M = Masaccio

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Please click on Masaccio’s work to appreciate its beauty!

Because I could not find an artist with an “N”, I am substituting Masaccio, another great “M.”

Massaccio, Self-Portrait

Massaccio, Self-Portrait

Tommaso di Ser Giovanni Di Simone or Masaccio is considered the first great painter of the Quattrocento (1400s) of the Italian Renaissance because of his ability to recreate lifelike figures with movement and a true sense of three-dimensionality.

He was born in 1401 in a small town outside of Florence.  It is unknown where he received his training, but Masaccio moved to Florence in 1420 became a member of the painters’ guild that year and began his career as a professional painter.  In Florence he was given the nickname, Maso, short for Tommaso, which means clumsy, messy or lazy Tom, apparently  because he had little care for worldly matters.

Other than his paintings, there are few records of Masaccio and he died at age 26.  He nevertheless had a profound influence on other artists because he was the first to use linear perspective and a vanishing point in his painting.  His paintings have a naturalism with color and spatial context; he also employed chiaroscuro, the use of light and dark in contrast, to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects. It is believed that he was influenced by the perspective of Brunelleschi (see B), the sculpture of Donatello (see D), and the naturalism of Giotto (see G).

Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, is one of the early works attributed to Masacchio, in collaboration with an older, well-known artist, Masolino da Panicale.  The division of work between the two artists in this painting is clear:  Masolino painted the graceful but rather flat figures of St. Anne and the angels, while Masaccio painted the Virgin and Child, who are solid and robust.

Masaccio’s chief work was the decoration of the Brancacci Chapel, where he was commissioned to continue its decoration begun by Masolino.   The middle section of the frescos is Masaccio’s: Adam and Eve Driven Out of Paradise and Christ Ordering St. Peter to Pay the Tribute are the best known.  Masaccio’s scenes show the influence of Giotto.   His figures are large and solid,

Adam and Eve Driven Out of Paradise

Adam and Eve Driven Out of Paradise

with face and gestures that express emotion.  Unlike Giotto, however, Masaccio uses linear perspective, directional light, and chiaroscuro, which render his frescoes are more convincingly lifelike.  For unknown reasons, this duo left the chapel unfinished, and it was completed by Filippino Lippi in the 1480s.

The state register of property for 1427 shows that Masaccio “possesses nothing of his own ….that nearly all his clothing is in pawn at the Lion and the Cow loan-offices”.  Hence his nickname; he either knew or cared little for the financial side of a career as a painter.

Peter Raising the Son of Theophilus

Peter Raising the Son of Theophilus

Masaccio returned in 1427 to work in the Chapel again, beginning the Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus.  It, too, was left unfinished but either restored or completed more than fifty years later, again by Lippi.

At around the same time, Masaccio won a prestigious commission to produce a Holy Trinity for the church of Santa Maria Novella.   The fresco, seriously damaged over the years, is considered to be Masaccio’s masterwork and demonstrates perfect linear

The Trinity, 1427

The Trinity, 1427

perspective. The Trinity is between the Virgin and St. John, with kneeling portraits of the two donors at the sides.

Two other works produced by Masaccio, a Nativity and an Annunciation, have been lost.  He left Florence for Rome in 1428, where Masolino was frescoing a chapel with scenes from the life of St. Catherine, but it hasn’t been confirmed that Masaccio collaborated on that work.

Masaccio, Self Portrait in a Fresco

Masaccio, Self Portrait in a Fresco

Masacchio died of unknown causes around 1429.  He was only moderately esteemed in his own time, but has been enthusiastically admired after his death, an enthusiasm that has endured for five centuries.

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7 thoughts on “M = Masaccio

      • Woohoo!
        He too has a surreal feeling to his paintings. They feel both realistic and… off at the same time. It’s very cool looking at them. Also, man, he mastered the pout, didn’t he? I think I like The Trinity best out of all these. It looks like it could be recreated with colored pencil.

  1. So talented, and died so young. And of course, like all the greats of the world, he only received admiration after his death. Another great post, Noelle. You’re rocking the challenge. 🙂

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