Filippino Lippi was able to paint his way out of a disreputable birth (his father was a Carmelite monk and his mother an Augustinian nun), but he wasn’t able to paint his way into history books as well as his mentor and studio-mate Sandro Botticelli. This is all the more striking since Sandro’s popularity was in decline after his spiritual crisis at the turn of the century, whereas Filippino, endowed with tanto ingenio and a vaghissima e copiosa invenzione, as Vasari tells us, was hardly able to keep up with commissions.
Scuderie del Quirinale
“If I were an artist,” the art historian and connoisseur Bernard Berenson wrote in 1894, “I would resemble Lorenzo Lotto.” The following year, he published a monograph on Lotto, which marked the beginning of the painter’s return from three hundred years of obscurity. Berenson first saw in Lotto (1480-c.1556) what most admirers have found subsequently: an outlier in Italian Renaissance art, a portrait painter capable of capturing the soul on canvas, a man whose religious art struck a note of sincerity in an age bound by ritual and dogma, a figure overshadowed in life by Titian and Raphael and condemned to poverty and relative failure in his own day. Lotto’s time had come with the twentieth century because what had been seen as defects and eccentricities by his contemporaries turned into objects of fascination in an age dominated by Freud and artistic rebellion. Lotto’s unorthodox altarpieces were embraced for that very reason: they broke with convention and spoke from the heart. By the same token, his portraits veered away from the patterns established by Leonardo, Raphael, and Titian to articulate a different kind of sensibility because he engaged with less exalted and at times rather shopworn specimens of humanity.