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Masaccio 1401–ca. 1428 Italian Painter

1401–ca. 1428
Italian painter

The Italian painter Masaccio is considered the founder of Italian painting of the 1400s. Many Renaissance artists studied and copied his work. Leonardo da Vinci admired Masaccio for his faithfulness to nature; others praised Masaccio's use of perspective* and his technical mastery.

Born Tommaso di Giovanni de Simone Cassai in the village of San Giovanni Valdarno, Masaccio spent most of his brief career in Florence. The first record of him as an artist dates from 1418. In January 1422 he joined the Florentine painter's guild*, and two years later he became a member of the Company of San Luca, a professional organization of painters.

Masaccio's work features solid, muscular figures. The light illuminating his paintings gives them a feeling of depth and makes figures and objects appear three-dimensional. The artist's use of perspective also clearly defines the spaces within his paintings.

One of Masaccio's earliest surviving works is the San Giovenale Triptych, painted in 1422. The three-panel painting shows the Virgin Mary and the Christ child surrounded by angels and saints. Another well-known work by the artist, the Pisa Altarpiece, was commissioned for a chapel in the city of Pisa. This piece also focuses on the Virgin and Child.

Masaccio's most celebrated work is a series of frescoes* for a chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, which he worked on with Masolino da Panicale. Begun in the 1420s but left unfinished, the series was completed by the painter Filippino Lippi in the early 1480s. The frescoes focus on the life and ministry of St. Peter but also feature biblical scenes of Adam and Eve. In a scene entitled Expulsion from Paradise, Masaccio uses body language and facial expression to show the profound sadness and anguish of Adam and Eve as they leave the Garden of Eden. This scene, along with others by Masaccio, reveals great psychological complexity.

Masaccio's career ended early, and few of his works survived. However, he served as an inspiration for Italian artists of his day. One admirer, the architect Leon Battista Alberti, regarded Masaccio as the equal of the great masters of ancient Greece and Rome.

(See alsoArt in Italy. )

* perspective

artistic technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface

* guild

association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

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