Thursday, November 15, 2012


Madonna Enthroned, Panel from the Pisa Altar
tempera on panel
133 x 73 cm
The National Gallery, London, UK

Masaccio (1401 - 1428) was the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance, whose innovations in the use of scientific perspective inaugurated the modern era in painting. He was born in a village near Florence, located in the valley of the Arno River. He was the best painter of his generation because of his skill at recreating lifelike figures and movements as well as a convincing sense of three-dimensionality.

He was one of the first to use linear perspective in his painting, employing techniques such as vanishing point in art for the first time. He also moved away from the International Gothic style and elaborate ornamentation of artists like Gentile da Fabriano to a more naturalistic mode that employed perspective and chiaroscuro for greater realism.

His remarkably individual style owed little to other painters, except possibly the great 14th-century master Giotto. He was more strongly influenced by the architect Brunelleschi and the sculptor Donatello, both of whom were his contemporaries in Florence. From Brunelleschi he acquired a knowledge of mathematical proportion that was crucial to his revival of the principles of scientific perspective. From Donatello he imbibed a knowledge of classical art that led him away from the prevailing Gothic style. He inaugurated a new naturalistic approach to painting that was concerned less with details and ornamentation than with simplicity and unity, less with flat surfaces than with the illusion of three dimensionality. Together with Brunelleschi and Donatello, he was a founder of the Renaissance.

He died in Rome at twenty-six and little is known about the exact circumstances of his death. Despite his brief career, he had a profound influence on the course of later Florentine art and particularly on the work of Michelangelo. The majority of his work has been destroyed.