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Masaccio
(c. 1401-1428)

See also: Renaissance Art

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"In sculpture Donatello had already given body to the new ideals when Masaccio began his brief career, and in the education, the awakening, of the younger artist the example of the elder must have been of incalculable force. But a type gains vastly in significance by being presented in some action along with other individuals of the same type; and here Donatello was apt, rather than to draw his meed of profit, to incur loss by descending to the obvious - witness his bas reliefs at Siena, Florence, and Padua. Masaccio was untouched by this taint. Types, in themselves of the manliest, he presents with a sense for the materially significant which makes us realize to the utmost their power and dignity; and the spiritual significance thus gained he uses to give the highest import to the event he is portraying; this import, in turn, gives a higher value to the types, and thus, whether we devote our attention to his types or to his action, Masaccio, keeps us on a high plane of reality and significance. In later painting we shall easily find greater science, greater craft, and greater perfection of detail, but greater reality, greater significance, I venture to say, never. Dust bitten and ruined though his Brancacci Chapel frescoes now are, I never see them without the strongest stimulation of my tactile consciousness. I feel that I could touch every figure, that it would yield a definite resistance to my touch, that I should have to expend thus much effort to displace it, that I could walk around it. In short, I scarcely could realize it more, and in real life I should scarcely realize it so well, the attention of each of us being too apt to concentrate itself upon some dynamic quality, before we have at all begun to realize the full material significance of the person before us. Then what strength to his young men, and what gravity and power to his old! How quickly a race like this would possess itself of the earth, and brook no rivals but the forces of nature! Whatever they do - simply because it is they - is impressive and important, and every movement, every gesture, is world changing. Compared with his figures, those in the same chapel by his precursor, Masolino, are childish, and those by his follower, Filippino, unconvincing and without significance, because without tactile values. Even Michelangelo, where he comes in rivalry, has, for both reality and significance, to take a second place. Compare his 'Expulsion from Paradise' (in the Sixtine Chapel) with the one here by Masaccio. Michelangelo's figures are more correct, but far less tangible and less powerful; and while he represents nothing but a man warding off a blow dealt by a sword, and a woman cringing with ignoble fear, Masaccio's Adam and Eve stride away from Eden heart broken with shame and grief, hearing, perhaps, but not seeing, the angel hovering high overhead who directs their exiled footsteps.

Masaccio, then, like Giotto a century earlier - himself the Giotto of an artistically more propitious world - was, as an artist, a great master of the significant, and, as a painter, endowed to the highest degree with a sense of tactile values, and with a skill in rendering them. In a career of but few years he gave to Florentine painting the direction it pursued to the end. In many ways he reminds us of the young Bellini. Who knows? Had he but lived as long, he might have laid the foundation for a painting not less delightful and far more profound than that of Venice. As it was, his frescoes at once became, and for as long as there were real artists among them remained, the training school of Florentine painters."

- From Bernard Berenson, "Italian Painters of the Renaissance"

Further reading on Masaccio:

 

Masaccio Images

 
1423-24 Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist (from the Colonna Altarpiece)
1423-24 Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist (from the Colonna Altarpiece) (Detail)
c. 1424 St. Anne Metterza
c. 1425 Profile Portrait of a Young Man
1425-26 Saint Peter Distributing Alms and the Death of Ananias
1425-26 Saint Peter Distributing Alms and the Death of Ananias (Detail)
1425-26 Saint Peter Healing with His Shadow
1425-26 Saint Peter Healing with His Shadow (Detail)
1425-26 St. Peter Enthroned
1425-26 St. Peter Enthroned (Detail)
1425-26 Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
1425-26 Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Detail)
1425-26 Baptism of the Neophytes
1425-26 Tribute Money (left side)
1425-26 Tribute Money (right side)
1426 The Adoration of the Magi
1426 Two Carmelite Saints
1426 Saints Jerome and Augustine
1426 St. Julius Slaying His Parents - St. Nicholas Saving Three Sisters from Prostitution
(predella panel from the Pisa Altar)
1426 The Crucifixion of St Peter - The Beheading of St John the Baptist
(predella panel from the Pisa Altar)
1426 The Virgin and Child
c. 1426 Madonna and Child
1427-28 Trinity
1427-28 Trinity (Detail of Saint John)
1427-28 Trinity (Detail of Mary)
c. 1428 Saints Liberius (?) and Matthias




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