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Street SongsWriters and urban songs and cries, 1800-1925$
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Daniel Karlin

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198792352

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198792352.001.0001

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Lippi sings the blues

Lippi sings the blues

(p.62) 3 Lippi sings the blues
Street Songs

Daniel Karlin

Oxford University Press

In Robert Browning’s poem ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’, the painter is caught playing truant in the red-light district of Renaissance Florence. Lippi, a child of the streets who has attracted the patronage of the Catholic Church and the ruler of Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici, plays throughout his monologue with songs derived from a Tuscan folk-song known as the stornello. As he tells the story of his life to the officer of the watch who has arrested him, he quotes, or makes up, half a dozen of his own stornelli. He appropriates the form for his own purpose—but the stornelli say more about him than he intends. Browning’s appropriation of the stornello overrides Lippi’s; it becomes one of the indices of Lippi’s failure as an artist, one he attributes to his enforced dependency on the Church and the ruling class, but whose roots go deeper than he is willing to acknowledge.

Keywords:   Robert Browning, Fra Lippo Lippi, Renaissance Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici, stornello, folk-song

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