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"Fra Lippo Lippi," another of Browning's dramatic monologues,
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"Fra Lippo Lippi," another of Browning's dramatic monologues, appeared in the 1855 collection Men and Women. Fra (Brother) Lippo Lippi was an actual Florentine monk who lived in the fifteenth century. He was a painter of some renown, and Browning most probably gained familiarity with his works during the time he spent in Italy. "Fra Lippo Lippi" introduces us to the monk as he is being interrogated by some Medici watchmen, who have caught him out at night. Because Lippo's patron is Cosimo de Medici, he has little to fear from the guards, but he has been out partying and is clearly in a mood to talk. He shares with the men the hardships of monastic life: he is forced to carry on his relationships with women in secret, and his superiors are always defeating his good spirits. But Lippo's most important statements concern the basis of art: should art be realistic and true-to-life, or should it be idealistic and didactic? Should Lippo's paintings of saints look like the Prior's mistress and the men of the neighborhood, or should they evoke an otherworldly surreality? Which kind of art best serves religious purposes?
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