Classic English literature
16 November 2011
Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning: Argument about Art. Fra Lippo Lippi was written by Robert Browning in 1855. The poem presents a long dramatic monologue of a Carmelite monk and gifted painter, Fra (Brother) Lippo Lippi, who, returning stealthily from his amorous adventures, is detained by night watchmen. Yet, as Fra Lippo Lippi is a protégé of the powerful Cosimo di Medici, he has nothing to fear from the guards. In the very beginning of the poem he exclaims with satisfaction: “Aha, you know your betters! Then, you'll take Your hand away that's fiddling on my throat…” (12-13). Why then is the monologue delivered? It might be regarded as a sort of apologia , as his captors are not a little surprised by discovering their prisoner’s membership of a monastic order: “Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head - Mine's shaved — a monk, you say — the sting's in that! If Master Cosimo announced himself, Mum's the word naturally; but a monk!” (76-79). However, beginning as such, Fra Lippo Lippi’s speech turns into an emotional outpouring of his ideas regarding art and its nature. He seems to find it easier to share his independent opinions with the guards, who are socially closer to him than either his Prior or his influential patron. It is a monologue of an artist hindered in his work by his customers, as he has to adapt his paintings to their tastes, however distasteful he finds it. By and by he expresses his views on the nature of art, it connection with religion and its mission. His views differ significantly from the Church’s doctrine that the truthful depiction of human body is unnecessary and harmful, as art is to elevate human soul, aiding it to forget the earthly. For Prior the artist’s truthful depiction of human body is “devil’s game” (172). His main objection is that Lippo’s paintings “do not so instigate to prayer” (316), which should be the chief objective of art. The art should...
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