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Knights of Art by  Amy Steedman

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FRA FILIPPO LIPPI

[24] IT was winter time in Florence. The tramontana, that keen wind which blows from over the snow mountains, was sweeping down the narrow streets, searching out every nook and corner with its icy breath. Men flung their cloaks closer round them, and pulled their hats down over their eyes, so that only the tips of their noses were left uncovered for the wind to freeze. Women held their scaldinoes, little pots of hot charcoal, closer under their shawls, and even the dogs had a sad, half-frozen look. One and all longed for the warm winds of spring and the summer heat they loved. It was bad enough for those who had warm clothes and plenty of polenta, but for the poor life was very hard those cold wintry days.

In a doorway of a great house, in one of the narrow streets, a little boy of eight was crouching behind one of the stone pillars as he tried to keep out of the grip of the tramontana. His little coat was folded closely round him, but it was full of rents and holes so that the thin body inside was scarcely covered, and the child's blue lips trembled with the cold, and his black eyes filled with tears.

It was not often that Filippo turned such a sad little face to meet the world. Usually those black [25] eyes sparkled with fun and mischief, and the mouth spread itself into a merry grin. But to-day, truly things were worse than he ever remembered them before, and he could remember fairly bad times, too, if he tried.

Other children had their fathers and mothers who gave them food and clothes, but he seemed to be quite different, and never had had any one to care for him. True, there was his aunt, old Mona Lapaccia, who said he had once had a father and mother like other boys, but she always added with a mournful shake of her head that she alone had endured all the trouble and worry of bringing him up since he was two years old. 'Ah,' she would say, turning her eyes upwards, 'the saints alone know what I have endured with a great hungry boy to feed and clothe.'

It seemed to Filippo that in that case the saints must also know how very little he had to eat, and how cold he was on these wintry days. But of course they would be too grand to care about a little boy.

In summer things were different. One could roll merrily about in the sunshine all day long, and at night sleep in some cool sheltering corner of the street. And then, too, there was always a better chance of picking up something to eat. Plenty of fig skins and melon parings were flung carelessly out into the street when fruit was plentiful, and people would often throw away the remains of a bunch of grapes. It was wonderful how quickly Filippo learned to know people's faces, and to guess who [26] would finish to the last grape and who would throw the smaller ones away. Some would even smile as they caught his anxious, waiting eye fixed on the fruit, and would cry 'Catch' as they threw a goodly bunch into those small brown hands that never let anything slip through their fingers.

Oh, yes, summer was all right, but there was always winter to face. To-day he was so very hungry, and the lupin skins which he had collected for his breakfast were all eaten long ago. He had hung about the little open shops, sniffing up the delicious smell of fried polenta, but no one had given him a morsel. All he had got was a stern 'be off' when he ventured too close to the tempting food. If only this day had been a festa, he might have done well enough. For in the great processions when the priests and people carried their lighted candles round the church, he could always dart in and out with his little iron scraper, lift the melted wax of the marble floor and sell it over again to the candlemakers.

But there were no processions to-day, and there remained only one thing to be done. He must go home and see if Mona Lapaccia had anything to spare. Perhaps the saints took notice when he was hungry.

Down the street he ran, keeping close to the wall, just as the dogs do when it rains. For the great overhanging eaves of the houses act as a sheltering umbrella. Then out into the broad street that runs beside the river, where, even in winter, the sun shines warmly if it shines anywhere.

Filippo paused at the corner of the Ponte alla [27] Carraja to watch the struggles of a poor mule which was trying to pull a huge cartload of wood up the steep incline of the bridge. It was so exciting that for a moment he forgot how cold and hungry he was, as he shouted and screamed directions with the rest of the crowd, darted in and out in his eagerness to help, and only got into every one's way.

That excitement over, Filippo felt in better spirits and ran quickly across the bridge. He soon threaded his way to a poor street that led towards one of the city gates, where everything looked dirtier and more cheerless than ever. He had not expected a welcome, and he certainly did not get one, as, after climbing the steep stairs, he cautiously pushed open the door and peeped in.

His aunt's thin face looked dark and angry. Poor soul, she had had no breakfast either, and there would be no food that day unless her work was finished. And here was this troublesome boy back again, when she thought she had got rid of him for the day

'Away!' she shouted crossly. 'What dost thou mean by coming back so soon? Away, and seek thy living in the streets.'

'It is too cold,' said the boy, creeping into the bare room, 'and I am hungry.'

'Hungry!' and poor Mona Lapaccia cast her eyes upwards, as if she would ask the saints if they too were not filled with surprise to hear this word. 'And when art thou anything else? It is ever the same story with thee: eat, eat, eat. Now, the saints help me, I have borne this burden long enough. I will see if I cannot shift it on to other shoulders.'

[28] She rose as she spoke, tied her yellow handkerchief over her head and smoothed out her apron. Then she caught Filippo by his shoulder and gave him a good shake, just to teach him how wrong it was to talk of being hungry, and pushing him in front of her they went downstairs together.

'Where art thou going?' gasped the boy as she dragged him swiftly along the street.

'Wait and thou shalt see,' she answered shortly; 'and do thou mind thy manners, else will I mind them for thee.'

Filippo ran along a little quicker on hearing this advice. He had but a dim notion of what minding his manners might mean, but he guessed fairly well what would happen if his aunt minded them. Ah! here they were at the great square of the Carmine. He had often crept into the church to get warm and to see those wonderful pictures on the walls. Could they be going there now?

But it was towards the convent door that Mona Lapaccia bent her steps, and, when she had rung the bell, she gave Filippo's shoulder a final shake, and pulled his coat straight and smoothed his hair.

A fat, good-natured brother let them in, and led them through the many passages into a room where the prior sat finishing his midday meal.

Filippo's hungry eyes were immediately fixed on a piece of bread which lay upon the table, and the kindly prior smiled as he nodded his head towards it.

Not another invitation did Filippo need; like a bird he darted forward and snatched the piece of [29] good white bread, and holding it in both hands he began to munch to his heart's content. How long it was since he had tasted anything like this! It was so delicious that for a few blissful moments he forgot where he was, forgot his aunt and the great man who was looking at him with such kind eyes.

But presently he heard his own name spoken and then he looked up and remembered. 'And so, Filippo, thou wouldst become a monk?' the prior was saying. 'Let me see—how old art thou?'

'Eight years old, your reverence,' said Mona Lapaccia before Filippo could answer. Which was just as well, as his mouth was still very full.

'And it is thy desire to leave the world, and enter our convent?' continued the prior. 'Art thou willing to give up all, that thou mayest become a servant of God?'

The little dirty brown hands clutched the bread in dismay. Did the kind man mean that he was to give up his bread when he had scarcely eaten half of it?

'No, no; eat thy bread, child,' said the prior, with an understanding nod. 'Thou art but a babe, but we will make a good monk of thee yet.'

Then, indeed, began happy days for Filippo. No more threadbare coats, but a warm little brown serge robe, tied round the waist with a rope whose ends grew daily shorter as the way round his waist grew longer. No more lupin skins and whiffs of fried polenta, but food enough and to spare; such food as he had not dreamt of before, and always as much as he could eat.

[30] Filippo was as happy as the day was long. He had always been a merry little soul even when life had been hard and food scarce, and now he would not have changed his lot with the saints in Paradise.

But the good brothers began to think it was time Filippo should do something besides play and eat.

'Let us see what the child is fit for,' they said.

So Filippo was called in to sit on the bench with the boys and learn his A B C. That was dreadfully dull work. He could never remember the names of those queer signs. Their shapes he knew quite well, and he could draw them carefully in his copy- book, but their names were too much for him. And as to the Latin which the good monks tried to teach him, they might as well have tried to teach a monkey.

All the brightness faded from Filippo's face the moment a book was put before him, and he looked so dull and stupid that the brothers were in despair. Then for a little things seemed to improve. Filippo suddenly lost his stupid look as he bent over the pages, and his eyes were bright with interest.

'Aha!' said one brother nudging the other, 'the boy has found his brains at last.'

But great indeed was their wrath and disappointment when they looked over his shoulder. Instead of learning his lessons, Filippo had been making all sorts of queer drawings round the margin of the page. The A's and B's had noses and eyes, and looked out with little grinning faces. The long music notes had legs and arms and were dancing [31] about like little black imps. Everything was scribbled over with the naughty little figures.

This was really too much, and Filippo must be taken at once before the prior.

'What, in disgrace again?' asked the kindly old man. 'What has the child done now?'

'We can teach him nothing,' said the brother, shaking a severe finger at Filippo, who hung his head. 'He cannot even learn his A B C. And besides, he spoils his books, ay, and even the walls and benches, by drawing such things as these upon them.' And the indignant monk held out the book where all those naughty figures were dancing over the page.

The prior took the book and looked at it closely.

'What makes thee do these things?' he asked the boy, who stood first on one foot and then on the other, twisting his rope in his fingers.

At the sound of the kind voice, the boy looked up, and his face broke into a smile.

'Indeed, I cannot help it, Father,' he said. 'It is the fault of these,' and he spread out his ten little brown fingers.

The prior laughed.

'Well,' he said, 'we will not turn thee out, though they do say thou wilt never make a monk. Perhaps we may teach these ten little rascals to do good work, even if we cannot put learning into that round head of thine.'

So instead of books and Latin lessons, the good monks tried a different plan. Filippo was given as a pupil to good Brother Anselmo, whose work it was [32] to draw the delicate pictures and letters for the convent prayer-books.

This was a different kind of lesson, indeed. Filippo's eyes shone with eagerness as he bent over his work and tried to copy the beautiful lines and curves which the master set for him.

There were other boys in the class as well, and Filippo looked at their work with great admiration. One boy especially, who was bigger than Filippo, and who had a kind merry face, made such beautiful copies that Filippo always tried to sit next him if possible. Very soon the boys became great friends.

Diamante, as the elder boy was called, was pleased to be admired so much by the little new pupil; but as time went on, his pride in his own work grew less as he saw with amazement how quickly Filippo's little brown fingers learned to draw straighter lines and more beautiful curves than any he could manage. Brother Anselmo, too, would watch the boy at work, and his saintly old face beamed with pleasure as he looked.

'He will pass us all, and leave us far behind, this child who is too stupid to learn his A B C,' he would say, and his face shone with unselfish joy.

Then when the boys grew older, they were allowed to go into the church and watch those wonderful frescoes, which grew under the hand of the great awkward painter, 'Ugly Tom,' as he was called.

Together Filippo and Diamante stood and watched with awe, learning lessons there which the good father had not been able to teach. Then they [33] would begin to put into practice what they had learned, and try to copy in their own pictures the work of the great master.

'Thou hast the knack of it, Filippo,' Diamante would say as he looked with envy at the figures Filippo drew so easily.

'Thy pictures are also good,' Filippo would answer quickly, 'and thou thyself art better than any one else in the convent.'

There was no complaint now of Filippo's dullness. He soon learned all that the painter-monks could teach him, and as years passed on the prior would rub his hands in delight to think that here was an artist, one of themselves, who would soon be able to paint the walls of the church and convent, and make them as famous as the convent of San Marco had been made famous by its angelical painter.

Then one day he called Filippo to him.

'My son,' he said, 'you have learned well, and it is time now to turn your work to some account. Go into the cloister where the walls have been but newly whitewashed, and let us see what kind of pictures thou canst paint.'

With burning cheeks and shining eyes, Filippo began his work. Day after day he stood on the scaffolding, with his brown robe pinned back and his bare arm moving swiftly as he drew figure after figure on the smooth white wall.

He did not pause to think what he would draw, the figures seemed to grow like magic under his touch. There were the monks in their brown and white robes, fat and laughing, or lean and anxious- [34] minded. There were the people who came to say their prayers in church, little children clinging to their mothers' skirts, beggars and rich folks, even the stray dog that sometimes wandered in. Yes, and the pretty girls who laughed and talked in whispers. He drew them all, just as he had often seen them. Then, when the last piece of wall was covered, he stopped his work.

The news soon spread through all the convent that Brother Filippo had finished his picture, and all the monks came hurrying to see. The scaffolding was taken down, and then they all stood round, gazing with round eyes and open mouths. They had never seen anything like it before, and at first there was silence except for one long drawn 'ah-h.'

Then one by one they began to laugh and talk, and point with eager, excited fingers. 'Look,' cried one, 'there is Brother Giovanni; I would know his smile among a hundred.'

'There is that beggar who comes each day to ask for soup,' cried another.

'And there is his dog,' shouted a third.

'Look at the maid who kneels in front,' said Fra Diamante in a hushed voice, 'is she not as fair as any saint?'

Then suddenly there was silence, and the brothers looked ashamed of the noise they had been making, as the prior himself looked down on them from the steps above.

'What is all this?' he asked. And his voice sounded grave and displeased as he looked from the wall to the crowd of eager monks. Then he turned [35] to Filippo. 'Are these the pictures I ordered thee to paint?' he asked. 'Is this the kind of painting to do honour to God and to our Church? Will these mere human figures help men to remember the saints, teach them to look up to heaven, or help them with their prayers? Quick, rub them out, and paint your pictures for heaven and not for earth.'

Filippo hung his head, the crowd of admiring monks swiftly disappeared, and he was left to begin his work all over again.

It was so difficult for Filippo to keep his thoughts fixed on heaven, and not to think of earth. He did so love the merry world, and his fingers, those same ten brown rascals which had got him into trouble when he was a child, always longed to draw just the faces that he saw every day. The pretty face of the little maid kneeling at her prayers was so real and so delightful, and the Madonna and angels seemed so solemn and far off.

Still no one would have pictures which did not tell of saints and angels, so he must paint the best he could. After all, it was easy to put on wings and golden haloes until the earthly things took on a heavenly look.

But the convent life grew daily more and more wearisome now to Filippo. The world, which he had been so willing to give up for a piece of good white bread when he was eight years old, now seemed full of all the things he loved best.

The more he thought of it, the more he longed to see other places outside the convent walls, and [36] other faces besides the monks and the people who came to church.

And so one dark night, when all the brothers were asleep and the bells had just rung the midnight hour, Fra Filippo stole out of his cell, unlocked the convent door, and ran swiftly out into the quiet street.

How good it felt to be free! The very street itself seemed like an old friend, welcoming him with open arms. On and on he ran until he came to the city gates of San Frediano, there to wait until he could slip through unnoticed when the gates were opened at the dawn of day. Then on again until Florence and the convent were left behind and the whole world lay before him.

There was no difficulty about living, for the people gave him food and money, and good-natured countrymen would stop their carts and offer him a lift along the straight white dusty roads. So by and by he reached Ancona and saw for the first time the sea.

Filippo gazed and gazed, forgetting everything else as he drank in the beauty of that great stretch of quivering blue, while in his ears sounded words which he had almost forgotten—words which had fallen on heedless ears at matins or vespers—and which never had held any meaning for him before: 'And before the throne was a sea of glass, like unto crystal.'

He stood still for a few minutes and then the heavenly vision faded, and like any other boy he forgot all about beauty and colour, and only longed [37] to be out in a boat enjoying the strange new delight.

Very lucky he thought himself when he reached the shore to find a boat just putting of, and to hear himself invited to jump in by the boys who were going for a sail.

Away they went, further and further from the shore, laughing and talking. The boys were so busy telling wonderful sea-tales to the young stranger that they did not notice how far they had gone. Then suddenly they looked ahead and sat speechless with fear.

A great Moorish galley was bearing down upon them, its rows of oars flashed in the sunlight, and its great painted sails towered above their heads. It was no use trying to escape. Those strong rowers easily overtook them, and in a few minutes Filippo and his companions were hoisted up on board the galley.

It was all so sudden that it seemed like a dream. But the chains were very real that were fastened round their wrists and ankles, and the dark cruel faces of the Moors as they looked on smiling at their misery were certainly no dream.

Then followed long days of misery when the new slaves toiled at the oars under the blazing sun, and nights of cold and weariness. Many a time did Filippo long for the quiet convent, the kindly brothers, and the long peaceful days. Many a time did he long to hear the bells calling him to prayer, which had once only filled him with restless impatience.

[38] But at last the galley reached the coast of Barbary, and the slaves were unchained from the oars and taken ashore. In all his misery Filippo's keen eyes still watched with interest the people around him, and he was never tired of studying the swarthy faces and curious garments of the Moorish pirates.

Then one day when he happened to be near a smooth white wall, he took a charred stick from a fire which was built close by, and began to draw the figure of his master.

What a delight it was to draw those rapid strokes and feel the likeness grow beneath his fingers! He was so much interested that he did not notice the crowd that gathered gradually round him, but he worked steadily on until the figure was finished.

Just as the band of monks had stood silent round his first picture in the cloister of the Carmine, so these dark Moors stood still in wonder and amazement gazing upon the bold black figure sketched upon the smooth white wall.

No one had ever seen such a thing in that land before, and it seemed to them that this man must be a dealer in magic. They whispered together, and one went off hurriedly to fetch the captain.

The master, when he came, was as astonished as the men. He could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw a second self drawn upon the wall, more like than his own shadow. This indeed must be no common man; and he ordered that Filippo's chains should be immediately struck off, and that he should be treated with respect and honour.

Nothing now was too good for this man of magic, [39] and before long Filippo was put on board a ship and carried safely back to Italy. They put him ashore at Naples, and for some little time Filippo stayed there painting pictures for the king; but his heart was in his own beloved town, and very soon he returned to Florence.

Perhaps he did not deserve a welcome, but every one was only too delighted to think that the runaway had really returned. Even the prior, though he shook his head, was glad to welcome back the brother whose painting had already brought fame and honour to the convent.

But in spite of all the troubles Filippo had gone through, he still dearly loved the merry world and all its pleasures. For a long time he would paint his saints and angels with all due diligence, and then he would dash down brushes and pencils, leave his paints scattered around, and of he would go for a holiday. Then the work would come to a stand- still, and people must just wait until Filippo should feel inclined to begin again.

The great Cosimo de Medici, who was always the friend of painters, desired above all things that Fra Filippo should paint a picture for him. And what is more, having heard so many tales about the idle ways of this same brother, he was determined that the picture should be painted without any interruptions.

'Fra Filippo shall take no holidays while at work for me,' he said, as he talked the matter over with the prior.

'That may not be so easy as thou thinkest,' said [40] the prior, for he knew Filippo better than did this great Cosimo.

But Cosimo did not see any difficulty in the matter whatever. High in his palace he prepared a room for the painter, and placed there everything he could need. No comfort was lacking, and when Filippo came he was treated as an honoured guest, except for one thing. Whenever the heavy door of his room swung to, there was a grating sound heard, and the key in the lock was turned from outside. So Filippo was really a captive in his handsome prison.

That was all very well for a few days. Filippo laughed as he painted away, and laid on the tender blue of the Virgin's robe, and painted into her eyes the solemn look which he had so often seen on the face of some poor peasant woman as she knelt at prayer. But after a while he grew restless and weary of his work.

'Plague take this great man and his fine manners,' he cried. 'Does he think he can catch a lark and train it to sing in a cage at his bidding? I am weary of saints and angels. I must out to breathe the fresh sweet air of heaven.'

But the key was always turned in the lock and the door was strong. There was the window, but it was high above the street, and the grey walls, built of huge square stones, might well have been intended to enclose a prison rather than a palace.

It was a dark night, and the air felt hot as Filippo leaned out of the window. Scarce a breath stirred the still air, and every sound could be heard dis- [41] tinctly. Far below in the street he could hear the tread of the people's feet, and catch the words of a merry song as a company of boys and girls danced merrily along.

'Flower of the rose,

If I've been happy, what matter who knows,'

they sang.

It was all too tempting; out he must get. Filippo looked round his room, and his eye rested on the bed. With a shout of triumphant delight he ran towards it. First he seized the quilt and tore it into strips, then the blankets, then the sheets.

'Whoever saw a grander rope?' he chuckled to himself as he knotted the ends together.

Quick as thought he tied it to the iron bar that ran across his window, and, squeezing out, he began to climb down, hand over hand, dangling and swinging to and fro. The rope was stout and good, and now he could steady himself by catching his toes in the great iron rings fastened into the wall, until at last he dropped breathless into the street below.

Next day, when Cosimo came to see how the painting went on, he saw indeed the pictures and the brushes, but no painter was there. Quickly he stepped to the open window, and there he saw the dangling rope of sheets, and guessed at once how the bird had flown.

Through the streets they searched for the missing painter, and before long he was found and brought back. Filippo tried to look penitent, but his eyes [42] were dancing with merriment, and Cosimo must needs laugh too.

'After all,' said Filippo, 'my talent is not like a beast of burden, to be driven and beaten into doing its work. It is rather like one of those heavenly visitors whom we willingly entertain when they deign to visit us, but whom we can never force either to come or go at will.'

'Thou art right, friend painter,' answered the great man. 'And when I think how thou and thy talent might have taken wings together, had not the rope held good, I vow I will never seek to keep thee in against thy will again.'

'Then will I work all the more willingly,' answered Filippo.

So with doors open, and freedom to come and go, Filippo no longer wished to escape, but worked with all his heart. The beautiful Madonna and angel were soon finished, and besides he painted a wonderful picture of seven saints with St. John sitting in their midst.

From far and near came requests that Fra Filippo Lippi should paint pictures for different churches and convents. He would much rather have painted the scenes and the people he saw every day, but he remembered the prior's lecture, and still painted only the stories of saints and holy people—the gentle Madonna with her scarlet book of prayers, the dove fluttering near, and the angel messenger with shining wings bearing the lily branch. True, the saints would sometimes look out of his pictures with the faces of some of his friends, but no one [43] seemed to notice that. On the whole his was a happy life, and he was always ready to paint for any one that should ask him.


[Illustration]

THE ANNUNCIATION. BY FILIPPO LIPPI

Many people now were proud to know the famous young painter, but his old companion Fra Diamante was still the friend he loved best. Whenever it was possible they still would work together; so, great was their delight when one day an order came from Prato that they should both go there to paint the walls of San Stefano.

'Good-bye to old Florence for a while,' cried Filippo as they set out merrily together. He looked back as he spoke at the spires and sunbaked roofs, the white marble facade of San Miniato, and the dark cypresses standing clear against the pure warm sky of early spring. 'I am weary of your great men and all your pomp and splendour. Something tells me we shall have a golden time among the good folk of Prato.'

Perhaps it was the springtime that made Filippo so joyous that morning as he rode along the dusty white road.

Spring had come with a glad rush, as she ever comes in Italy, scattering on every side her flowers and favours. From under the dead brown leaves of autumn, violets pushed their heads and perfumed all the air. Under the grey olives the sprouting corn spread its tender green, and the scarlet and purple of the anemones waved spring's banner far and near. It was good to be alive on such a day.

Arrived at Prato, the two painters, with a favourite pupil called Botticelli, worked together diligently, [44] and covered wall after wall with their frescoes. It seemed as if they would never be done, for each church and convent had work awaiting them.

'Truly,' said Filippo one day when he was putting the last touches to a portrait of Fra Diamante, whom he had painted into his picture of the death of St. Stephen, 'I will undertake no more work for a while. It is full time we had a holiday together.'

But even as he spoke a message was brought to him from the good abbess of the convent of Santa Margherita, begging him to come and paint an altarpiece for the sisters' chapel.

'Ah, well, what must be, must be,' he said to Fra Diamante, who stood smiling by. 'I will do what I can to please these holy women, but after that—no more.'

The staid and sober abbess met him at the convent door, and silently led him through the sunny garden, bright with flowers, where the lizards darted to right and left as they walked past the fountain and entered the dim, cool chapel. In a low, sweet voice she told him what they would have him paint, and showed him the space above the high altar where the picture was to be placed.

'Our great desire is that thou shouldst paint for us the Holy Virgin with the Blessed Child on the night of the Nativity,' she said.

The painter seemed to listen, but his attention wandered, and all the time he wished himself back in the sunny garden, where he had seen a fair young face looking through the pink sprays of [45] almond blossoms, while the music of the vesper hymn sounded sweet and clear in his ears.

'I will begin to-morrow,' he said with a start when the low voice of the abbess stopped. 'I will paint the Madonna and Babe as thou desirest.'

So next day the work began. And each time the abbess noiselessly entered the room where the painter was at work and watched the picture grow beneath his hand, she felt more and more sure that she had done right in asking this painter to decorate their beloved chapel.

True, it was said by many that the young artist was but a worldly minded man, not like the blessed Fra Angelico, the heavenly painter of San Marco; but his work was truly wonderful, and his handsome face looked good, even if a somewhat merry smile was ever wont to lurk about his mouth and in his eyes.

Then came a morning when the abbess found Filippo standing idle, with a discontented look upon his face. He was gazing at the unfinished picture, and for a while he did not see that any one had entered the room.

'Is aught amiss?' asked the gentle voice at his side, and Filippo turned and saw the abbess.

'Something indeed seems amiss with my five fingers,' said Filippo, with his quick bright smile. 'Time after time have I tried to paint the face of the Madonna, and each time I must needs paint it out again.'

Then a happy thought came into his mind.

'I have seen a face sometimes as I passed through [46] the convent garden which is exactly what I want,' he cried. 'If thou wouldst but let the maiden sit where I can see her for a few hours each day, I can promise thee that the Madonna will be finished as thou wouldst wish.'

The abbess stood in deep thought for a few minutes, for she was puzzled to know what she should do.

'It is the child Lucrezia,' she thought to herself. 'She who was sent here by her father, the noble Buti of Florence. She is but a novice still, and there can be no harm in allowing her to lend her fair face as a model for Our Lady.'

So she told Filippo it should be as he wished.

It was dull in the convent, and Lucrezia was only too pleased to spend some hours every morning, idly sitting in the great chair, while the young painter talked to her and told her stories while he painted. She counted the hours until it was time to go back, and grew happier each day as the Madonna's face grew more and more beautiful.

Surely there was no one so good or so handsome as this wonderful artist. Lucrezia could not bear to think how dull her life would be when he was gone. Then one day, when it happened that the abbess was called away and they were alone, Filippo told Lucrezia that he loved her and could not live without her; and although she was frightened at first, she soon grew happy, and told him that she was ready to go with him wherever he wished. But what would the good nuns think of it? Would they ever let her go? No; they must think of some other plan.

[47] To-morrow was the great festa of Prato, when all the nuns walked in procession to see the holy centola, or girdle, which the Madonna had given to St. Thomas. Lucrezia must take care to walk on the outside of the procession, and to watch for a touch upon the arm as she passed.

The festa day dawned bright and clear, and all Prato was early astir. Procession after procession wound its way to the church where the relic was to be shown, and the crowd grew denser every moment. Presently came the nuns of Santa Margherita. A figure in the crowd pressed nearer. Lucrezia felt a touch upon her arm, and a strong hand clasped hers. The crowd swayed to and fro, and in an instant the two figures disappeared. No one noticed that the young novice was gone, and before the nuns thought of looking for their charge Lucrezia was on her way to Florence, her horse led by the painter whom she loved, while his good friend Fra Diamante rode beside her.

Then the storm burst. Lucrezia's father was furious, the good nuns were dismayed, and every one shook their heads over this last adventure of the Florentine painter.

But luckily for Filippo, the great Cosimo still stood his friend and helped him through it all. He it was who begged the Pope to allow Fra Filippo to marry Lucrezia (for monks, of course, were never allowed to marry), and the Pope, too, was kind and granted the request, so that all went well.

Now indeed was Lucrezia as happy as the day was long, and when the spring returned once more [48] to Florence, a baby Filippo came with the violets and lilies.

'How wilt thou know us apart if thou callest him Filippo?' asked the proud father.

'Ah, he is such a little one, dear heart,' Lucrezia answered gaily. 'We will call him Filippino, and then there can be no mistake.'

There was no more need now to seek for pleasures out of doors. Filippo painted his pictures and lived his happy home life without seeking any more adventures. His Madonnas grew ever more beautiful, for they were all touched with the beauty that shone from Lucrezia's fair face, and the Infant Christ had ever the smile and the curly golden hair of the baby Filippino.


[Illustration]

THE NATIVITY. BY FILIPPIO LIPPI

And by and by a little daughter came to gladden their hearts, and then indeed their cup of joy was full.

'What name shall we give the little maid?' said Filippo.

'Methought thou wouldst have it Lucrezia,' answered the mother.

'There is but one Lucrezia in all the world for me,' he said. 'None other but thee shall bear that name.'

As they talked a knock sounded at the door, and presently the favourite pupil, Sandro, looked in. There was a shout of joy from little Filippino, and the young man lifted the child in his arms and smiled with the look of one who loves children.

'Come, Sandro, and see the little new flower,' said Filippo. 'Is she not as fair as the roses which thou dost so love to paint?'

[49] Then, as the young man looked with interest at the tiny face, Filippo clapped him on the shoulder.

'I have it!' he cried. 'She shall be called after thee, Alessandra. Some day she will be proud to think that she bears thy name.'

For already Filippo knew that this pupil of his would ere long wake the world to new wonder.

The only clouds that hid the sunshine of Lucrezia's life was when Filippo was obliged to leave her for a while and paint his pictures in other towns. She always grew sad when his work in Florence drew to a close, for she never knew where his next work might lie.

'Well,' said Filippo one night as he returned home and caught up little Filippino in his arms, 'the picture for the nuns of San Ambrogio is finished at last! Truly they have saints and angels enough this time—rows upon rows of sweet faces and white lilies. And the sweetest face of all is thine, Saint Lucy, kneeling in front with thy hand beneath the chin of this young cherub.'

'Is it indeed finished so soon?' asked Lucrezia, a wistful note creeping into her voice.

'Ay, and to-morrow I must away to Spoleto to begin my work at the Chapel of Our Lady. But look not so sad, dear heart; before three months are past, by the time the grapes are gathered, I will return.'

But it was sad work parting, though it might only be for three months, and even her little son could not make his mother smile, though he drew wonderful [50] pictures for her of birds and beasts, and told her he meant to be a great painter like his father when he grew up.

Next day Filippo started, and with him went his good friend Fra Diamante.

'Fare thee well, Filippo. Take good care of him, friend Diamante,' cried Lucrezia; and she stood watching until their figures disappeared at the end of the long white road, and then went inside to wait patiently for their return.

The summer days passed slowly by. The cheeks of the peaches grew soft and pink under the kiss of the sun, the figs showed ripe and purple beneath the green leaves, and the grapes hung in great transparent clusters of purple and gold from the vines that swung between the poplar-trees. Then came the merry days of vintage, and the juice was pressed out of the ripe grapes.

'Now he will come back,' said Lucrezia, 'for he said ''by the time the grapes are gathered I will return.'' '

The days went slowly by, and every evening she stood in the loggia and gazed across the hills. Then she would point out the long white road to little Filippino.

'Thy father will come along that road ere long,' she said, and joy sang in her voice.

Then one evening as she watched as usual her heart beat quickly. Surely that figure riding so slowly along was Fra Diamante? But where was Filippo, and why did his friend ride so slowly?

When he came near and entered the house she [51] looked into his face, and all the joy faded from her eyes.

'You need not tell me,' she cried; 'I know that Filippo is dead.'

It was but too true. The faithful friend had brought the sad news himself. No one could tell how Filippo had died. A few short hours of pain and then all was over. Some talked of poison. But who could tell?

There had just been time to send his farewell to Lucrezia, and to pray his friend to take charge of little Filippino.

So, as she listened, joy died out of Lucrezia's life. Spring might come again, and summer sunshine make others glad, but for her it would be ever cold, bleak winter. For never more should her heart grow warm in the sunshine of Filippo's smile—that sunshine which had made every one love him, in spite of his faults, ever since he ran about the streets, a little ragged boy, in the old city of Florence.


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