Filippino Lippi, one of the most remarkable Renaissance painters (son and apprentice to Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli's master as well) decorated one of the Santa Maria Novella church chapels with gorgeous murals, depicting stories of Saint Philip and Saint John the Evangelist with the Four Patriarchs of the Old Testament –Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob- on the sails of the vault. This chapel is located in the east (right) transept between the Bardi Chapel and the Tornabuoni (or Maggiore) chapel. Its patron was Filippo Strozzi the Elder, the magnificent and imposing Palazzo Strozzi's owner and donor, the richest man in town. The decoration of the vault was actually completed in 1489 right a couple of years after the contract was subscribed; the remaining frescoes were executed since 1493 on though.
In those years, Filippino had experienced something which would radically change his sometimes stern painting style -according to the new Savonarolian cultural climate- : he had travelled to Rome to work to the Cardinal Carafa chapel, in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. In Rome he had visited many and many ancient Roman ruins -farmuch more than those we can see nowadays..!- like columns, statues, palaces, milestones, ruined frescoes swarming with fantastic creatures shifting shape -above all the Domus Aurea cryptoportico's grottesche..!-. The Grottesche (this word recalls the adjective “grotesque”, for sure) are ornamental arrangements of arabesques with interlaced garlands and small and fantastic human and animal figures shifting shape, usually set out in a symmetrical pattern around some form of architectural framework. Such designs were fashionable in ancient Rome, especially as frescoes and mosaics. Emperor Nero's palace in Rome, the Domus Aurea, was rediscovered by chance in 1483, buried in fifteen hundred years of land fill. Access into the palace's remains was from above, requiring visitors to be lowered into it using ropes as in a cave, or grotte in Italian. The palace's wall decorations in fresco and delicate stucco were a revelation. Stratigraphy principles weren't known yet, so it was easily thought that the discovered venue was a cave, a grotto (hence, grottesche). The discovery was just amazing, something that had never seen before; reeds which can be substituting columns, fluted appendages with curly leaves and volutes taking the place of pediments, candelabra supporting representations of shrines, and on top of their roofs slender stalks and volutes with human figures senselessly seated upon them. This vision set Filippino Lippi's imaginery “ablaze”, opening up his fantasy's doorway and making him feel free to mix elements unhindered: and since that journey on, Sandro Botticelli, previously a very important source of inspiration, stopped being so.
When at home in Florence again, Filippino's style became flamboyant, the scenes depicted jubilant appearances of colours and ornamentation, full of “hellenistic” pathos. Characters depicted wore sumptuous garment with stirring veils and ribbons; their hairs flowing (Aby Warburg called all of these elements bewegtes Beiwerk -”moving accessories”-). This genius was also criticized by some Art historians for his extravagant imaginery. He started depicting costructions like this temple of Mars: imposing architectural elements, coloured “panoplies” and statues assembled in a way that reminds of an ancient, lost, mythical past. The scene depicting Saint Philip chasing the filthy monster coming off the monument to Mars the God is spectacular. Saint Philip was preaching in Hyerapolis, when some pagans tried to force him to worship Mars and to sacrifice to him. At once, a horrible demon came off the monument base, killing the pagan priests'sons and smothering all the participants with his mortal smell, before Saint Philip defeated him and chased him away.
Filippino depicted even the disgusting stench released by the creature, represented with an iridescent colours shell. You can admire dazzling colours everywhere in this chapel: Filippino depicted the temple of Mars in a very fantastic way.
One more “exotic” detail: in the same scene, one the right, one can notice a very elegant dressed-up-in-white Moorish man, wearing an extremely tall turbant. It seems to be a portait of the Filippo Strozzi's moorish slave.