For a story of an artist, we go way back to about 1430, the time of Cosimo de Medici and the setting up of the great Medici bank in Florence. The influence that the Medici family had on art and culture has made their name a byword for enlightened patronage. One of the early artists the Medici’s sponsored was Fra Filippo Lippi.
Lippi, the son of a butcher, was put into a monastery when, at 15, he was deemed impossible to handle by the aunt who was caring for him.
As a brother - not a very pious one, it seems - Lippi saw the great artist Masaccio at work on his frescoes on the walls of the Brancacci Chapel.
He also was influenced by the magnificent Donatello, whose lovely bronze David is one of the very early works of art in which the Medici had a helping hand.
Lippi's talents produced luminous art, pictured with a delicacy of line and naturalness of expression that prefigures Botticelli.
Lippi's wickedness, on the other hand, produced nothing but trouble for his patron, Cosimo de' Medici, who had to resort to locking the artist up to get commissions completed, but Lippi would always escape -- sometimes down the legendary knotted sheet rope -- and go off looking for trouble.
When he was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the nuns at a church outside Florence, he persuaded them to let him use a 19-year-old nun as a model for the Madonna -- and yes, she was pregnant within a few months, and artist and model had to flee the scandal.
But Lippi’s is just one of the artists of the Quattrocento and getting a glimpse into the life of the artists of the era is invaluable.