Masaccio: Innovator of Perspective and Illusion
Considered the greatest Florentine painter of the early 1400s, Masaccio is one of the most important figures of Western Art. Tommaso di ser Giovanni Cassai di Simon Guidi was born in 1401 and nicknamed Masaccio Careless Tom because of his attitude. He was apathetic to things like personal appearance and worldly materials, and was thus careless with his possessions. As a child, he concentrated more on his art instead of himself and what others thought about him.
He moved from Castel S. Giovanni di Altura to Florence in 1417 to become a pupil of Masolino di Panicale. There, he helped upon innovations of art. In 1422 and 1424, he enrolled in the guild of St. Luke of Florentine Painters. After becoming jaded at the medieval art, Masaccio wanted to make art more realistic and true to life. He constantly studied the idea of perspective in an effort to make his paintings appear natural.
Few paintings can be undoubtedly credited to Masaccio, but these are considered masterpieces nonetheless. His greatest work was done on the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. These frescoes were started by Masolino and ultimately completed by Fillipinno Lippi years after Masaccio’s death. This chapel is now a significant monument in the history of art. These frescoes had a tremendous impact on Florentine art thereof, and were used as a basis to teach new artists like Michelangelo and Raphael. It is on these walls that Masaccio created -Expulsion from Eden and The Tribute Money, and many others with Biblical subjects. Probably his most famous, The Tribute Money, gives a superb example of linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, the separation of lines, and the classic color theory.
Linear perspective is a mathematical system of fixing objects on a plane of a two dimensional surface. This also involves orthogonals, imaginary lines receding into the distance, horizon line, the horizontal line at the viewer’s eye level, and vanishing point, where the orthogonals come together.
Atmospheric perspective is slightly different. It creates the illusion of depth through methods like color saturation, brightness angle, and texture angle. The classic color theory is another way of emphasizing space in the painting. The theory says that warm colors appear to advance while cool colors recede. This is why Masaccio painted red and orange-clothed figures with a blue and gray background in The Tribute Money.
Painters including Masaccio developed the separation of planes in the 14th century. It is the technique of overlapping planes to create depth by using a foreground, middleground, and background.
Perhaps the most mysterious thing about Masaccio is his death. Leaving the chapel unfinished, he left for Rome and died and the young age of twenty seven in 1428. It is speculated that he was poisoned, but there are no certain records of this. He was buried at the church of the Carmine in 1443. His friend, Brunelleschi was very troubled after hearing about this because Masaccio had given him many tips in perspective and architecture.
Notwithstanding his early death, Masaccio’s creations would still be looked upon as a paragon of illusion for years to come. -Sometimes referred to as the forerunner of Michelangelo, Masaccio was, with Donatello and Brunelleschi, one of the founders of the Florentine Renaissance,- according to Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Masaccio is essentially remembered because of his imaginative use of perspective, and this originality will place him in the same stratum as Giotto and Michelangelo.
Frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, including -Expulsion from Eden- and -The Tribute Money-
A closer look at -The Tribute Money- which tells the story of Peter’s confrontation with the Roman tax collectors. Peter is on the far left looking for money and on the far right paying. Christ is in the center.
List of Works Consulted
Bergin, Thomas G. PH D. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. New York: Facts on File Publication, 1987.
Borland, Bruce, ed, et-al. Civilzation Past & Present. New York. Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1992.
No Author Given. -Masaccio.- The Columbia Encyclopedia. Edition 5, 1993: 23851. Infotrac Search Bank: General Reference Center. Online. Information Access. A17527559. 1 Mar. 2000.