Much of the art of the Renaissance was extremely religious in its nature. The paintings from this time are almost entirely scenes from the Bible including: the enunciation of the Virgin Mary, depictions of the infant Jesus Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, and numerous other examples of Christian iconography. One would imagine that virtuous, upstanding artists would have created such angelic works of art. The stunning displays of morality, as seen in the works of many Renaissance painters, are not always a reflection of the artists lifestyle.
Two examples of artists whose paintings did not reflect their lifestyles were Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio and Fra Filippo Lippi. Both of these artists created works that portrayed Christian iconography with great aesthetic expertise. Among these works are Caravaggios The Inspiration of Matthew and Lippis Madonna with the Child and two Angels. Fra Angelico was another artist from this same time period. He is quite a contradiction compared to his contemporaries. Angelico led a very pure life following the Christian morals of the time, unlike his peers.
Caravaggio, while a great artist, had a stormy personal history. Very little is known about his life until it began to be documented in the criminal courts. His teens and early twenties were scattered with bouts of abject poverty, until he became renowned as an artist. From this point on, his name appears every few months on the police blotter. He became well known for picking fights, threatening people with swords and being arrested for such deeds. He was sued for libel and built up enemies to the point where his murder was attempted. He was found in bed with wounds around his neck and left ear. Because of this event, Caravaggio was jailed in his house for an entire month. He was forbidden to leave without written permission from the governor of Rome. However, it seemed nothing could keep Caravaggio out of trouble. In the month of May 1606, he killed a man who had won a bet over a ball game that afternoon. After this event, he was left wounded himself. He fled Rome, going to a patron’s house and eventually moved on to Naples. At the age of thirty-five, he left Naples and went to Malta, where he was well received for this renowned artwork. However, this situation did not last long. He got in a fight and was imprisoned. Shortly after arrest, he escaped and finally returned to Rome, where his reputation was still well known. His enemies had not forgotten him and he was nearly killed several times. He had been allowed hardly more than a decade of maturity as an artist, but he had established himself in history a position among the handful of painters whose originality made them genius.
Caravaggios rebellious life seems quite different from the moral stories his paintings portray. The artwork called The Inspiration of Matthew is a prime example of how his life is not part of his art. This painting originally showed Matthew as a laborer. His face and garments were of a common man and his bare feet were dirty as that of the worker Matthew really was. Because of his plain appearance church officials rejected this work. To replace this painting, Matthew was painted again but in the usual saintly robe. This compromise to the church is just one example of his emotional detachment from the making of his works. This painting has a great amount of Christian imagery involved in it. The most obvious is the fact the painting contains an apostle and an angel in it. This type of work was created for the specific purpose of promoting the church. Meanwhile, Caravaggio, even though he was a great artist and designed religious paintings specifically for the church, led a life not suitable to the religious practice he chose.
Another painter who seemed to be quite a hypocrite in his painting was Fra Filippo Lippi. He was orphaned as a child and put under the care of Carmelite monks. He took the vows of the order at the age of fifteen, and at the age of fifty eloped with a young nun and raised a family. Much took place in these thirty-five years, including numerous transfers between Catholic institutions. Lippi was appointed head of several convents and was quickly removed from office because of his sexual appetite within the nunnery. When it came about that he finally eloped, he had convinced at least five nuns to run away with him. He lived with two of them and was accused of immoral behavior by the church of Florence. Through out all of this activity, Lippi never lost any support from his patronage and still maintained his fame as an extraordinary artist.
Fra Filippo Lippi never allowed his adulterous life as a monk affect the content of his work. Nor did fifteenth-century Italy make any kind of connection between his creative achievement and his personal life. Lippis artwork was heavily religious in nature. It is possible to say that the gentle Madonnas he painted greatly influenced Leonardos sibylline females. This can be seen in the painting Madonna and Child. Lippi remains most famous for his Madonnas, which makes one wonder, when considering his personal life, if he preferred to paint women in bible scenes. One could speculate that he liked this best because of his same love of women over the church in personal life. Lippi is yet another painter whose content is not a reflection of his personal life.
Not every painters life is as detached from their work as Caravaggios and Lippis. Another Italian monk, named Fra Angelico did not follow the same path as these two artists. Fra Angelicos life was the epitome of purity, according to historical record. He was ordained as a monk around twenty-five years of age. Fra Angelicos life was one of the utmost Christian morality. He lived life as a monk and did not have the tendencies of Lippi and Caravaggio for women and violence. He exemplified what a monk was expected to be. Fra Angelicos life, by every evidence, ran its course without a question, in uninterrupted service to God.
The nickname Angelico was given to him after his death and could not be more appropriate, since many would say no one has created art so angel-like and pure. One of the most common figures in his art were angels. Fra Angelicos angels sing the praises of the Lord as if there were no Satan. His paintings of virgins are seen with the dignity of women, but with the innocence of young girls. Fra Angelicos purity in life is most definitely seen in his artwork. He truly had the brush stroke of God.
The artwork of the church was created by a large number of painters with extremely varied lives and morals. Every painter of this time can be said to portray Gods creation as it was intended, but few can it be said allowed their own lives to effect their artwork. While the majesty of God can be seen in all of their works, few could say that each artists life and values are shown.