Church Of Santa Maria del Carmine – Massaccio – The Tribute Money

For five centuries the artists of Europe have come to these frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, to learn expressive drawing and the use of light and shade. Indebted to Giotto for realistic modelling and gesturing, Masaccio went beyond his master in these respects. Since these were qualities highly prized by the later Renaissance, Masaccio’s influence was even stronger.

If we compare The Tribute Money with one of Giotto’s typical compositions, certain differences are obvious. The Masaccio is less firm and impressive as a design of masses. The figures are more alike in shape, standing upright, heads on the same, monotonous level, against a background mostly upright trees and columns. A few slanting arms and cloth-folds are echoed in the distant hillslopes, to give a contrasting theme. But there is nothing like Giotto’s inventive variation and architectural building up of complex forms. This is more diffuse and casual: simply a group of people talking. But to compensate, we have in the first place individual figures of considerably more animation, lightness and agility. A notable example is the young man in the center, poised on one slender leg, with the other rising from the ground, his body twisted, head and hands extended with fluent, simple realism. Another is the squatting fisherman at the left; and, in other pictures nearby, those of Adam and Eve Expelled from Eden, and the man shivering with cold in St. Peter Baptizing.

Still more important, as a fundamental development in form, is the genuinely deep space and the wide dispersion of objects in it. Here is no flat gold or blue background, but a vast landscape, receding hill by hill to a far horizon, clearly marked off at various distances by trees and rocky slopes. Its greens and blues, put in distemper on the finished surface, have suffered badly from fire and damp. Even in a drawing made from it by Ruskin, feathery trees, streaks in the sky and details on the hills appear, which are now invisible. Among the figures, there is no cramped huddling: each is in his own bit of space, with plenty of elbow-room. As to color, it is hard to tell which of its qualities are original, and which due to time and restoration. Dust-gathering irregularities in the wall now help to give a shimmering, foggy look to the landscape. The garments are hard, but form a darkly glowing pattern of red, orange, violet and blue against the dull background.

Notice also the broad, simplified modelling in St. Peter Healing and Giving Alms; the soft, enveloping shadows and dramatic contrasts of light and dark, anticipating Leonardo and Rembrandt.

Frescoes and panel paintings by Fra Angelico; the latter in the room called the Ospizio. Of the former, one of the best is the large Crucifixion in the Capitolo; others are on the upper floor, in passages and cells.