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Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with two Angels

Fra Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child With Angels painting shows a humanist approach in the 15th century. The artwork features a realistic Mary, playful angels, and a natural landscape. Lippi's style emphasizes decorative, sensuous lines and brings a sense of earthly beauty to the divine scene. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(upbeat piano music) Dr. Harris: We're in the Uffizi looking at Fra Filippo Lippi's, Madonna and Child With Angels, It's so fun to see this painting after coming from the first room in the Uffizi, which has three giant paintings covered in gold from the 1300s, of the Madonna and Child. Dr. Zucker: Those are so solemn and so steeped in medieval tradition and this is so playful. Dr. Harris: 15th century, here we have a Madonna and Child that's really humanist in it's approach. Dr. Zucker: It's interesting, because the other paintings really are very somber, but there is a somber note here too, in Mary's foreknowledge of the fate of her son. Nevertheless, the rest of the painting feels very playful and even her youth and beauty really carry the day. Dr. Harris: Well, and gone are those byzantine elongations of the face and the hands. She looks like a real woman, who you might see on the streets of Florence. A very beautiful woman, but a real woman nonetheless. Not only that, but the angels look like children that you might see playing on the streets of Florence. It always has seemed to be as though Lippi, when he wanted a model for the angels, went out and found a couple of kids playing in the street and brought them into his studio and made them pose. Look at that "angel" in the foreground, who supports the Christ child and turns around and looks up at us with a really playful smile. Dr. Zucker: It's almost mischievous. Lippi is actually being incredibely mischievous himself. When we look at the other angel, it's only the lower half of his face peeking out below Christ's arm. It's sort of ridiculous. I mean, you would never have an artist, during the medieval period, do something like that. Dr. Harris: Look what's happened to Mary's halo. Here we are, we're moving toward the high renaissance, where we'll have the complete disappearance of the halo with Leonardo da Vinci, but here with Fra Filippo Lippi, the halo is becoming just a simple circle that we can just barely make out, above Mary's face and also around Christ. Those obvious symbols of divinity, of holiness I think, felt very much out of place for Fra Filippo Lippi. He wanted to create an image of the Madonna and Child With Angels, that looked very earthly and very natural and very real. Dr. Zucker: The frame on this window almost becomes the frame of the painting itself. It seems to me that there's this self-conscious aligning of the frame of the painting and the frame of the window. There's the concede that the landscape is seen through a window, but I think that he's suggesting that the frame of the canvas is a frame that we look into, as if we look into the window as well. Dr. Harris: That landscape behind her, rendered with atmospheric perspective, also looks very real. I think back to the Cimabue or the Douche, with that flat gold background, the gold of a heavenly space. Here, Mary very much represented as a figure who we can relate to here on earth. My favorite passage in the painting is actually the translucent fabric that she wears in her hair and the amazing lines and curves as that winds down around her neck and comes down in front of her. Even the curls that we see in Christ's hair, there's this love of beautiful curling shapes. We know that Fra Filippo Lippi was the teacher of Botticelli. When I look at that, I can see that. Dr. Zucker: That emphasis on the decorative. Dr. Harris: And on beautiful sensuous lines. There's a kind of sensuality here that I think is hard to deny. Clearly, yes, the Madonna and child with the angels, but a real love of the beauty of the things that we can see with out eyes. (upbeat piano music)