Natural Painting and the New Science in Seventeenth-Century Florence

Lorenzo Lippi’s “pura imitazione del vero”

in Nuncius
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This article compares the techniques of observation and experimentation (“esperienze”) practiced by members of the Accademia del Cimento with the “pure imitation of truth” pursued by Florentine painter Lorenzo Lippi (1606–1665). Lippi’s art reveals striking parallels between developments in the fine arts and the sciences in seventeenth-century Florence, particularly in their moral commitment towards the truthful representation of nature and a matter-of-fact style of representation. Despite these parallels, it is interesting to note that in his mock-epic Il Malmantile Racquistato, Lippi parodied the truth claims made by science as well as its modes of knowledge creation.

Natural Painting and the New Science in Seventeenth-Century Florence

Lorenzo Lippi’s “pura imitazione del vero”

in Nuncius




See Chiara d’AfflittoLorenzo Lippi (Firenze: Edifir2002) p. 327.


Eugenio GarinLa cultura filosofica del Rinascimento (Firenze: Sansoni Editore1961) pp. 461–464.


Galileo Galilei“The Assayer,” in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileoselections translated by Stillman Drake (New York: Doubleday & Co. 1957) pp. 237–238. For this translation see C.R. Palmerino “The Mathematical Characters of Galileo’s Book of Nature” in The Book of Nature in Early Modern and Modern History edited by Klaas v. Berkel Arie Vanderjagt (Leuven: Brill 2006) pp. 27–44: 29.


René DescartesDiscours de la Méthode (Paris: Librairie de la Bibliothèque Nationale1894) p. 18.


Camillo Sagrestani“Vita di Lorenzo Lippi,” in Zibaldone Baldinuccianoedited by Bruno Santi (Firenze: S.P.E.S. 1980) pp. 397–399.


Karen-Edis Barzman“Perception, Knowledge, and the Theory of Disegno in Sixteenth-Century Florence,” in From Studio to Studiolo. Florentine Draftsmanship under the First Medici Grand Dukesedited by Larry J. Feingold (Seattle London: University of Washington Press 1991) pp. 37–48; Marzia Faietti “Il disegno padre delle arti i disegni degli artisti il disegno delle Vite. Intersecazioni semantiche in Vasari scrittore” in Figure Memorie Spazio. La Grafica del Quattrocento Appunti di TeoriaConoscenza e Gusto edited by Hugo Chapman (Firenze: Giunti 2011) pp. 13–37. On Disegno in the context of the Seicento Fiorentino see Annamaria Petrioli Tofani “Note sul disegno fiorentino nel secolo XVII” in Il Seicento Fiorentino. Arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III Vol. I (Firenze: Cantini Edizioni d’Arte 1986) pp. 53–58. For the Aristotelian framework that still provided the backdrop for the conceptualization of early modern scientific experience see Peter Dear “The Meanings of Experience” in The Cambridge History of Science edited by Katherine Park Lorraine Daston Vol. III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006) pp. 106–131.


Filippo Camerota“Il contributo di Galileo alla matematizzazione delle arti,” Galilæana: Journal of Galilean Studies2007 4:79–103.


Gianna Pomata“Observation Rising: Birth of an Epistemic Genre,” and Lorraine Daston, “The Empire of Observation, 1600–1800,” in Histories of Scientific Observationedited by Lorraine Daston Elizabeth Lunbeck (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 2010) pp. 49–69 81.


Lorraine Daston“Baconian Facts, Academic Civility, and the Prehistory of Objectivity,” Annals of Scholarship1991 8:337–364.


Peter Parshall“Imago Contrafacta: Images and Facts in the Northern Renaissance,” Art History1993 16/4:554–579 p. 555.


Claudia Swan“Ad vivum, naer het leven, from the Life: Defining a Mode of Representation,” Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry1995 11/4:353–372.


Ibid. p. 64.


Gérard GenettePalimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree (Lincoln-London: University of Nebraska Press1997) pp. 58–60. For the literary context within which the Malmantile was produced see Massimiliano Rossi Fiorella Gioffredi Superbi (eds.) L’arme e gli amori. Ariosto Tasso and Guarini in Late Renaissance Florence. Acts of an International Conference (Florence Villa I Tatti June 27–29 2001) 2 vols. (Firenze: Olschki 2004). On Lorenzo Lippi see Anthony Colantuono “The Cup and the Shield: Lorenzo Lippi Torquato Tasso and Seventeenth-Century Pictorial Stylistics” in ibid. pp. 397–417.


Lorraine Daston Katherine ParkWonders and the Order of Nature 1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books1998); Robert J.W. Evans Alexander Marr (eds.) Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Aldershot: Ashgate 2006).


Lia MarkeyImagining the Americas in Medici Florence (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press2016).


Andrea BattistiniGalileo e i gesuiti. Miti letterari e retorica della scienza (Milano: Vita e Pensiero2000) pp. 258–259. See also Jaco Rutgers “A Frontispiece for Galileo’s Opere: Pietro Anichini and Stefano della Bella” Print Quarterly 2012 29/1:3–12.


Paula Findlen“Controlling the Experiment: Rhetoric, Court Patronage and the Experimental Method of Francesco Redi,” History of Science1993 31:35–64.


H. Darrel Rutkin“Astrology,” in The Cambridge History of Scienceedited by Katherine Park Lorraine Daston (cit. note 29) pp. 541–561: 543.


Mary B. CampbellWonder and Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modern Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press1999) pp. 181–218.


  • View in gallery
    Figure 1

    Lorenzo Lippi, Almsgiving of St. Thomas of Villanova, 1662. Oil on canvas, 340 × 245 cm.Church of Sant’Agostino, Prato

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    Figure 2

    Lorenzo Lippi, Triumph of David, 1656. Oil on canvas, 200 × 263 cm.Private collection, Florence (Chiara D’Afflitto, Lorenzo Lippi [Firenze: Edifir, 2002], p. 122)

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    Figure 3

    Lorenzo Lippi, The Virgin with Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine, 1652. Oil on canvas, 200 × 144 cm.Church of Saint Dominic, Foiano della Chiana

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    Figure 4

    Lorenzo Lippi, Seated Nude Boy with a Stick, undated. 369 × 255 mm.Louvre Museum, Paris (Chiara D’Afflitto, Lorenzo Lippi [Firenze: Edifir, 2002], p. 351)

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    Figure 5

    Andrea del Sarto, Virgin with Saints, ca. 1528. Oil on canvas, 209 × 176 cm.Palazzo Pitti, Florence

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    Figure 6

    Alessandro Allori, Mary Magdalene, 1602. Oil on canvas, 159 × 155 cm.Museo Stibberts, Florence


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