Robert Browning's Fra Lippo Lippi
Although the world around him is hardly idyllic, the narrator of "Fra Lippo Lippi" writes of the necessity of "paint[ing] all." In "painting all", Browning demonstrates his propensity towards an individuals freedom, as expressed in art. Even the most sacred subjects are not to be omitted from the canvas: in his metaphorical discussion of the artist in society, Robert Browning professes the need to describe "every sort of monk, the black and white/I drew them, fat and lean." Art, as Browning envisions it, extends beyond mere visual representation. He sees the artist as creator--producing poetry, novels and drawings--but also as a mirror of the community which produced him.
In Fra Lippo Lippi, a Renaissance painter whose vivid work stirred the natives of Prato to violence, he finds a model of that activist artist. His theme of activism illustrates his distaste for authority. Browning's activism is done through art. He believes that art is not merely a gift, but a responsibility; as Browning goes on to write, "God uses us to help each other so/lending our minds out". This distinctively Ruskinian view of art as a moral property leads Browning to conclude that every aspect of human life is not only valid material, but necessary to a faithful depiction. "The breathless fellow...fresh from his murder" follows closely the affectionate mention of "good old gossips," just as the "poor girl" and the "brute" are equally essential members of the societal portrait. Once again, voicing the opinion that authority is not the ultimate in society.