6 Facts You Didn’t Know About Masaccio

Rising star of the Quattrocento, Tommaso Masaccio was posthumously crowned the Father of Renaissance. But did you know these six Masaccio facts?

Tommaso Masaccio, 'The Tribute Money', 1425, fresco, Brancacci Chapel. Photo public domain
Tommaso Masaccio, 'The Tribute Money', 1425, fresco, Brancacci Chapel. Photo public domain

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.

1. His early years are a complete mystery

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. 

Tommaso Masaccio, Self-portrait detail from ‘Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus of Antioch’, Brancacci Chapel, 1426-27, fresco. Photo public domain
Tommaso Masaccio, Self-portrait detail from ‘Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus of Antioch’, Brancacci Chapel, 1426-27, fresco. Photo public domain

2. Masaccio isn’t his real name

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.

3. Masaccio’s brother was also a painter

Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi (Lo Scheggia) (1406-1486), ‘Battle Scene’, 1450-75, tempera on panel, 49.5 x 139.4 cm, Getty Museum. Photo public domain
Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi (Lo Scheggia) (1406-1486), ‘Battle Scene’, 1450-75, tempera on panel, 49.5 x 139.4 cm, Getty Museum. Photo public domain

Related: How the Medici influenced Renaissance Florence

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. 

4. Masaccio was a lone wolf

Left: Tommaso Masaccio, 'The Tribute Money', 1425, fresco, Brancacci Chapel. Photo public domain. Right: Michelangelo, Drawing detail from ‘The Tribute Money’ by Masaccio, 1488-90, Münich Kupferstichkabinett. Photo public domain
Left: Tommaso Masaccio, 'The Tribute Money', 1425, fresco, Brancacci Chapel. Photo public domain. Right: Michelangelo, Drawing detail from ‘The Tribute Money’ by Masaccio, 1488-90, Münich Kupferstichkabinett. Photo public domain

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. 

5. The Brancacci Chapel became one of the most talked about art history debate of the 19th and 20th centuries

Left: Masolino, ‘Adam and Eve’, Brancacci Chapel, 1425, fresco, 208 x 88 cm.
Right: Tommaso Masaccio, ‘The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’, Brancacci Chapel 1426-28, fresco, 208 x 88 cm. Photos public domain
Left: Masolino, ‘Adam and Eve’, Brancacci Chapel, 1425, fresco, 208 x 88 cm. Right: Tommaso Masaccio, ‘The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’, Brancacci Chapel 1426-28, fresco, 208 x 88 cm. Photos public domain

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. 

6. His final work was hidden by another painting

Tommaso Masaccio, ‘Trinity’, Santa Maria del Novella,1426-28, fresco, 640 cm x 317 cm. Photo public domain
Tommaso Masaccio, ‘Trinity’, Santa Maria del Novella,1426-28, fresco, 640 cm x 317 cm. Photo public domain

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. 

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Article by Ostiane Moitry

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