Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone) is considered the first great painter of the Early Renaissance or Quatrocentro period. He was inspired by Brunelleschi and his invention of Linear Perspective and subsequently was the first painter to use perspective in painting.
Little is known about Masaccio, for example whether he had artistic training and his mysterious death at the age of 26. In 1422, it is documented that Masaccio at the age of 20 joined the painter's guild in Florence, 'Arte de Medici e Speziali'.
His most famous works
Madonna and Child of the Pisa Polyptych - c.1425
The Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine - c.1427
The Holy Trinity of Santa Maria Novella - c.1427
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Masaccio - The Brancacci Chapel Frescos (Santa Maria del Carmine) c.1427
The Brancacci Chapel is a chapel within the Santa Maria del Carmine church, in the poor quarter of Florence, named after the patron who commissioned it 'Felice Brancacci'.
The overall subject matter of the chapel is the Life of St. Peter which was slightly unusual. The main reason Brancacci chose to depict this because St. Peter was the first Pope and at the time it would associate the patron with the Pope and Rome, which was a very political move. Other reasons could be that St. Peter led a good, exemplary life and 'Peter' could also be a family name.
The chapel is painted as a fresco cycle.
The Expulsion of Adam and Eve
This is a story from the Old Testament which is at first unusual in a chapel dedicated to St. Peter who is an Apostle from the New Testament. However, it is relevant because as Peter preached Christ's teachings, it was also Peter's job to redeem man's sin from the original sin - Adam and Eve.
In the fresco, Adam and Eve show with their body language and facial expressions the reality and horror of what they have done. Eve is depicted with her head back, mouth open in anguish, wailing and tears rolling down her face. Her body is deeply howling, and one can only imagine her deep sonorous roar. Eve covers her naked body as she is ashamed because the sudden realisation that they are naked and of newly-felt lust.
Adam is shown covering face in his hands as if he hopes no one can see him. He however is more overtly naked than Eve, which at the time would have been very shocking. Both the figures individual gestures are so full of pain and so naturalistic one can easy relate to it.
The fresco itself has a very sculptural form, for example the rocks in the background are very economical and give the painting a sense of 3-d volume with the figures over-lapping. They are also quite round and are alone in the setting suggesting a very barren landscape, a huge contrast to the ample beauty of the garden of Eden.
Furthermore, by highlighting the front of the body and using shade down their backs, Masaccio has weighted them, almost bringing them out of the painting. Their heads are also in different angles which suggests they are no longer in harmony.
The fresco is position so that the light comes from a real light source of the window above altar, on the right..
The Tribute Money
This is the fresco on the right hand side of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve.
It depicts a very obscure scene in the life of St. Peter when the tax man comes. In the group, the vanishing point is Jesus' face which makes us focus on Christ as the main point of the composition. St. Peter can be seen on his left and the taxman with rather skinny legs stands on the right of Jesus. St. Peter, whose halo is subject to foreshortening, gestures in the direction of the river towards the fish.
A coin can be seen in the fish's mouth both because Peter was a fisherman and so that Peter can then pay the tax man. The idea here is that it is fair to pay taxes because at the time Florence had a new tax system in place. Thus, Brancacci is firstly relating St. Peter's life to Florence, and for him to be seen supporting the politics of the time. This fresco has a feeling of solemnity as the group have a serious purpose to complete.
In order to aid recognition all the saints appear in similar dress or hold attributes, for example Peter is almost always depicted holding the keys to heaven, approximately 60 years old with white hair. In this fresco he appears three times as part of a simultaneous narrative, in a blue robe with yellow-gold drapery and despite the greying hair he looks slightly rustic but physically fit. Similarly, the taxman can be seen twice.
The drapery comes from classical sculpture, as does the individuality of the different faces, except for one recognisable head - Denetuic. The bulky drapery on the figures also gives the painting a rather 3-dimensional, gothic feel.
Healing the Sick
This fresco shows St. Peter walking past the sick and poor, with St. Paul on the right. They both came together to convert and spread Christ's word. As St Peter, or the Prince of the Apostles as he is also known, walks past the sick they are healed.
This would have been quite a rare sight to actually see the infermed in Florence. It is believed that the first man healed is a portrait of Donatello which is a sign of respect from Masaccio.
In the background with Corinthian columns is a recognisable church in the poor quarter, which could be the Brancacci Chapel.