FRA FILIPPO DI THOMASAO LIPPI was born in Florence in a street called Ardiglione, behind the convent of the Carmelite fathers. By the death of Tommaso, his father, he was left an orphan when a poor little boy of two years old, his mother having died at his birth. He remained with his aunt until he was eight years old, when, being no longer able to support him, she made him a Carmelite friar. In the convent, although he was clever and dexterous with his fingers, he showed himself stupid at his letters, and would never apply his mind to learning. For the boy, who was still called by the name of Filippo, instead of studying while he was in his noviciate and under the disciyline of the grammar master, did nothing.but cover his books with drawings of figures, until at last the prior determined to give him every help in learning to paint. The chapel in the Carmine had been recently painted by Masaccio, and being most beautiful, pleased Fra Filippo greatly, and he used to go there every day for his recreation. Working there in company with the many other youths who were always drawing there, he surpassed them greatly both in knowledge and skill, so that it was considered certain that he would do something wonderful in time. But even in his tender years he did something so good that it was marvellous; for he painted a pope confirming the rule of the Carmelites and other pictures so much in Masaccio's style that many said that the spirit of Masaccio had entered into Fra Filippo.
Finding himself thus praised by every one, at the age of seventeen he threw off the cowl. And going to Ancona, he was disporting himself one day with some of his friends in a boat in the sea, when they were all captured by some Moorish ships that were scouring the bay, and carried off to Barbary, where they were chained as slaves. In this condition, in much suffering, he remained for eighteen months, but being much with his master, it came into his head one day to make his portrait, and taking a piece of charcoal out of the fire, he drew him at full length on the white wall in his Moorish dress. The other slaves told his master what he had done, and he thought it was a mlracle, neither drawing nor painting being known in those parts, and this was the cause of his being set free from captivity. For having completed some works in colour for his master, he was conducted in safety to Naples, whence he soon returned to Florence. He was taken into great favour by Cosimo de' Medici, but being devoted to pleasure, he neglected his work for it. Cosimo therefore, when he was working for him ;n his house, caused him to be shut in, so that he could not go out and waste his time; but he, cutting up the sheets of the bed with a pair of scissors, made a rope and let himself down by the window. When after many days he returned to his work, Cosimo gave him his liberty, considering the peril he had run, and sought to keep him for the future by many favours, and so he served him more readily, saying that genius is a heavenly being, and not a beast of burden.
While he was painting for the nuns of S. Margherita, he saw one day the daughter of Francesco Buti, a Florentine citizen, who was there either as a boarder or a novice. Fra Filippo, seeing Lucrezia, who was very beautiful, persuaded the nuns to let him paint her for the figure of our Lady. And falling in love with her, he contrived, when she was going to see the girdle of our Lady, the chief relic of the place, to carry her away. The nuns were much distressed at it, and Francesco, her father, was never happy again, and did all he could to recover her, but she would not return.
Sandro Botticelli was a disciple of his, and his own son Filippo was also a painter of fine genius. After his father's death, heing then very young, he became Sandro Botticelli's pupil, though his father in dying had commended him to Fra Diamante his friend, almost his brother. He was a man of great talent, copious invention in ornament, and introduced new methods of varying the dresses, attiring many of his figures in antique garments. He made great use of ancient Roman vases, trophies, armour, swords, togas, and other such things. And when he died he was wept by all who had known him, not onlv for his excellence in his art, but for his good life and his courteous and amiable disposition.
It was in the time of the magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, which was indeed an age of gold for men of genius, that that Alessandro flollrished who was nicknamed according to our custom Sandro di Botticello. He was the son of a Florentine citizen, Mariano Filipepi, and was carefully taught all that it was usual to teach children in those times before they were apprenticed; but though he learnt readily all he wished, he was restless and discontented, so that his father, wearied with his fancies, placed him in despair with one of his acquaintances, a goldsmith named Botticello. There was at that time great intimacy and continual intercourse between the goldsmiths and the painters, and Sandro, attracted by painting, determined to take to it. His father, learning his wish, took him therefore to Fra Filippo, and placed him with him to learn his art. Giving himself to study, he followed his master so closely that he won Fra Filippo's affection, and was so well instructed by him as to rise rapidly to unexpected success. Having made himself a reputation, he was employed to paint in S. Marco, and did many things in the house of Lorenzo de' Medici, especially a Pallas as large as life, and a Sebastian. He painted also in many houses in the city, and among them are a bust of Venus, and another Venus whom the Graces deck with flowers, denoting the spring.
In S. Pietro Maggiore he made a picture for Matteo Palmieri with an infinite number of figures. This is the Assumption of our Lady, with the Zones of the heavens, the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Doctors, and Hierarchies, according to the design given him by Matteo Palmieri, and this work he painted in a masterly manner and with infinite diligence. At the foot of the picture are Matteo and his wife kneeling. But although this work is most beautiful and ought to have overcome envy, some evil-minded persons, not able to find any other fault, said that Matteo and Sandro were guilty of grave heresy, which, whether it be true or not, is not for me to judge. It is enough that Sandro deserves praise for his labours and the skill with which he represents the circles of the heavens, and for the foreshortening of the figures of the angels and their various postures, all being well carried out with good drawing.
About this time Sandro was charged with the painting of a little picture to be placed in S. Maria Novella, between the two doors. This is the Adoration of the Magi, and you may notice the first old man kissing the feet of our Lord, and overcome with tender emotion at the consummation of his long journey. The figure of this king is the portrait of old Cosimo de' Medici, the most lifelike and most natural to be found in our days. The second king is Giuliano de' Medici, the father of Clement VII, who may be seen intent on offering devout reverence to the Child, and presenting his gift. The third, who is kneeling, and appears to be adoring Him and confessing Him the true Messiah, is Giovanni, son of Cosimo.
Having made a name by such works, he was sent for by Pope Sixtus IV, who had built the chapel in his palace at Rome, and desired to have it adorned with paintings. He appointed Sandro master of the works, and there he painted many things, by which he gained among his fellowworkers, both from Florence and other cities, fame and a great name. He received from the Pope a good sum of money, but this being soon consumed by living improvidently, as was his custom, and the work assigned him being finished, he returned to Florence. Being fond of sophistry, he made a commentary on Dante, and made illustrations for the "Inferno" and engraved them, spending much time upon them. He also engraved many of his designs, but in a bad manner, the best from his hand being the triumph of the faith of Fra Girolamo Savonarola of Ferrara, of whose sect he was such a strong partisan that he gave up painting. As he had no means of his own, this threw him into great difficulties; but adhering obstinately to that party, and becoming, as they called it, a Piagnone, he gave up working, so that at last he found himself old and poor; and if Lorenzo de' Medici while he lived, and after him other of his friends, had not remembered him, he would haPe died of hunger.
Sandro was a very amusing person, and fond of playing tricks on his pupils and friends. There is a stQry that he had a pupil named Biagio, who copied a round picture of his master's, representing the Madonna with angels round her, for sale, and Sandro sold it for him to a citizen for six gold florins. Meeting Biagio afterwards he said to him, "I have sold your picture at last, so tonight you must hang it where it will be better seen, and tomorrow go and fetch the man and bring him here that he may see it well, then he will pay the money." "Oh, how well you have done, master!" said Biagio; and going to the workshop he hung the picture up and went away. Then Sandro and Jacopo, another of his pupils, made of paper eight red caps, such as the citizens of Florence wear, and fixed them with some white wax on the heads of the eight angels round the Madonna in the picture. The next morning Biagio appears, bringmg with him the man who had bought the picture, and who knew all about the trick. And coming in, Biagio raised his eyes and saw his Madonna, not in the midst of the angels, but sitting in the midst of the Signory of Florence; and he was about to cry out and to begin to excuse himself to the purchaser, when he perceived that he was silent and only praised the picture, so he remained silent also. At last Biagio, going with the man to his house, received his six florins as his master had agreed, and returned to the workshop. Meanwhile Sandro and Jacopo had taken off the caps, and he saw his angels were angels, and not citizens in caps. Altogether stupefied, he knew not what to say, but at last, turning to Sandro, he cried, "Master, I do not know whether I am dreaming, or whether it was true. These angels when I came in had red caps on their heads, and now they have not; what does it mean?" "You are out of your mind, Biagio," answered Sandro. "This money has sent you mad. If it had been so do you think the man would have bought it?" "That is true," answered Biagio, "he said nothing about it; it seemed to me strange all the time." And all the other boys came round him and talked till they made him believc he had been off his head.
A cloth weaver came at one time to live next door to Sandro, and set up eight looms, which when they were at work not only deafened poor Sandro with the noise of the treadles, but also shook the house, so that there was no wall strong enough to stand it, and with one thing and another it was impossible to work or to stay in the house. He asked his neighbour many times to put a stop to this annoyance, but he only answered that in his own house he could and would do what pleased him. Then Sandro, getting angry, set up on his wall, which was higher than his neighbour's, and not very strong, a huge stone, poised so that every time the wall shook it seemed to be just about to fall and crush the roof and beams and the looms of his neighbour. The man, alarmed at the danger, came running to Sandro, but he gave him answer in his own words, that in his own house he could and would do whatever pleased him; and the weaver could get no other answer, until at last he was forced to come to terms, and be a better neighbour to Sandro.
It is said that he held in high honour those whom he knew to be studious in art, and that he earned much himself, but from want of management and carelessness things went wrong. When he was old he became infirm, and used to go about with two sticks, not being able to stand upright; and so he died at the age of seventyeight, and was buried in Ogni Santi in Florence, in the year 1515.