Filippino Lippi’s Pala dell’Udienza is a wooden panel in a hemicycle shape representing Madonna and Child with patron saints of the city of Prato, Stephen and John the Baptist.
The atmosphere between the characters in the foreground is intimate and calm, and the contrasting light embraces the figures and the landscape behind them, creating a scene with dramatic atmosphere, typical of Prato’s artistic culture with Savonarola’s influence.
The painting was originally situated in Sala dell’Udienza of Palazzo del Comune of Prato and it has a well-documented history thanks to numerous sources that allow the reconstruction of events related to the commission.
In January 1492 the eight commissioners proposed to allocate public funds to an altar piece for the Sala dell’Udienza, which was situated at the center of Prato and therefore often used for public events.
In 1502 the proposal was accepted. The sources of the time tell that certain Antonio Vannocchi de’ Rochis suggested a qualified artist for the commission on 26 January 1502. The choice fell on Filippino, who was not only a well-known established artist in Florentine area, but also a native of Prato and therefore he had a strong link with the city. They paid him a modest compensation of 30 gold florins and although he also had to pay the shipping costs, the Tuscan master accepted the commission which makes it seem more of an honor to him and probably he wanted to pay a tribute to his home city.
Even though the painting is not in perfect condition, it shows a great sensitivity with strong colors, almost recalling the works of Leonardo. Today it is on display in Prato’s Palazzo Pretorio together with other works, among them the works of Filippino’s father, Friar Filippo.
Scharf A., Filippino Lippi, Vienna 1935, pp. 8, 72-73, 97-98, 109, n. 42;
Neilson K.B., Filippino Lippi. A Critical Study, Cambridge 1938, p. 169-173;
Di Agresti G., “La tavola emicicla di Filippino Lippi per il comune di Prato”, in Prato. Storia e arte, VII, 16, 1966, pp. 91-109;
Mannini M. P., “Una proposta per Filippino Lippi: documentazione di artisti pratesi per Lorenza il Magnifico”, in Prato. Storia e arte, XXXII, 78, 1991, pp. 22-26;
Filippini C., “Le opere realizzate per prato”, in C. Filippini, C. Cerretelli, I Lippi a Prato, Prato 1994, pp. 77-80;
Nelson J.K.., in Filippo et Filippino Lippi. La Reinaissance à Prato, catalogo di mostra (Paris 2009), cat. 27, pp. 156-158 (con bibliografia precedente);
Filippo Lippi was born in Prato in 1457, son of Filippo Lippi, a Carmelite friar of the Order of the Carmine of Florence and Lucrezia Buti. The son was called “Filippino” with diminutive to distinguish him from his father.
His father was a famous painter who worked in Florence, Padua, Prato and Spoleto, mastering a style that became very popular among the main artists of the Laurentian age.
Filippino first studied in his father’s workshop and at the age of fourteen he went under Sandro Botticelli, who had also been his father’s student.
In Botticelli’s workshop (1472) he studied his refined and elegant style with rhythmic and dynamic use of lines and his paintings of this period are very much influenced by Botticelli’s work. Among them are the Madonnas of Berlin, London and Washington, the Three archangels and Tobias in the Galleria Sabauda of Turin, Madonna del Mare in the Galleria dell’Accademia and the chests with the Stories of Ester, Stories of Lucrezia and Stories of Virginia, made between 1475 and 1480. The same year, 1480, he enrolled in the Compagnia di San Luca and painted the Annunciation, now conserved in the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence.
Between 1482 and 1485 Filippino completed the cycle of frescoes with the Stories of St. Peter in the Brancacci chapel in the church of Carmine in Florence, which were left unfinished by Masolino da Panicale and Masaccio sixty years before. Filippino was probably chosen for his stylistic loyalty for his father, who studied under Masaccio. He committed to complete the lower section of the frescoes by painting the Dispute of Simon Magus, the Crucifixion of St. Peter, the Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus, St. Peter in Prison Visited by St. Paul and the Liberation of St. Peter. The overall result was harmonious.
In the following two years, Filippino painted the Otto altarpiece for Palazzo Vecchio and the Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard for the convent of the Campora outside Porta Romana, now conserved in the Badia Fiorentina. On his way to Rome he stopped in Spoleto, where his father died in 1469, to bring his father’s remains in Florence as he wanted him to be buried in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo the Magnificent approved his request.
Filippino was called to Rome by cardinal Oliviero Carafa in 1488, who wanted him to paint the frescoes in his family chapel in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. During his stay in Rome he deepened his knowledge on ancient art. He saw the frescoes of Melozzo da Forlì and Pinturicchio, whose works inspired him to develop his personal style by adding references to ancient Rome and wise quotations. He returned from Rome in 1491 and participated in the competition to decorate the façade of the Duomo of Florence. He continued to paint the cycle of frescoes for the Filippo Strozzi chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella, which he had stared before his trip to Rome, completing it in 1502. The decorated windows of the chapel were added in 1503, after the death of the commissioner. They were designed by Filippino, with decorations of Madonna and Child, two angels and Saints Philip and John.
When Filippino returned in Florence in 1492, he produced numerous altarpieces such as the Apparition of Christ (1493, Munich), Madonna with Child and Saints in the church of Santo Spirito, the Adoration of the Magi in the church of San Domenico in Scopeto, conserved today in Gallerie degli Uffizi.
In his last period Filippino proved to be one the greatest interprets of the formalistic and classical style that was developing in Florence at the time. After the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the city was left with restless and spiritual atmosphere and Savonarola’s preaching had driven many artists towards ascetic style. In 1501 Filippino painted the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria for the church of San Domenico in Bologna. Two years later, the city of Prato commissioned the altarpiece of the Town Hall, Madonna with Child and Saints (Pala dell’Udienza), now kept in the Civic Museum of Prato.
Filippino died in Florence in 1504 and he was buried behind the church of San Michele Visdomini, as remembered on a memorial plaque that has been added afterwards.
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.