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Masaccio's Legacy Essay

2762 words - 12 pages

It is a frequent practice of nature to produce a person of great excellence in any profession, then to raise up another to rival him at the same time and in a neighboring domain, so that they may help one another by their emulation and talents. This circumstance also inflames the spirit of those who come after, to endeavor by study and industry to attain to the same honor and glorious reputation which they heard praised everyday in their predecessors. That this is true is shown by Florence , that has produced in the same age Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Paolo Ucello and Masaccio, each one pre-eminent in his kind, who not only freed themselves of the rude and rough style ...view middle of the document...

According to Vasari, Masaccio was attracted to the things of art from a very young age. Already in Valdarno, where he was born and spent his childhood, he was able to refine his innate artistic and pictorial sensibility, inspired by the churches' and buildings' paintings. But what really shaped Masaccio's artistic personality is Florence. He made several trips there, and he was amazed at the grandeur of the city's architecture. Thanks to the work Brunelleschi and Donatello did in Florence in the early years of the fifteenth century, there was already an artistic and cultural revolution in progress, which Masaccio noticed when comparing his native village to this big city. Being fascinated by it and its new beautiful architectural and sculptural work, such as: the Duomo, the Baptistry, the churches of Orsanmichele and Santa Maria Novella, Masaccio moved to Florence at the age of 16. There he joined the painters' guild, thus getting the opportunity to see some of the most renowned paintings up to then and study works of previous masters. Yet, he wanted to be able to create something different. That is why, his remarkably individual style owed little to other painters, except possibly to the great 14th century master, Giotto. He was most strongly influenced by the architect Brunelleschi, from whom he acquired a knowledge of mathematical proportion, that was crucial to his revival of the principles of scientific perspective, and the sculptor Donatello, from whom he absorbed and modified a knowledge of classical art and intense humanity that led him away from the prevailing Gothic style from 14th century. He was fascinated by these two artists, whom he took as reference point, but regarding the art to which he felt naturally inclined, painting, there was no significant change or progress, which disappointed him. Even if it was the beginning of the 15th century, painting still harked back to that late gothic style which had been for many years sought after and appreciated by the great noble and the ecclesiastical clientele. This style, because of its well-established typology, could be easily reproduced by skilled copyists with no individual taste and no necessity for artistic development. Masaccio managed to transpose the great innovations from architecture and sculpture to painting, and for this he was already considered a great artist in his own century. He inaugurated a new naturalistic approach, concerned less with details and ornamentation than with simplicity and unity, less with flat surfaces than with the illusion of three-dimensionality. He felt that all figures that do not stand with their feet flat and foreshortened, but are on the tips of their toes (like most figures in the paintings of the previous centuries did) are destitute of excellence and style. Even though Paolo Ucello devoted himself to this question and had achieved something towards smoothing the difficulty of characters, Masaccio did these foreshortenings much better, varying...

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