Tuesday, January 28, 2014


The Tribute Money
255 x 598 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy

The Tribute Money is a fresco by the Italian renaissance painter Masaccio, and completed by his senior collaborator, Masolino. It is widely considered among Masaccio's best work, and a vital part of the development of renaissance art. This painting is part of a cycle on the life of Saint Peter, and describes a scene from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus directs Peter to find a coin in the mouth of a fish in order to pay the temple tax. It owes its importance in particular to its revolutionary use of perspective and chiaroscuro.

In this fresco, a Roman tax collector (in a short orange tunic and no halo) demands tax money from Christ and the twelve apostles who don't have the money to pay. Christ (centrally located, wearing a pink robe gathered in at the waist, with a blue toga-like wrap) points to the left, and says to Peter "so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

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. What that does is make the fresco so much more real.

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. He is the first artist since classical antiquity to paint cast shadows.

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.