Masaccio, Holy Trinity, 1424, fresco
In the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is one of the best examples of the early Renaissance scientific approach to creating the convincing illusion of space within a painting. It is here, on one of the walls inside the church, that Masaccio painted his fresco of the Holy Trinity in 1424. The title of the painting comes from the three key figures: Christ on the cross, God the Father standing on a ledge behind Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, God the Father is shown standing on a platform in the back, which is not an “otherworldly” place (where he would be traditionally depicted), but instead a realistic space which follows the laws of physics. Mary and St. John are also present at the Crucifixion at the foot of the cross, and one step down from them are Masaccio’s donors to either side. Unlike the biblical and divine figures, the donors are meant to appear to be in our space (the space of the viewer), and not in the recessed space in which the cross is located.
If we look at the composition of the figures, we see that they are in a kind of pyramidal shape. This is similar to composition of many other Renaissance works, such as Brunelleschi’s competition panel for the bronze doors of the Florence baptistery.
The architecture in which the Crucifixion takes place is also significant. We see what looks like a Roman triumphal arch, with a coffered ceiling, barrel vault, pilasters, and columns. This type of structure hearkens back to Roman architecture, and indicates the type of interest that Masaccio (and others at this time) had in antique buildings.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this fresco is the way Masaccio makes use of one-point linear perspective to convey the sense that the images recedes back in space. The coffers on the ceiling create the orthogonal lines, and the vanishing point is at base of cross, which happens to be at the eye level of the viewer. This creates the sense that the space we are looking at in the fresco is actually a continuation of the chapel space in which the fresco is painted. Masaccio paid extremely close attention to the dimensions of the objects and spaces that he painted, so much so that you can actually determine the dimensions of the room we are looking at in the fresco.
Moving our eyes down the fresco, we see a skeleton in a tomb at the bottom. This part of the fresco had been covered over for many years, and it was not until recently that it was uncovered. The tomb is meant to appear as an outward projection, but it also has its own recess near the area where the skeleton lay. Above the skeleton is an inscription, which states (translated), “What you are I once was; what I am, you will be”. This message tells us of our own (the viewer’s) mortality and future death. In the end, we will end up like the skeleton as well. This morbid message projects out into the viewer’s space, but when we look above we see a message of hope in the Crucifixion, which means freedom from death for believers. Note how the vanishing point, at a level between the tomb below and the cross above, unites the two different spaces. Masaccio approached this fresco in a very rational way to masterfully create a convincing illusion of space, and he has done so in a way which elevates the important Christian meaning at the core of the scene.
The Holy Trinity: Masaccio Essay
2263 Words10 Pages
Innovators can be found in all fields of work, whether it is Albert Einstein in physics, Isaac Newton in mathematics, or Masaccio in early Renaissance painting. Even though these individuals labored in different fields, the influences of their work on later generations were equally great. Masaccio was able to build upon the works of proto-Renaissance painters such as Giotto, to further develop the mathematical technique of linear perspective to open a window into the world for his viewers. His innovative style can be found in most of his work, such as “The Tribute Money” found inside the Brancacci chapel, but the best example of his style is found not far from the Brancacci chapel in Florence. Found inside the Dominican church of Santa…show more content…
Many of Masaccio’s most famous works were done in the medium of fresco. This is a possible explanation for why he was not a popular and celebrated artist during his time. Many people were not able to acquire his work. Diane Ahl of the college of Lafayette stated:
Masaccio was not named among the painters ‘who have been illustrious in our age’ in Fazio’s De viris illustribus. Nor was Masaccio included among ‘the best masters who have existed for a good while back’ in the list of artists by whom the Florentine merchant Giovanni Rucellai owned works in c. 1470. This omission, however, presumably reflected the difficulty of acquiring panel paintings by Masaccio, which inevitably have always been rare, rather than an opinion that Masaccio was not one of ‘the best masters’ (Ahl 158).
Ahl tells how Masaccio was underappreciated in his time, but since his works were not as accessible as some of his contemporaries. It was the way in which Masaccio was able to influence generations of artists after him that art historians today consider him a master of art. Masaccio looked to antiquity and architecture to further develop his use of linear perspective which literally pulls the viewer of the Trinity into the work itself. Like the famous works inside the Brancacci chapel, the Trinity is done in fresco. This technique is performed by applying the pigments directly onto a wet plaster wall. This medium would not have allowed Masaccio the luxury