Masolino (Tommaso di Cristoforo di Fino) is believed to have studied with Stamina, the principal teacher of the time. He was enrolled in the guild of painters in 1423 and is believed to have worked in the Brancacci Chapel for two or three years following. In 1427 he was in Hungary, a retainer of the romantic character known in Italy as Pippo Spano. The date of his work in Castiglione d’Olona is much discussed. Latest authorities place the work in the church before that of the Brancacci Chapel, that in the baptistery about 1435. Still more difference of opinion exists regarding the authorship and date of the work in S. Clemente, Rome, which has been much repainted. The evidence of the figures, costumes, and other details points to Masolino and the date perhaps to 1430 or later.
Masaccio was born in Castel San Giovanni, the son of a notary. His name, like that of Masolino, is a derivative from Tomasso awkward or ” great hulking Tom ” as Browning phrases it, the other being diminutive, ” Little Tom.” Few facts are known concerning his life, his work in the Brancacci Chapel being the principal record. He worked there with Masolino, possibly as a pupil, but soon surpassing the older painter, whose entrance into the guild of painters he had anticipated by two years. Discussion of the part taken by each will be found under the pictures from the chapel.
Masaccio painted a series of portraits in the cloister of the Carmine, which have been covered by whitewash. A Trinity in S. Maria Novella, much damaged by repainting, is ascribed to him. In 1428 he left Florence for Rome, never to be heard of again.
Despite his short life Masaccio is the most vital force in Florentine art after Giotto.
It is worthy of note that the first quarter of the fourteenth, the fifteenth, and the sixteenth centuries was dominated each by its own great constructive genius, each of whom has left the decoration of a chapel as his memorial: Giotto in the Arena Chapel, Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel, Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. They are the three great stepping-stones of the Renaissance.
While the study of attributions is a science in itself and is usually of slight æsthetic value to the student of art, a careful comparison of the pictures in the Brancacci Chapel with this point especially in mind will be found helpful and stimulating. In view of the great difference of opinion as to the portions done by Masolino and Masaccio the student’s judgment should be based upon the study of the pictures themselves. In no other way can he appreciate so well the place of honor which Masaccio holds in the history of art development.
Study a diagram of the Brancacci Chapel in Kugler, Vasari, or Woltmann and Woermann.
Topics FOR FURTHER RESEARCH.
Story of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art.
The Carmelite Order. Jameson, Monastic Orders.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 128. St. Catherine exhorting Pagans to abandon Idolatry.
S. Clemente, Rome.
The church of S. Clemente, founded in the fourth century, is one of the most interesting in Rome. Cf. 33 and Series G. At the right of the nave is the Chapel of the Passion, on the left wall of which are scenes from the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria, on the altar wall a Crucifixion. The work is attributed to Masolino.
Notice the complicated problem in perspective which the artist has set for himself. The use of contemporary costume is characteristic of Masolino. Note the excellent modeling of the ” image,” evidently a classic statue. Compare faces and forms with Masolino’s work at Castiglione d’Olona and form an independent judgment on the authorship.
No. 129. The Eternal Father in Glory.
No. 130. Feast of Herod.
No. 131. Group of Heads : detail.
Baptistery, Castiglione d’Olona.
The collegiate church of this Lombard village and its baptistery were decorated by Masolino at the order of Cardinal Castiglione, titular head of S. Clemente in Rome. The frescos of the church are now nearly destroyed. In the baptistery are scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
Notice the artist’s interest in perspective; in details of Renaissance decoration rather than in architectural structure. Compare with Ghiberti’s north doors completed 1424; with the east doors on which he was at work, if 1435 is the correct date of these frescos.
Study the story of John as told here. Note again the contemporary costume. The flatness of the faces placed one upon another is surprising in view of the excellent perspective of the loggia. The burial of the Baptist is seen on the mountainside, with an explanatory inscription, a relic of mediæval custom.
The medallion in 129 occupies the center of the vaulting above. Compare the angels with figures by Giotto for ” tactile value “; with angels by Fra Angelico. The long white divided beard is repeated in several of Masolino’s pictures.
Nos. 132133. Resurrection of Tabitha.
No. 134. St. Peter Preaching.
No. 135. Adam and Eve in Eden (The Fall).
Brancacci Chapel, Carmine, Florence.
The church and monastery of S. Maria del Carmine were built for the Carmelites, a religious order that derived its origin from Elisha the Carmelite.
In the right transept is found the Brancacci Chapel, named for its founder. It contains the cycle of frescos executed in 14231428 by Masolino and Masaccio, and completed half a century later by Filippino Lippi. The acts of St. Peter are the main subjects. They are arranged in two tiers; on the piers at each side of the entrance are four narrow paintings, on the right above 135, on the left 139 and 215; on each side wall ‘are two very wide frescos, on the right above, 132, on the left 140 and 213; on the end wall are two narrow ones on either side of the altar, right, 144 and 143, left above 134. Those given to Masolino are 132, 134 and 135.
132 contains two scenes, Peter and John healing the cripple, and the Raising of Tabitha (or Petronilla, as it is sometimes called). Notice the setting, a street scene in a mediaeval town, the artist’s interest in architectural perspective, the balanced arrangement of the two scenes. Compare with 130, noting more developed forms. Notice the contemporary costumes. Compare with 131. Are they more provincial? In 132 and 134 notice the dignity of Peter, the excellence of the draperies, the repetition of the facial types. Notice especially in both the manner of representing the halo.
In 135 study the drawing and modeling of the body, the failure to support the figures firmly on their feet, the undramatic rendering of the scene.
How fundamental are the resemblances between this work and that in Castiglione d’Olona? Which is better?
No. 139. Expulsion from Eden.
Nos. 140-142. The Tribute Money.
No. 143. St. Peter distributing Alms.
No. 144. St. Peter baptizing the Pagans.
Brancacci Chapel, Carmine, Florence.
The probable date of Masaccio’s frescos is 1425-1428. His work served generations of art students as a training school; Vasari gives a long list, including most of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century painters. Both Raphael and Michelangelo have left testimony in their works of sketching done in this chapel.
139. Recall the story which is here represented in all its details. Notice the tragedy which is expressed, not alone in face but in every part of the body, the restraint and dignity of the angel, the sense of movement both in the angel and in Adam and Eve. Study the drawing and modeling of the figures, their actuality, the use of shadow to indicate the curves of the torso, the escape from the flatness seen in 131. Compare Masaccio’s strong feeling for the construction of the human body with the flat and flabby drawing of 135. Notice also the mistakes in proportion, as in Adam’s upper arm, the hand of Eve, the incorrect drawing of the leg. Compare with the pendant fresco, 135, also attributed by some to Masaccio, studying both the manner of painting and the emotional content of the two. Could an artist who had first drawn with so much care for academic correctness the figures of the ” Fall,” have later made the mistakes in drawing found in the ” Expulsion?” Could the artist who has given us so much of dramatic power in the Expulsion have afterward painted so cold and unemotional a scene as that of the Fall? The vigor and dramatic power of Masaccio’s figures impressed both Raphael and Michelangelo. A drawing after them by Raphael is in the Louvre, and the Expulsion of the Sistine Ceiling, C 112, while not a copy, shows the influence of this early conception.
140, 141, 142. Recall the story shown here in three scenes. Note the arrangement of figures, the distribution of space, the dignity of the figures, their draperies, the way they stand, the pose of the young tax-collector, the interesting variety of types, the high character of the Christ face. Compare with Fra Angelico’s Christ, 119. The background has suffered from a fire that partially destroyed the church in 1771, but it is still possible to realize the distance of the mountains. There is no long arcade to act as measuring rod, as in 130. Masaccio has introduced aerial perspective at a period when the principles of linear perspective were not yet formulated. Notice the halo, which is a glory floating tangent to the head and changing with its position instead of a flat circle behind the head. Cf. 132, 134. C 189 shows again Masaccio’s influence on Raphael.
144. This scene of the Baptism is more damaged, but is interesting for its study of the nude and for the artist’s ability to catch the momentary suggestion of the shivering youth who waits on the bank. Compare the faces with those of 134.
It is interesting to recall that Masaccio had finished his work in the Carmine five years before Fra Angelico painted the Tabernacle of the Linaiuoli.
No. 145. Portrait of an Old Man.
Fresco. Said to be a portrait of the old sacristan of the Carmine. Attributed also to Filippino Lippi.
The homely realism of the wrinkled face, the ear doubled over by the cap, the satisfaction of the old man at being thus portrayed, show us an artist interested in the life about him, and skilful in presenting it.