Date of Birth:
21 Dec 1401
Date of Death:
San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy
Coming out of the Dark Ages, Florence shone brighter than any other city. Due in large part to funding by the Medici Family, and a revival of classical thought, Florence flourished as a center for art, scientific thought and invention and set the stage for the Renaissance.
In 1406, the republic of Pisa fell to Florence; Donatello was making headway with the development of schiacciato, a technique that uses perspective to produce an illusion of spatial depth, and Florentine citizens led by Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici undertook the rebuilding of the Church of San Lorenzo, an eleventh-century structure. The Medici family contracted Brunelleschi to create chapels and install new architecture, a nave and the Old Sacristy.
In the 15th Century art, thought, economy and nearly all walks of life were transformed. The Renaissance was a time of rival and creation. In 1423, the first book was printed and new innovations spread across the continent. People began looking back upon Classicism and from that, ideas and inventions brought forth a new era. In the heart of it sat Florence which would be the center for art, philosophy and society for centuries to come and the birth place the Italian Renaissance.
The Gothic style of painting focused solely on religious themes based in the abstract. The images often had little to do with reality and presented a symbolic or iconic representation of bible characters and saints.
The Renaissance, and especially Florence's humanism, sought to destroy the gap between the two. Instead of highly iconic figures and spatial abstraction, it brought those figures down to earth into real time and real space.
Through mathematics, philosophy, theater and the arts, it was a time to throw out abstraction and revive logic and nature and Masaccio did just that. As Donatello and Brunelleschi were the first to incorporate linear perspective into their sculptures and architecture, Masaccio was the first in painting.
Tommaso Cassai Masaccio
Masaccio was born in 1401 in a small town outside of Florence called Castel San Giovanni de Altura (known today as San Giovanni Valdarno). His father died when he was five years old and shortly after his brother was born and he too became a painter.
Much of Masaccio's life is unknown or given up to arbitrary dates. It's known that he moved to Florence in around 1420 and joined a painter's guild. There he acquired the nick name Moso, which means 'untidy', 'clumsy' or 'lazy', because of his lack of care of worldly matters.
It is unsure where Masaccio received his training, if indeed he had any at all, but by the age of 19 or 20 he already belonged to the guild and was a professional painter.
Masaccio worked regularly with the painter Mosolino who was also called Moso but for different reasons. It was first thought that Masaccio was his apprentice but it now seems that that was not true and that Masaccio probably influenced Mosolino more than the other way around.
There are no records of schools, friends or any kind of social interaction concerning Masaccio. It is thought that he must have collaborated with Brunelleschi while introducing linear perspective in painting and humanism but there is no evidence of this and Masaccio could have simply taken his ideas from Brunelleschi's buildings.
Only a few paintings can fully be attributed to Masaccio alone although there remain many paintings which are thought to have been created by him or with the collaboration of Masolino.
In the last years of his life, we can see how he developed his use of linear perspective. With the production of Trinity, he created what is considered today as the first spatially-correct painting in Western Art.
Tommaso Cassai Masaccio Biography
Linear perspective is a mathematical system using a vanishing point to distinguish where the eye meets to create the illusion of distance. Developing this technique allowed Masaccio to present three-dimensional images in his paintings.
Masaccio's use of light, vanishing points, color and spatial context is renowned in the painting world. Tribute Money and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the paintings in the Brancacci Chapel are said to have been the training school for Western artists.
Prior to Humanism, and especially Florentine Humanism, the Gothic style dominated much of Europe, and carried a focus on religious characters portrayed in a purely symbolic manner.
Masaccio's incorporation of perspective and softer colors brought the painting world out of the symbolic and into reality. His use of colors, shading and the presentation of softer images threw religious theme into the real and actual.
Tommaso Cassai Masaccio Style and Technique
Influence and contemporaries:
We know that Masaccio was influenced by Brunelleschi and it is highly probable that the two corresponded. It is also possible that Brunelleschi helped with the design of the vaulting in Trinity because of its remarkable similarity to the dome in the Old Sacristy in Florence.
It has been thought that Masaccio was also been influenced by Donatello. Like Brunelleschi, Donatello was his contemporary and much of what Donatello was achieving in sculpture, Masaccio would come to develop it in painting.
Despite many claims that the friends went to Rome together, and even that Masaccio made Donatello dinner for diagram he would use in Tribute Money, there is no record of correspondence.
Masaccio certainly was influenced by Giotti from the century before but with there being little information about Masaccio it is impossible to know more about his influences. It seems that he didn't have any other contact with artists and it unknown where he studied or if he studied at all.
Due to Masaccio's short life his followers were slim to none. Masolino, his long time partner, and his apprentice Andrea di Giusto surely were influenced by his work but all other audiences would come after his death.
At the time of his death, Masaccio was virtually unknown to the outside and being outside his home town, his body was not buried for almost twenty years.
By the end of the 15th Century, Masaccio and his work in the Brancacci Chapel became a staple of knowledge and key to understanding the creation of the Renaissance.
It has been noted that Florentine painters such as,
Paolo Schiavo, Fra Angelico, Giovanni del Ponte, Bicci di Lorenzo, Gentile da Fabriano, Francesco d'Antonio, Filippo Lippi, Andrea Castagno, Giovanni Toscani and Sandro Botticelli have studied his work and incorporated it into their own.
Leonardo de Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and practically all Renaissance painters studied Masaccio's work at the Brancacci Chapel. They are a mainstay of learning linear perspective and humanism, two aspects that would come to define the Italian Renaissance.
Raising of the Son of Theophilus and St. Peter Enthroned
Tommaso Cassai Masaccio
At a young age, Masaccio was beginning to development processes that would later come define the Renaissance. He was a well-respected artist in his short life and acquired commissions from leading Florentine families to prove it.
The artist is now considered to be a founding father of the Renaissance for his development of perspective that moved away from Gothic styles.
By the time of his death, at the age of 26 or 27, he had already made his mark upon the painting community.
Famous art critic Bernard Berenson once wrote, "... 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."
Catching painting up with sculpture and architecture, Masaccio made developments that would define an era. His representation of man has remained central to dealings with art and life.
His works Trinity, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and Tribute Money, have been studied by artists since their creation.
Tommaso Cassai Masaccio Critical Reception
To find out more about Tommaso Masaccio please refer to the following recommended sources.
• Baldini, Umberto. Masaccio. Gallimard, 2001
• Borsi, Stefano. Masaccio. Giunti Editore, 2007
• Frosinini, Cecilia. Masaccio (Great Painters). Giunti Editore, 2008
• James, N. P. Masaccio - Trinity: The Emergence of a Psychodynamic Image (CV/Visual Arts Research). CV Publications, 2004
• Rowlands, Eliot W. Masaccio: Saint Andrew and the Pisa Altarpiece (Getty Museum Studies on Art). J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003
• Strehike, Carl Brandon, et al. The Panel Paintings of Masolino and Masaccio: The Role of Technique. Five Continents Editions, 1999
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