di ser Giovanni Cassai
1401 - Roma 1428)
Masaccio was born of parents Giovanni di
Mone Cassai and Jacopa di Martinozzo in Castel San Giovanni di Altura,
now San Giovanni Valdarno in the Tuscan province of Arezzo. His father
was a notary and his mother the daughter of an innkeeper of Barberino di
Mugello, a town a few miles south of Florence. His family name, Cassai,
comes from the trade of his grandfather Simone and granduncle Lorenzo,
who were carpenters - cabinet makers ("casse", hence "cassai"). His
father died in 1406, when Tommaso was only five; in that year another
brother was born, called Giovanni after the dead father. He also was to
become a painter, with the nickname of "Scheggia". The mother remarried
with an elderly apothecary, Tedesco, who guaranteed Masaccio and his
family a comfortable childhood.
The family probably moved to Florence at the death of Tedesco, in August
1417. Little is known about this period until Tommaso joined one of the
seven main craft's guilds in Florence, on January 7, 1422, signing as "Masus
S. Johannis Simonis pictor populi S. Nicholae de Florentia". In the new
city Tommaso received his nickname, meaning "Clumsy Thomas" for the
little care he gave to wordly affairs and to personal appearance:
otherwise he was considered a good-natured person.
The first works attributed to Masaccio are the Cascia Altarpiece,
picturing the Madonna enthroned with angels and saints, and a Virgin and
Child with St. Anne at the Uffizi: they date from that year and are
already works of very high quality. The second work was a collaboration
with an older and already renowned artist, Masolino da Panicale, and for
many years it was assumed Masaccio was simply an apprentice to Masolino.
However it has been pointed out that Masaccio gained entry to the
Painters' Guild before Masolino, suggesting it more likely their
collaboration was for convenience or simply moved by mutual esteem. It
is also clear that Masaccio's talent was already patent, as well as he
was probably already superior to Masolino himself. The conclusion is
that it is still not known where Massaccio received his training in art.
Resurrection of the Son of
TheophilusIn Florence Masaccio could study the works of Giotto and
become friend with Alberti, Brunelleschi and Donatello. According to
Vasari, at their prompting in 1423 Masaccio travelled to Rome with
Masolino: from that point is freed of all Gothic and Byzantine influence
as represented by the central panel of his altarpiece for the Carmelite
Church in Pisa, the central panel of which (The Madonna and the Child)
is now in the National Gallery, London. As well as a sculptural and
human Madonna the work features a convincing perspectival depiction of
her throne. The traces of influences from ancient Roman and Greek works
that are present in some of Masaccio's works presumably originated from
this trip: they should also have been present in a lost Sagra, today
known through some drawings (including one by Michelangelo), a fresco
commissioned for the consecration ceremony of the church of Santa Maria
del Carmine in Florence (April 19, 1422). It was destroyed when the
church's cloister was rebuilt at the end of the 16th century.
The Tribute Money, fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del
Carmine, FlorenceIn 1424 the "duo preciso e noto" ("well and known duo")
of Masaccio and Masolino was commissioned by the powerful and rich
Felice Brancacci to execute a cycle of frescoes for the Brancacci Chapel
in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Theme of the
frescoes of the little chapel was to be the "Histories of St. Peter".
The genius of Masaccio shows clearly in the fresco "Resurrection of the
Son of Theophilus" in the same chapel. He painted a pavement in
perspective, framed by large buildings to obtain a depth of field, a
three-dimensional space, in which the figures are placed proportionate
to the perspective. In this he was a pioneer in applying the newly
discovered rules of perspective.
When it was cleaned, Tommaso Masaccio's fresco of The Expulsion
(1426–1427) lost the added fig leaves.Masaccio's scenes show his
reference to Giotto especially. The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,
depicting a distressed Adam and Eve, nude, without fig leaves had a huge
influence on Michelangelo. Another major work is the Tribute Money in
which Jesus and the Apostles are depicted as neo-classical archetypes.
On September 1425 Masolino left the work and went to Hungary. It is not
known if this was because of money quarrels with Felice or even if there
was an artistic divergence with Masaccio. It has been also supposed that
Masolino was planning this trip from the very beginning, and needed the
presence of a close collaborator who could keep up the work after his
fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in
Santa Maria del Carmine, FlorenceSome of the scenes completed by the duo
were lost in a fire in 1771. We know about them through the biography of
Masaccio written by Giorgio Vasari. The surviving parts were extensively
blackened by smoke, and only a recent removing of two marble slabs
covering two areas of the paintings has shown the original appearance of
Masaccio left the work unfinished in 1426 in order to respond to other
commissions, probably coming from the same patron. However, it has also
been suggested that the declining finances of Felice Brancacci were
insufficient to pay for any more work, so the painter therefore sought
Masaccio returned in 1427 to work again in the Carmine, beginning the
Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus, but apparently left it too
unfinished, though it has also been suggested that the painting was
severely damaged later in the century because it contained portraits of
the Branacci family, at that time excoriated as enemies of the Medici.
This painting was either restored or completed more than fifty years
later by Filippino Lippi.
On February 19, 1426 Masaccio was commissioned by Giuliano di Colino
degli Scarsi, for the sum of 80 florins, a major altarpiece for his
chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa. The work was
dismantled and dispersed in the 18th century, and only eleven of the c.
twenty original panels have been rediscovered in various places in the
world. Masaccio probably worked at it entirely in Pisa, voyaging back
and thro to Florence where he was still working to the Histories of St.
Peter. In these years Donatello was also working in Pisa at a monument
for Cardinal Rinaldo Brancacci, to be sent to Naples. It has been
suggested that Masaccio first attempts with plasticity and perspective
were based on Donatello's sculpture, before he could study
Brunelleschi's more scientific approach to perspective.
Through the help of Brunelleschi, in 1427 Masaccio won
a prestigious commission to produce a Holy Trinity for the Santa Maria
Novella church in Florence. The fresco, considered by many his
masterwork, marks the first use of systematic linear perspective,
possibly devised by Masaccio with the assistance of Brunelleschi
Masaccio produced two other works, a Nativity and an Annunciation, now
lost, before leaving for Rome where his companion Masolino was frescoing
the Basilica di San Clemente. It has been never confirmed that Masaccio
collaborated to that work, even though it could be possible he
contributed to Masolino's polyptych of the altar of St. Mary Major with
his panel portraying St. Jerome and St. John the Baptist, now in the
National Gallery of London. Masaccio died at the end of 1428. According
to a legend, he was poisoned by a rival painter who had guessed
Masaccio's art was unbeatable for him.
Only four frescoes undoubtedly from Masaccio's hand still exist today,
although many other works have been credited either in whole or in part
to his name. Some others are believed to have been destroyed.
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