Filippino Lippi, Italian, c.1457-1504
Title: Portrait of a Musician
Date: late 1480s
Medium: Tempera and oil on wood panel
51 x 36 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1897
Object Number: NGI.470
DescriptionMusic was constantly present in Renaissance life and was often performed by aristocrats and humanists as well as professional musicians. The clothes of the subject in this portrait and the various musical instruments that feature in the painting suggest the man is a professional court musician and composer, although his features do not resemble any of the well-known Flemings or Italians active at the time.

Resting a bow in the hollow of his arm, he is tuning a finely carved lira da braccio, whose drone string, held by a tiny hand, stands clear. This instrument was associated with the antique lyre played by Apollo and was used to accompany the recital of poetry. No actual instrument survives before the sixteenth century.
An inscription on the back of the lira from a canzona (love song) by Petrarch reads, ‘il chomîcar nõ ?a p tempo mai’ (never start before the time) and seems to warn against human impatience. On the shelves to the left are books, a lute, a second lira and two recorders.

Attributed in the past to various leading artists at Northern Italian courts, the striking physiognomy and delicate surface glazes have gained general acceptance that it is a portrait by Filippino Lippi. He initially trained with his famous father, Filippo, before becoming an assistant to Sandro Botticelli. Here he has adopted the Flemish convention of placing the sitter in a tiny upper room with a landscape view seen through the window behind.
ProvenanceAldrovandi, Bologna; Ludovisi Boncompagni, Bologna/Rome; Princely collection, Rome; Lawrie and Co., London, 1897; purchased, Lawrie and Co., London, 1897
Exhibition HistoryWinter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1902

Exhibition of Italian Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1930

Lorenzo il Magnifico e le Arti, Florence, 1949

Centenary Exhibition, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, October - December 1964

Master European Paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 6 June - 9 August 1992; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 19 September - 6 December 1992; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 13 January - 28 March 1993; IBM Gallery, New York, 27 April - 26 June 1993

Botticelli e Filippino: L'Inquietudine e la Grazia nella Pittura Fioentina del '400, Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze, 10 March - 11 July 2004

Filippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli nella Fireze del '400, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 5 October 2011 - 15 January 2012

Face to Face: Flanders, Florence and Renaissance Painting, The Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, 28 September 2013 - 13 January 2014
Label TextWhile the sitter in this portrait is anonymous, the inclusion of instruments and a sheet of music suggest that he may have been a professional court musician in Italy. Holding a bow in the crook of his arm, he is shown carefully tuning a ?nely carved lira da braccio, an instrument that was used to accompany the recital of poetry. Lippi initially trained with his famous father, Fra Filippo Lippi, before becoming an assistant to Sandro Botticelli. He worked successfully, in both Florence and Rome, with the support of wealthy patrons such as Lorenzo de’ Medici.