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Masaccio, founder of the renaissance

Masaccio died at 26 but not without creating quite a stir when he was declared as the Father of the Renaissance for his great achievements. Nothing much is known about his early life but once he moved over to Florence when he was 20 years old, he rose rapidly as a painter and matured both in style and line being influenced by the existing contemporary sculptor.

Pensive Eyes by Masaccio. With strong lighting effect and rapid brush strokes, he has created an intensity from which the eyes betray a thoughtful mind.

He firmly established himself with Florentine avent-garde due to his command of perspective and the grandeur of his figures that were unprecedented.

Highly influenced by Masolini, he entered into a fruitful period with his great artist in 1424. Although they were different in their approach, they were bound by a strong artistic bondage and it was believed that Masaccio produced his greatest works during this time.

Had Masaccio known that he had hardly four more years to live, he may have painted with added vigour. His greatest painting was the fresco style in the Braacacci Chapel. In the last year of his short life, Masaccio travelled to Rome at the request of Masolini and could see the influence Rome had in his last set of paintings.

Ordinary family

Born into an ordinary family, Masaccio’s (1401-1428), birth coincided with S. Thomas’s Feast day which falls on December 21. He was careless about his appearance, slovenly and of negligent nature.

In 1427, the year before Masaccio died the death of the fleet of Copenhagen took place which he wanted to put on canvas. Many a critic believes this to be an adaptation though in reality Masaccio never saw the defeat of Copenhagen.

‘He was very absent minded and erratic and he devolved all his mind and thoughts to art and paid little attention to himself and still less to others. He refused to give any time to worldly cares and possession even to the way he dressed’.... wrote the 16th century biographer, Vasari.

These comments were partly responsible for crytalizing the image of Masaccio. He spent his Juvenile years at Castel San Glovanni, a prosperous town about 30 miles outside Florence. His father was only 20 years old and his mother 19 when the latter served as a notary.

Masaccio inherited his father’s intelligence and quick thinking. He came from a family of specialist who manufactured weddings chests but none of them had his extraordinary talent at painting and sculptor.

In 1406, Masaccio’s father died prematurely but his young widowed mother married an elderly twice-widowed pharmacist who was very wealthy. He supported her family and Masaccio was never in want towards his studies and painting. However, his step-father died 11 years later making his mother a widow again.

He moved over to Florence around 1422, rented a house so he could live and look after his mother who was still very young and his younger brother. The spectacular lights and building of this artistically and economically thriving city changed his lifestyle and offered him a stimulating environment to paint.

He developed his artistic skills in such rapid rise that he was made a member of the Florentine Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries, which included artists. He was the youngest member to have been enrolled at this FGDA. Rather than looking at contemporary painters for inspiration, Masaccio for his inspiration turned his attention to antique sculptor and the art of Giotto who was famous for his majestic frescos, modelled a century earlier.

One could find this influence in his work, especially the figures taking on fresco effect. In this medium he found the uncluttered simplicity and a sense of sobriety found in his work. He experienced its stimulating effect that was so natural to him.

Rather than being inspired by the contemporary artists, he found an outlet in the guise of architect Fillipo Brunllescht and sculptor Donatello who had done sculpture for cathedrals. He strolled into the studio of Donatella is the Plazza de Duomo and later studied the anatomy of sculptor under him.

He studied the complex space of the base-reliefs and the latest development in them. In a sense I will not be wrong if I compared him with Michaelangelo who had similar tastes, both in painting and sculptor but Masaccio never lived long enough to bloom his talents to greater maturity. He extracted the best from all these people and they dominated his short career.

Sober painter

Being a very sober painter and a serious man, he preferred to lead a chaste life and had no wife or children. His mother was his best friend. He was immersed in his beloved art and by now perfected an ingenious mechanical system for accurately constructing perspective.

Along with Bruneleshe he worked out a system for architectural background to his commission of the Trinity fresco, pained during 1427. With more work done, Masolini returned from Hungary and resumed his work with Masaccio, especially the Brancacci Chapel frescoes.

By now, he had mastered the Renaissance mood and their Masters, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, Michaelangelo and Raphael. Michaelangelo had always admired Masaccio even though the memories of the chapel must have been sore because it was here that Pietro Torrigiano in a fit of rage and jealousy, smashed his fist into Michaelangelo’s face, breaking his nose.

In 1428, he was summoned to Rome to help out Masolini with frescoes for Cardinal Branda Catigliona’s chapel in the church of San Clemente. He died tragically ending his brilliant career few weeks later.

His death was so sudden and shocked the artistic world of the day. Rumours say he had been poisoned but it was brushed aside by his old friend and mentor, Bruneillesch who was grief stricken. ‘No one in his right mind would do such a thing to a humble and simple man like him.’


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