Tommaso Cassai Masaccio Biography
- Full Name:
- Tommaso Cassai
- Short Name:
- Alternative Names:
- Masaccio, Moso
- Date of Birth:
- 21 Dec 1401
- Date of Death:
- Tempera, Other
- Art Movement:
- San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy
- Living In:
- Florence, Italy
Leonardo da Vinci on Masaccio:
"(Masaccio) showed by his perfect works how those who take for their standard anyone but nature, mistress of masters, were labouring in vain."
There is virtually no record on Masaccio and therefore all dates and facts are at best sustained speculation.
When the Guardian newspaper wrote, "... for while enough major works have survived to earn him a rightful place in the pantheon of Renaissance masters, his biography is the palest of sketches," they were correct.
Masaccio was called Moso, or 'clumsy' or 'whimsical', because he did not care about records, people, politics, government or economics - he cared solely about painting.
Diane Ahl, Associate Professor, Lafayette:
"Masaccio is considered a founder of Renaissance art. The first use of one-point perspective in painting occurs in his works. He interpreted subjects in a dramatic, unprecedented way, and experimented with technique and narrative."
Masolino da Panicale
Virgin and Child with St. Anne
San Giovenale Triptych
Tommaso Cassai, or Masaccio, sometimes referred to as The Father of the Renaissance, was supposedly born on December 21st in 1401 in the town of Castel San Giovanni de Altura, known today as San Giovanni Valdarno. The last name Cassai most likely comes from his grandfather and great-uncle who were cabinet makers, casse in Italian, hence his last name Cassai.
At the age of five his father, a notary, died and later that year his brother Giovanni was born, named after his father, who would also become a painter and was given the nickname 'lo Scheggia,' meaning 'the splinter'.
Masaccio's mother remarried, this time to an aristocrat, and the family relocated to Florence. There is some argument about whether the family moved to Florence after the marriage or after the death of the second husband when Masaccio was about 20.
It's known that Masaccio joined the painters guild in 1422 at the age of 21 and signed with the name "Masus S. Johannis Simonis pictor populi S. Nicholae de Florentiaand. " It is unknown where Masaccio received his training in painting or if he had any traditional instruction at all.
In Florence he was soon given the second nickname Maso, which can be translated as 'clumsy' probably due to his absentmindedness, his dress and his complete lack of interest in worldly affairs.
Vasari described Masaccio as a very friendly and kind person who only called upon his debts when in dire straits. Yet, it seems odd that he could call upon his debts because in 1426 he filed taxes and was in debt himself.
Around 1422 Masaccio began collaborating with renowned painter Tommaso di Cristofano di Fino, or commonly called, Masolino da Panicale. Masolino was also called Maso but for different reasons.
It was first thought that Masaccio was an apprentice to Masolino but it is more likely that Masaccio gained entrance to the painter's guild before collaborating with Masolino and therefore could not have been his apprentice.
Masaccio's talent was well recognized from an early age by the painting community and the two painters probably worked together from a mutual contract and for artistic ends.
In Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, commissioned for the Sant Ambrogio church in Florence, Masaccio's soft and graceful style can be seen in the images of the Virgin and Child on a throne. These characters contrast with the heavier image of Saint Anne which characterizes Masolino's style. This suggests that Masaccio indeed had a great part in the painting as he depicted the more important figures.
The painting San Giovenale Triptych, is thought to have been created by Masaccio between 1420-21. It was discovered recently in 1961 and resides in a chapel on a hill sitting right above his home town. If it is indeed Masaccio's first painting it would certainly precede Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.
Annible Caro's epitaph to Masaccio:
"I painted, and my painting was equal to truth;
I gave my figures poses, animation, motion
And emotion. Buonarroti taught all the others
And learnt from me alone."
Drawing on "Sarga"
While living in Florence, it is thought that Masaccio had the opportunity to study the paintings of Giotto and became friends with Brunelleschi and Donatello. Allegedly based on their recommendation, in 1423 Masaccio and Masolino travelled to Rome where it is noted by Vasari that Masaccio lost his Byzantine and Gothic influence. This could be seen in the altarpiece, known as Sarga, or Consecration of St Maria del Carmine, in the Carmelite Church in Pisa but the painting was destroyed when the church was rebuilt towards the end of the 16th Century. The only remnant that remains from the painting is a sketch drawn by Michelangelo.
In 1424 Masaccio and Masolino were hired by the wealthy Felice Brancacci to produce a series of frescoes for the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. For reasons unknown, in 1425 Masolino left the project for Hungary. Perhaps he left due to artistic differences or perhaps he had planned to leave from the beginning. It is not known if Masolino finished his work before he left or if Masaccio continued the work after Masolino's departure.
Later that year, Masaccio was handsomely commissioned by Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi da San Giusto to paint an altarpiece for his church in Pisa, later to be called simply The Pisa Altarpiece. He possibly began this work in Pisa while simultaneously working on the chapel in Florence and traveling between the two.
Either way he would completed the work at the Brancacci Chapel and it is thought that perhaps the Brancacci family ran out of money and Masaccio simply moved on.
In 1927 in Florence, Masaccio gained another commission to create what would become Trinity for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella. This fresco, considered to be one of his best surviving works, is one of his to really illustrate the use of the linear perspective technique; a technique that would become the standard for any aspiring Renaissance artist.
Nativity and Annunciation, now lost, were the last two solo works to be completed by Masaccio before leaving for Rome in 1427. It is possible that he could have contributed to the altarpiece at Santa Maria Maggiore that Masolino was working on at the time, but again it is unknown.
Masaccio died in 1427 or 1428 at the age of 26 or 27. There was no memorial service for him as he was virtually unknown to the wider world and wasn't properly buried until around 1443 in the Carmelite Church.
Upon hearing of Masaccio's death, Brunelleschi is reported to have said, "We have suffered a terrible loss in the death of Masaccio. "
According to Vasari Masaccio's death was the result of being poisoned by a jealous painter while in Rome, but there is no evidence to support this claim.