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061017-Felippo-Lippi-Madonna-and-Child

I made it to “Botticelli and the Search for the Divine” at the Museum of Fine Arts. By the time I paid for the ticket, the parking garage, lunch, and gas, it was an expensive outing, but I was glad I went. The show closes July 9.

Curiously, I think I loved the tenderness of the mother-and-child by Felippo Lippi (above) the most. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a splendid Botticelli Venus, holding her long tresses in a way that made her look like Eve and the snake. And I was delighted to see the famous Minerva and centaur that I admired so much in Florence when I was 16.

I don’t think I ever knew the centaur story. I ask you, does it look more like the Goddess of War just defeated a warlike centaur or like a tragic couple accepting that they have no future together? The latter version is what I made up, and it still works for me.

But getting back to Botticelli’s teacher: I remembered the name from “Fra Felippo Lippi,” a long, biographical poem by Robert Browning that we were assigned in high school.

So when I got home, I went on Google to have a look. The poem includes a description of the artist’s early years as a street urchin, before being handed over to the friars to be trained as a monk. I wanted to share this section of the poem about how Lippi became a close observer of his world.

“But, mind you, when a boy starves in the streets
“Eight years together, as my fortune was,
“Watching folk’s faces to know who will fling
“The bit of half-stripped grape-bunch he desires,
“And who will curse or kick him for his pains, —
“Which gentleman processional and fine,
“Holding a candle to the Sacrament,
“Will wink and let him lift a plate and catch
“The droppings of the wax to sell again,
“Or holla for the Eight and have him whipped, —
“How say I? — nay, which dog bites, which lets drop
“His bone from the heap of offal in the street, —
“Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike,
“He learns the look of things, and none the less
“For admonition from the hunger-pinch.
“I had a store of such remarks, be sure,
“Which, after I found leisure, turned to use.
“I drew men’s faces on my copy-books,
“Scrawled them within the antiphonary’s marge,
“Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes,
“Found eyes and nose and chin for A’s and B’s,
“And made a string of pictures of the world
“Betwixt the ins and outs of verb and noun …”

More on Lippi at Wikipedia, here, and on Botticelli, here.

061017-Minerva-and-centaur-Botticelli.jpg

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