm -7:00 pm

Entrance tickets: Free

Piazza di Santo Spirito 29, 50125 Florence (FI)

Santa Maria della Carmine – Brancacci Chapel

NOTE: Reservations are required. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except for Tuesday, from 1:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends

Piazza del Carmine

Florence, 50100

Tel: +39.055.276.82.24 for reservations

Hours: Mon. and Wed.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 1–5

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

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