Rising star of the Quattrocento, Tommaso Masaccio was posthumously crowned the Father of Renaissance. But did you know these six Masaccio facts?
Few artists can pride themselves on opening a new century. Great Italian artist Tommaso Masaccio (1401-1428) can, who ushered in none other than the famous Italian Quattrocento. Despite a dramatically short life, he achieved in a six-year career what most artists wouldn’t even dare to dream of.
Art historians know nothing about Masaccio before his 21st year. He was born in 1401 in the town of San Giovanni Valdarno in the Tuscany region. Generally, young boys who wanted to paint would become apprentices in a workshop. He certainly learned somewhere, but there is no trace of this. Masaccio reappeared on January 7, 1422, when he entered the Florentine guild of painters.
Masaccio’s full name is Tommaso di Giovanni di Simone Guidi. He received the nickname Masaccio, which can be translated to ‘Big Tom’ or ‘Clumsy Tom’. According to Giorgio Vasari, in his Vite, Masaccio earned that nickname because of his general carelessness about his appearance.
Becoming an artist was usually a family matter during the Renaissance – a craftsmanship transmitted to sons by their father. Masaccio’s father was a notary, so it’s a bit curious that both Masaccio and his brother became painters. Unfortunately for him, Giovanni ‘Lo Scheggia’ (The Splinter) didn’t pass on much to posterity, despite having his own workshop.
Contrary to his brother, Masaccio didn’t leave behind a workshop and didn’t surround himself with protégés. Even so, his artistic production managed to have an immediate and tremendous impact on Renaissance Florence. He influenced generations of artists and among them, the greatest: Michelangelo did studies of Masaccio’s The Tribute Money in his early years.
Related: Cimabue, Late Medieval Genius
Masaccio was commissioned to finish painting the Brancacci Chapel after Masolino quit the job. Some say that they were both commissioned to paint it at the same time. For these reasons, art historians can’t know for sure who did which part of the masterpiece. They now generally attribute to Masaccio the ‘Expulsion of Adam and Eve’, ‘Baptism of the Neophytes’, ‘The Tribute Money’, ‘St. Peter Enthroned’, ‘St. Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow’, ‘St. Peter Distributing Alms’ and part of the ‘Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus’. Masaccio’s style is considered to be more dramatic and expansive than Masolino’s.
The ‘Trinity’ fresco in the Church of Santa Maria Novella is Masaccio’s last work in Florence. This work introduces systemic use of one-point perspective for the first time (this is when all lines parallel with the viewer's line of sight recede to the horizon towards this vanishing point, in this case, Christ). At the end of the 16th century, the Duke of Florence undertook renovations in the Church. The lower part of the fresco representing a skeleton in a tomb was covered over by an altar. An inscription above the skeleton reads “What you are I once was; what I am you will be”. During a renovation in 1860, the fresco was transferred to canvas for restoration. The two halves weren’t reunited in the original location until 1952.
Article by Ostiane Moitry