Art as Prophecy in "Fra Lippo Lippi"

Topics: Florence, Aesthetics, Art Pages: 2 (707 words) Published: August 24, 2013
Browning examines the state of contemporary poetry and art in a number of poems. In "Fra Lippo Lippi," for example, he uses this historical figure to compare writers of his own age with the fifteenth-century artist. Lippi makes for a confusing, ambiguous character, both a heretic who blasphemes and visits brothels and a devout and serious artist who believes that all good art has a religious purpose. A painter should paint "God's works," he claims, and to overlook even the most minute truth is a "crime" (295). Unlike many of his contemporaries and teachers, Lippi refuses to follow the monastic ideal of painting. He does not, in other words, try to ignore the "perishable clay" and raise his subjects above it in order to get to their souls (180). Instead, Lippi believes that a painter best captures the soul by representing the body in utmost detail: "the value and significance of flesh I can't unlearn" (111). Lippi's recitation of his life reveals to the reader the true value of art. Art operates as an instrument of God and as prophecy. When Lippi reaches the climax of his speech — the epiphanical moment for the reader — he says that the artist should paint those things that we all pass by from day-to-day but never care to notice. The artist has a duty to open the eyes of his audience. Through art "God uses us to help each other so,/ Lending our minds out" (305-306). Clearly, then, the artist is called by God to sacrifice himself, to devote his energies and all his life to helping other people see. This means, of course, that artists "interpret God" for their audience, and by doing so, they essentially act as prophets, or at least as a kind of mediator between the divine and man (311). Basically, the artist must seek out the meaning of the world and relate it to his audience through the real details of God's creations. With this historical poem, Browning does just that. Lippi obviously professes Browning's own doctrines of art, but Browning uses the narrative of...
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