Filippino Lippi - Story of Verginia

The exhibition about Filippino Lippi (1457 - 1504) in Rome at the Scuderie del Quirinale (open up to January 15th) is a remarkable and well presented collection of paintings by Lippi himself and other artists of his time, starting with his friend and master Botticelli. Let me just state here that, while Filippino was younger than Botticelli, he worked in the latter's atelier as partner, not just as an aide (as had been assumed for a long time).

One of the earliest examples of his talent shown in Rome is a tempera paint on wood, named the Story of Virginia. The painting, executed around 1478-1480, is part of the Louvre collection.I was struck by the dynamics of the figures in the forefront: they depict from left to right different episodes of the story of Verginia. The background is dominated by a contemporary loggia with an open view on a beautiful landscape. The whole scene resembles a theater stage.

The subject refers to Titus Livius story of Verginia, a plebeian girl, daughter of Verginius, who was murdered by her father to save her from falling into slavery after a decision by the the ruling decemvirs, chief among them Appius Claudius, who had been rejected by Verginia. For a further attempt and revenge Appius convinced his friend Marcus Claudius to declare that she was his slave. The injustice committed by the rulers and the sacrifice of Verginia, ultimately caused a popular uprising that led to the fall of the decemvirs and the re-establishment of the Roman Republic in 451 b.c.

The artist describes the abduction of Verginia (left) by Appius Claudius, the decision by the decemvirs to confirm her slavery (center), and the murder by her father (right).

The painting by Lippi was in pair with a similar dedicated to the rape of Lucretia which led to the overthrow of the monarchy in 509 b.c. Both painting decorated a contemporary caisson.