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Masaccio

Florentine Painter

Masaccio Photo
Movements and Styles: Early Renaissance, The Sublime in Art

Born: December 21st, 1401 - Castel San Giovanni di Altura, Italy

Died: 1428 - Rome, Italy


Summary of Masaccio

Masaccio is often credited as the first truly Renaissance artist. A tragically early end to his life cut short his progress, yet his outstanding work altered the course of Western art. The Early Renaissance was a time of cultural flourishing in Florence, and Masaccio was able to take advantage of the significant patronage of the arts among the nobility, who were keen to show off their wealth and prestige in the form of alter-pieces and friezes decorating private chapels. Little is known about his life; what we do know is that his work was unlike that of any other artist working in Florence at the time, following a rational approach that would come to characterize the broader Renaissance.

Key Ideas

One of the most significant innovations in art - and no less architecture and engineering - during the Renaissance, was the use of linear perspective to create the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional rendering. Masaccio took inspiration from the architectural drawings of Filippo Brunelleschi, who had rediscovered the concept of perspective, lost since Ancient Roman and Greek times, and applied it to painting, altering the course of Western art.
By taking the principles of perspective from architecture, and the study of light and form from sculpture, and applying them to painting, Masaccio created works of remarkable realism, that were completely different to any other painting of the time. His religious figures appear as solid objects in three-dimensional space. In this way they occupy an extension of the viewer's world, as if behind a pane of glass, rather than a wholly separate, pictorial plane as in Medieval art.
The realism of Masaccio's paintings not only demonstrates the scientific principles which were key to the development of the Renaissance, it brings the holy persons closer to the viewer, and makes them appear more human, establishing a change in the relationship between the people and their God.
Masaccio Photo

Masaccio was born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone Cassai in the winter of 1401 in a town close to Florence. His father was Ser Giovanni di Simone Cassai, a notary, and his mother Monna Iacopa, the daughter of an innkeeper. Masaccio and his brother Giovanni both became painters, though neither of their parents had been artists. Their grandfather, however, was a maker of wooden cabinets (cassoni), which were often painted, and the family name Cassai comes from the word for "carpenter" in Italian. Giovanni continued work on such objects throughout his artistic career, earning him the nickname lo Scheggia (the splinter) on account of this, as well as his slim build.

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