Commentary of Fra Lippo Lippi

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The poem centers thematically around the discussion of art that takes place around line 180. Lippo has painted a group of figures that are the spitting image of people in the community: the Prior’s mistress, neighborhood men, etc. Everyone is amazed at his talent, and his great show of talent gains him his place at the monastery. However, his talent for depicting reality comes into conflict with the stated religious goals of the Church. The Church leadership believes that their parishioners will be distracted by the sight of people they know within the painting: as the Prior and his cohorts say, “ ‘Your business is not to catch men with show, / With homage to the perishable clay.../ Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh. / Your business is to paint the souls of men.’ ” In part the Church authorities’ objections stem not from any real religious concern, but from a concern for their own reputation: Lippo has gotten a little too close to the truth with his depictions of actual persons as historical figures—the Prior’s “niece” (actually his mistress) has been portrayed as the seductive Salome. However, the conflict between Lippo and the Church elders also cuts to the very heart of questions about art: is the primary purpose of Lippo’s art—and any art—to…

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