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Saints Benedict and Apollonia, c. 1483

Filippino Lippi

Italian, 1457-1504
Tempera glazed with oil on panel
62 x 23-5/8 in. (157.5 x 60 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1973.21.1.P
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

This panel, along with its companion Saints Paul and Frediano, were cited admiringly by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artist when he saw them in the Church of San Ponziano in Lucca, where they formed an ensemble, flanking a polychrome sculpture of St. Anthony Abbot. St. Benedict, the founder of Western Christian monasticism, accompanies St. Apollonia, a third-century martyr and the principle female saint associated with the Benedictine order. She holds the instruments of her torture. Paul the Apostle bears a sword, symbol of his death, and St. Frediano, patron saint of Lucca accompanies him.

An exceptional draftsman and fluid painter, Lippi easily absorbed the multiple artistic trends in painting that made Florence, and the whole of Tuscany, such a vital art center in the fifteenth century. The beautiful landscape background, particularly the fortified city and anecdotal details, reveal Lippi’s admiration of Northern European art and the inspiration of Hans Memling whose work was seen in Florence by 1480. Lippi’s decorative linear manner, filtered through Botticelli, is integrated with the representation of mass and his knowledge of Leonardo’s studies of physiognomy is resident in the individualized features of each saint. Indeed the melancholic grace of the figures is almost unprecedented in Italian painting at this date, and extraordinary in light of the artist’s age of twenty-five.

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