Madonna on a gold background by Filippo Lippo is one the greatest masterpieces of the Tuscan master and it is a classic representation with a precise hierarchical order: in the center there is a large Madonna enthroned with the patron saints of Prato and Florence, St. Stephen and John the Baptist, and in smaller size there is Datini, benefactor of the city and even smaller four patrons.
The painting was finished after the death of merchant Francesco di Marco Datini and in fact, in his red robe he is gathering the four patrons under his arms, eager to meet the Virgin.
These four kneeling figures, who represent the commissioners, are portrayed in precise manner and they were identified in the second half of the twentieth century as the Provveditori of the “Ceppo dei poveri” in 1452-1453: Andrea di Giovanni Bertelli, Pietro Pugliesi, Filippo Manassei and Jacopo degli Obizi, who were the same people who commissioned the decoration of the main chapel of the Duomo, which were also made by Lippi in the same year.
The painting shows the importance and key role of the city of Prato for the “house of Ceppo”, a beneficial institution founded by Francesco Datini (1335-1410) who was among the first commissioners of Lippi. The painting was made for the courtyard of Palazzo Datin where it remained until 1858, when it was given to the city to be displayed in museum. Vasari recalls the artwork “above the well in the courtyard” and its original location has undoubtedly affected its appearance, although the stylistic and coloristic beauty has been restored thanks to careful restorations.
The painting was paid on 28 May in 1453 costing “eighty-five golden florins”, and it was certainly made by Filippo Lippi, although some scholars have supposed the assistance of Fra Diamante’s workshop.
Fagioli M., Mannini M.P., Filippo Lippi. Catalogo completo, Firenze 1997, p. 115, cat. 43;
Ruda J., Fra Filippo Lippi: life and work, London 1993, pp. 436-437, cat. 46;
AA.VV., Filippo et Filippino Lippi. La Reinaissance à Prato, catalogo di mostra (Paris 2009);
Filippo Lippi was born in 1406 in Florence. His activities are documented from 1421, when he entered the Carmine convent, where Masolino da Panicale and Masaccio painted the frescoes of Brancacci Chapel (1424 – 1428).
Lippi’s artistic formation and first Madonnas with Child (such as Madonna Trivulzio, Castello Sforzesco, Milan) were highly influenced by Masaccio.
In 1428 he moved to Siena and studied works of Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia and Lorenzo Ghiberti. He spent the years 1433 and 1434 in Padua.
When he returned to Florence, he became popular among the Medici family, who appreciated his monumental art with graceful figures, which recalls Angelico and Luca della Robbia.
Among the most important works of this period was the Annunciation (San Lorenzo Church, Martelli chapel).
In 1452 Lippi moved to Prato, where he continued to paint his well-balanced compositions, with plastic figures and refined decorative elements of architecture. Among them were Madonna with Child and the Stories of St. Anna (Florence, Galleria Palatina).
Between 1450s’ and 1460s’ he worked with Fra Diamante painting the frescoes of the Florence cathedral with the stories of St. John the Baptist.
In 1456 Lippi became a chaplain in Santa Margherita convention, where he met Lucrezia Buti. They fell in love, escaped and had a son named Filippino in 1457 from their illegitimate union. With the help of Cosimo de’ Medici, the two lovers were able to break their vows and marry each other.
Lippi’s last significant work was the Stories of the Virgin in the cathedral of Spoleto (1466 – 1469) where the influence of Verrocchio and Botticelli is well visible. According to Vasari, the work was commissioned to Lippi by Cosimo de’ Medici.
Filippo died in Spoleto in 1469 leaving the frescoes unfinished, completed then by his son Filippino and Fra Diamante.
Prato’s Museo Civico is situated in the Palazzo Pretorio, in Piazza del Comune at the city center.
The first documents of the Palazzo date back to the end of the 13th century, when captain of the Guelfs, Francesco de’ Frescobaldi decided to purchase the building already owned by Pipini, to house the foreign magistrates, the court and the prisons. Between 1334 and 1338 the building was enlarged by Florentine craftsmen and the medieval appearance was changed. During the following centuries and especially in the 18th century a series of improvements were implemented finally until the late 19th century, when the building came under the demolition threat.
In 1912 an important restoration work led to the opening of the Galleria Comunale, which was previously housed in the Palazzo del Comune. The last restoration started in 1998 and it was finished in 2013. In September of the same year the museum reopened with the exhibition “From Donatello to Lippi. Officina pratese”.
The historical origins of the museum are linked to the decision of the grand duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who wanted to create a collection of paintings for the students of the city’s drawing school (1788).
The collection was enriched thanks to various donations and purchases, until the official inauguration of the first exhibition organized by Giovanni Papini in 1912.
In 1926, thanks to Angiolo Badiani’s initiative, the State museum received their first assemblage of plaster casts by local sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini and in 1954 the museum was reopened with new layout, designed by Giuseppe Marchini.
In the late 1980s’ the gallery was closed for restoration work. During these years of improvements, the museum purchased the Crucifixion by Filippino Lippi and the altarpieces by Santi di Tito and Alessandro Allori were donated to the museum by Angela Riblet.
The museum holds many artworks, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Among these there are the polyptych with the Stories of the Cintola by Bernardo Daddi, polyptychs by Giovanni da Milano and Lorenzo Monaco, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna del Ceppo and the Adoration of the Child and Vincenzo Ferrer, Filippino Lippi’s Annunciation with St. Julian, Mattia Preti’s Repudiation of Agar and the Cabins by Ardengo Soffici.
The collection includes also an important assemblage of sculptures of the most important artists of the time, among them Andrea della Robbia and Benedetto Buglioni.