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Comparing a painting by Fra Filippo Lippi and Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The two pictures are Rosetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini and Lippi’s Annunciation. Both of the artists were influenced by their age. Lippi lived in Italy between 1406 and 1469 and Rosetti from 1828 to 1882. Lippi’s background of Italian Renaissance determined his style to a large extent. In Florence where Lippi lived the economic changes of the time led to an emerging new class: that of the banker princes. They lent money to almost all the kings in western Europe and so they collected great fortunes. From their riches they could give patronage to all kinds of artists. This gave artists a stable living but did not give them the freedom that Rosetti enjoyed a few centuries later. Rosetti lived in England at a time when power came to the hands of a new industrial middle class who became the new patrons of the arts. They were rich but not as rich as the church or the patrons of Lippi’s time. Therefore, the artists could not enjoy the protection of this new class for years. Consequently, an artist had to sell pictures in open competition with his rivals on the walls of a salon or an Academy. This competition naturally led to a variety of styles. Some turned to history or exotic arts and others sought new ideas. One of such artists was Dante Gabriel Rosetti he turned against the neo-classical traditions of the Academy and looked for different inspiration. He wrote in 1901 that “an artist, whether painter or writer, ought to be bent upon defining and expressing his own personal thoughts, and that they ought to be based upon a direct study of Nature, and harmonised with her manifestations.” In the same year he founded with some fellow artists the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood based on the same principles. These ideas were not welcome by the public and Ecce Ancilla Domini one of Rosetti’s first paintings was severely abused. Rosetti was so offended by the criticism that he swore never to exhibit in public again.Rosetti’s age did not appreciate his art because they thought that the style Raphael established was the crowning of all paintings. This style was based on dark colours, artificial settings and a triangle composition. Rosetti wanted to free …

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…we cannot see where the wall ends and the floor starts. With this we can draw a parallel with Lippi’s painting where architecture was also illogical.This brought us to the elements that connect Rosetti’s painting to a traditional one like Lippi’s. Although the colouring is mostly white the picture is patched with some gold, red and blue, the traditional colours of Mary’s virginity. Also, the lily is present in both paintings, again it is related to virginity and the dove too appears, which represents the Holy Spirit.All these differences and similarities could be related to the problems Rosetti had to face when painting a religious picture. Probably he wanted to be realistic as much as possible and at the same time following his ambition he wanted to express his thoughts as well. This could be achieved by mixing traditional elements with innovations. One such new element was covering the figures with simple white dresses. Probably Rosetti did not dress his figures in contemporary clothes because that would have been strange to the Victorian viewer. Painting the figures in white was a solution to this problem. This way managing to be realistic and contemporary at the same time.

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