Sunday, 10 February 2013

Masaccio and the Reform of Florentine Art.

The word “reform” immediately evokes religious associations, which is true in the case of Masaccio as his breakthrough style features in the Carmelite church of the Carmine in Florence. But reformation here should also be seen in terms of science, as well as faith. A formidably rationalist painter, Masaccio consistently used linear perspective, which had been discovered by the Florentine architect, Brunelleschi who had designed panels that employed the principle. Brunelleschi painted a small panel which contained a representation of the baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. The experiment consisted of looking through a small hole in the back of the painting whilst holding up a mirror in which was reflected the small panel or tavola. Looking through the painting, at the mirror, the viewer did not see the painted sky but a reflection of a reflection since Brunelleschi had covered the painted surface with a layer of silver in which the real sky and passing clouds were reflected. It has been deduced that Brunelleschi had not used a mirror to paint the panel; the mirror was used in the viewing structure to show the firmament whose appearance in quattrocento art was considered part of perspective itself since it eliminated the flat golden ground favoured by earlier renaissance artists like Giotto. Above all Masaccio was a mathematical painter long before Leonardo came on the scene. The science of mathematics helped Masaccio in the construction of his pictures, spatial construction involving the logical positioning of figures relative to his landscapes. This painstaking logic was likewise used in Masaccio’s depiction of the human body, which owed much to deep study of antique sculpture. 

Masaccio, Crucifixion with Donors, Trinity, 1425-28, Fresco, 640 x 317 cm, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Trinity (scheme of the perspective), 1425-28, Fresco, 667 x 317 cm, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

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