The Miracles of Prato
Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz
Morrow, Feb 2009, $24.95
In 1457 in Prato, Italy, artist Carmelite Order Monk Fra Filippo Lippi, commissioned to paint a picture for the convent chapel of Santa Margherita, sees the beautiful novitiate Lucrezia Buti and decides immediately he needs to paint her. He asks her to become his model for his paintings and frescoes. Excited she agrees.
However, her visits to his studio are unacceptable behavior for an unaccompanied woman although both act with proper deportment. Still her spending time alone with Lippi, a known womanizer, is a breach of faith. As the artist and his subject fall in love, she poses for his masterpiece The Holy Mother at a time when the sacred Sacra Cinola belt of the Madonna vanishes. Some in the city blame Lucrezia and want her punished even as she proclaims she remains chaste; others believe her sincerity that she remains a virgin.
Using historical references, Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz provide an intriguing biographical fiction tale of the renowned artist-monk and his most inspirational model with a deep look at the fifteenth century Italian culture that threatened to destroy them. Although in some ways the well written story line appears to be a bittersweet romance, the insight into the limitations of a poor monk vs. that of a Pope or other Medici make for an engaging tale with some intrigue as authors’ note points out their son Filippo Lippi lived with and was trained by his father Fra Lippi and was as renowned if not more so than his father. This is an engaging look at a forbidden love whose work for the Santa Margherita nuns is on display in Florence and highlighted by Robert Browning in his Victorian poem Fra Filippo Lippi.