Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning: Analysis

In the poem 'Fra Lippo Lippi', Browning emphasizes the fact that Lippi was one of the first painters to break with formal traditions of ecclesiastical painting which Fra Angelico and Lorenzo Monaco followed. Lippi was the first naturalist and realist in painting, selecting by preference contemporary scenes and figures. This was of course Browning's view of his own position in poetry in the nineteenth century.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Certainly the artistic creed which Browning attributes to Fra Lippo Lippi is much more his own than Lippi’s. According to Browning, Lippi occupied an important place in the history of art as the harbinger of the new manner of painters. Lippo contributed warm, naturalistic and full of expression, as contrasted with the old, formal religious artists. Browning also approves Lippi’s delight in painting the portraits of contemporaries in his work. Lippo’s most important statement concerns the basis of art: should art be realistic and true- to life, or should it be idealistic and didactic? Should art even serve religion at all? We get the gist of Browning’s own philosophy of life in the words of Lippi when he says: “This world’s no blot for us, / Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good.”

"Fra Lippo Lippi" is a very lively, amusing and entertaining poem. In spite of the restraints imposed on his freedom of movement and the compulsion to paint saints, Lippi remains cheerful and throughout the poem, speaks in a carefree and almost gay in vein. His zest for life is unbounded. Though a monk, he speaks like a man of the world and is fond of the pleasures that life has to offer and he justifies his defiance of the conventional theory of art with its emphasis on ecclesiastical themes in the following interesting lines:”You should not take a fellow eight years old/ And make him swear to never kiss the girls”. He is, of course, referring to the manner in which he was forced, at a very early age, to take to the life of a monk.

This poem explains not only what Browning believed to be Lippi's view of the purpose of painting, but also the poet's own beliefs about the function of poetry. Both painter and poet have the power of imagination. The question is what the relationship should be between the real world around them and the ideal worlds that they can imagine. His colleagues believe that Fra Lippo Lippi's figures are too lifelike so that by painting so realistically the painter will cause his viewers to pay too much attention to human bodies and thereby become distracted from their proper concern of life, their souls. Both Browning and Fra Lippo Lippi disagree with this point of view. To them, life is the first concern of life, be it to the artist, to the painter, or to anyone who needs to appreciate what the good God has given him. Fra Lippo Lippi argues that beauty does not diminish piety. In lines 217 to 221, he explains that by responding to the beauty of God's creation, human beings are led to thank God and thinks to be aware of the soul within themselves. Though he admits that he sometimes wonders whether he or the Church is right, but when he paints, he insists, he always remembers the God of Genesis, creating Eve in the Garden of Eden. That flesh that was made by God cannot be evil. Realistic paintings actually draw the attention of human beings to real life beauty that they might otherwise ignore. In this way, too, the artist causes human beings to praise their creator. The central theme of "Fra Lippo Lippi" then, is that the function of art and poetry, which should deal with real life and its beauty, for that, is its prime function, if not the only function.

Although Fra Lippo is made to echo the ideas works of his creator, there is no suggestion of didactics in the poem. In Fra Lippo Lippi, we are drawn to the statement by the attractiveness of the character; the vivid appreciation of life, which Lippo says is an essential pre-requisite for Art, is conveyed not merely by the statement, but by demonstration.

As usual Browning begins the poem with the suggestion of a dramatic situation. Lippo has been seized by the night watch as he makes his way back to the palace of the Medici after an amorous escapade. The violence and extravagance of his vocabulary immediately suggest his character—'clap', 'Zooks', 'harry out', 'gullet's gripe'. The ideas which occur to him in the immediacy of the situation are strikingly vivid

 "...harry out, if you must show your zeal, Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole, And nip each softling of a wee white mouse, Weke, weke, that's crept to keep him company! the house that caps the corner Zooks, are we pilchards, that they sweep the streets...?

The verse is blank verse, ten syllabled lines in iambic pentameter. The number of syllables is regular, but stress and positioning of the caesura are varied with the considerable subtlety.

Cite this Page!

Shrestha, Roma. "Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning: Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 13 Nov. 2017,

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