Masaccio was a painter who is considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of the early Italian Renaissance. He was exceptionally talented, and his most famous pieces – namely, the frescos in the Florentine Brancacci Chapel and the church of Santa Maria Novella – continue to inspire artists today. Although his career spanned just six years, (he passed away in his mid-twenties) his work had a profound impact on the work created throughout the rest of the Renaissance, and helped to establish many of the most important stylistic and conceptual features of Western art.
Being interested in Italy’s artistic history, Francesco Corallo is doubtless aware that Masaccio’s use of linear perspective, coupled with his mastery of sculpting by light (a technique first used by Giotto), allowed him to create paintings which were both realistic, and highly emotive. The naturalistic approach which he favoured led him to become more concerned with creating the illusion of a three-dimensional work, rather than with ornamental details.
Born in 1401 in a town called San Giovanni Valdarno, Masaccio joined a Florentine painters’ guild at the age of 21. During his first year of training, he created a magnificent triptych, featuring the Madonna, surrounded by saints and angels. This was created for a church in San Giovenale, but today, it can be seen in Florence’s most famous artistic space, the Uffizi Gallery.
Art enthusiasts like Francesco Corallo might know that Masaccio was unique, in that he did not attempt to emulate the painting style employed by the great masters. He was instead influenced by the mathematical precision of sculptors like Donatello, and architects like Brunelleschi.
It was his ability to apply scientific principles to his paintings which resulted in Masaccio discarding the Gothic style which was still popular in the early Renaissance, and instead devising his own individualistic approach. The year before he died, Masaccio produced what many now describe as his greatest masterpiece, the Holy Trinity, for the altar of the Santa Maria Novella Church. To this day, it is the earliest example of systematic linear perspective in a painting.
The work he created throughout his brief career was commissioned primarily by lesser known patrons of the arts; however, despite the fact that he only made a relatively small number of paintings during his lifetime, Masaccio’s work had an immediate and permanent effect not only on his peers, but also on future generations of artists.