In one of the scenes in "Gabriel's Inferno," two of the characters visit the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in order to view a visiting exhibition of Florentine art.
(Parenthetically, it should be noted that the snarky narrator does not like the recent renovations to the ROM and he says so, in his own inimitable way.)
The painting I chose to highlight in that scene is Fra Filippo Lippi's "Madonna with Child and Two Angels," which was painted in 1465.
Fra Lippi, (1406-1469), lived a very colourful life. After he was orphaned, he was placed under the care of the Carmelites and eventually became a friar. At the height of his career, Fra Lippi enjoyed the patronage of Cosimo de' Medici. The Medici were, perhaps, the most powerful family in Florence. Fra Lippi's most famous student was Sandro Botticelli.
The life of a friar did not appeal to Lippi and he caused a great scandal by running off with a nun, Lucrezia Buti. His seduction of the young and lovely Lucrezia began when he asked her to model for a painting of the Virgin Mary. Despite the attempts of her father to recover her, Lucrezia remained with Fra Lippi and bore him a son, Filippo (c. 1457-1504). Filippo the younger became the great artist known as Filippino Lippi, who was an assistant to Botticelli.
(It's possible that Filippino is mentioned obliquely in "Gabriel's Inferno.")
Look at the painting. One of the first things to notice is the way in which the artist has painted Mary's halo and veil. They're transparent. Note also the way in which the figures are situated in layers - Mary and the Child and angels appear to be sitting outside the picture frame, while a landscape looms behind them. The figures, the frame and the landscape provide perspective and dimensionality to the painting.
But what is far more interesting is the way in which Mary is positioned. Her head is bowed in reverence.
Follow her eyes. Is she staring at her child?
No. She's bowed in reverence and staring at one of the angels, who smiles knowingly at someone outside the painting. Perhaps he's smiling at the artist, himself.
Why isn't Mary looking at the Christ child?
Some have hypothesized that the model for Mary was Lucrezia, Fra Lippi's lover, and that the model for the smiling angel was Filippino, their son. One could theorize that the reason why Lucrezia isn't focused on the Christ child is because her true son is in the picture. Her attention and focus is on him. (I'm sure one could make much more of this by pointing out that Lucrezia eschewed the life of a nun and a nun's attachment to Christ in order to pursue a life with Fra Lippi. Her shift in attachment is signified in the painting.)
In future posts, I'll take a closer look at some of the literary references in "Gabriel's Inferno."
All the best everyone and thanks for reading,