Masaccio, Polittico di San Giovenale

Remembering Masaccio

This is an important year to remember Masaccio, one of the greatest painters of all time. Both for the recently begun restoration of his masterpiece - the frescoes in the Cappella Brancacci, in the church of the Carmine in Florence, where it is possible to climb on the scaffolding - and for the 600th anniversary of his first work: the Triptych of San Giovenale. First pearl of Masaccio's production - housed in the Masaccio Museum, next to the Pieve di S. Pietro di Cascia, Reggello, in the province of Florence - bears the date April 23, 1422. On the occasion, right from April 23, the same museum proposes the exhibition Masaccio e i maestri del Rinascimento a confronto (Masaccio and the masters of the Renaissance), centred on this early work: of great beauty is the Madonna and Child, flanked by four Saints. The whole composition is set in a space that, for the first time in the history of painting, follows Brunelleschi’s lows of prospective.  

Also in 1422, Masaccio enrolled to the Arte dei Medici e Speziali di Firenze - the guild of painters - and in the same year (April 19) he participated to the consecration of the Carmine Church, portraying himself with other important artists in the fresco named La Sagra, which unfortunately didn’t survive until present day.

Miraculously, the Brancacci Chapel escaped the fire of 1771. In the most famous scene ("the Tribute") of these frescoes dedicated to the life of St. Peter, Masaccio paid homage to his homeland: in fact, in the background of this painting, we recognize the Pratomagno, a landscape not far from San Giovanni Valdarno, where Masaccio was born in 1401 and where his birthplace is still located.

Masaccio – his real name was Tommaso, renamed in that way probably because of the roughness of his character – moved to Florence in 1418 where, beside the Cappella Brancacci, there are many other museums with his admirable works.

The Uffizi Gallery preserves both the “Sant’Anna Metterza” (a Madonna with Child and Saint Anne, made by Masaccio probably in collaboration with Masolino),  and the “Madonna del sorriso”. Masterpiece frescoed by him in full autonomy is La Trinità located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella.

It is attributed to Masaccio the predella of the Polittico Quarratesi (depicting episodes from the life of San Giuliano), completed in collaboration with Masolino and now housed in the Horne Museum.

In 1428, Masaccio was in Rome where, at the age of 27 and, in mysterious circumstances, he met his death. He was able, however, to revolutionize the course of western art history - together with Donatello and Brunelleschi in 14th century Florence – thanks to both the new realism of his art and the new humanity that transpires from his characters.