FRA LIPPO LIPPI
George Eliot in her essay on Browning says, “Indeed, in Browning’s best poems he makes us feel that what we took for obscurity in him was superficiality in ourselves. We are far from meaning that all his obscurity is like the obscurity of the stars, dependent simply on the feebleness of men’s vision”. According to George Eliot, “Fra Lippo Lippi a poem at once original and perfect in its kind. The artist-monk, Fra Lippo, is supposed to be detected by the night-watch roaming the streets of Florence, and while sharing the wine with which he makes amends to the Dogberrys for the roughness of his tongue, he pours forth the story of his life and his art with the racy conversational vigour of a brawny genius under the influence of the Care-dispeller…we would rather have Fra Lippo Lippi than an essay on Realism in Art; we would rather have The Statue and the Bust than a three-volume novel with the same moral; we would rather have Holy Cross-Day than Strictures on the Society for the Emancipation of the Jews.”
The poem “Fra Lippo Lippi” owes its beginnings to the account given in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1568) of a painter-monk of the same name who lived in Florence during the fifteenth century. As the poem reflects, Lippi the historical figure enjoyed the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici (1389–1464), a banker who possessed great political power in the city. The speaker’s zeal and manifest unorthodoxy also overlap with those of the apparently spirited Lippi of Renaissance Italy, who was dismissed for misconduct from a rector ship and later eloped with a nun. In Fra Lippo Lippi, Browning begins by creating an unfavorable portrayal of the protagonist. However through his dramatic skill unfurls one vital detail after another about the painter monk and compels us to modify and transform our opinion of him. Readers are compelled to take back their judgments of him and are moved to sympathy for him. Browning makes it clear that...
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