Fra Filippo Lippi’s Four Saints (1482)

Saint Helena in Fra Filippo Lippi’s portrayal of four saints seems separate and apart from her peers. Clothed in white and blue rather than the red-hot colors of her fellow-saints, she is in front of the others, closer to the picture surface. This may explain why her hands caress the wood of the Cross as though they were the artist’s own caressing the wood panel on which the picture is painted, her veil symbolizing its hidden meaning. She is the artist as craftsperson. 

In the background the other saints represent an artist's spiritual qualities. St Jerome, the scholar-saint, personifies intellectual curiosity and meditative power while St. Roch, revealing the sore on his leg, and St. Sebastian exemplify an artist's spiritual pain.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Filippo Lippi, Sts. Sebastian, Jerome, Roch and Helena (1482)

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Further evidence for this interpretation can be found in Lippi’s portrayal of Sebastian who holds his arrow so delicately that it must resemble, especially for artists, a long-handled brush.

See similar examples of allegorical paintbrushes in images of St. Sebastian by Mantegna,  DurerMichelangelo , Hans Baldung Grien, Carlo CrivelliPeruginoAntonio Campi and, more recently, by Egon Schiele.

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of St. Sebastian's hand

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Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.