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Tommaso di Giovanni: a Reflection on his Works

Updated on November 2, 2011
Self-portrait | Source


One of the greatest master painters that had lasting impact and influence on succeeding artists is Masaccio. Born Tommaso di Giovanni on 21 December 1401 to Giovanni di Mone and Jacopa di Martinozza in present day Tuscany, he grew up to be one of the most influential Florentine painters despite his short-lived career as a renaissance artist ( &

Masaccio is considered to be one of the founding fathers of Renaissance alongside with his colleagues Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Alberti. Masaccio got his nickname from a play of Tommaso and is translated to ‘Sloppy Tom’ to distinguish him from another artist who has the same name. And is also an accurate depiction of his character—sloppy in the sense that he does not care what other people think of him. Though how he acquired his formal training, if he attended one, and on whose tutelage is unknown or still unverifiable, he drew influence from his colleagues to improve his art works. He became a member of the Painter’s Guild in Florence in 1422. Masaccio only enjoyed a short-lived life and career that never made it past his 20’s. He died in 1428 in Rome of alleged poisoning by a rival painter. He was only 27 when he died (ibid).

Some of the notable influences of Masaccio from his contemporaries as applied in his art are: the understanding and use of mathematical proportion, scientific/ linear perspective, and the understanding of three-dimensionality from Brunelleschi. His knowledge in art history and classical artwork from Donatello influenced Masaccio’s work in such a way that it finally made him depart from his Gothic and Byzantine style influences (

 Madonna and Child with St. Anne
Madonna and Child with St. Anne | Source

The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne

The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne was the collaborative work of Masolino and Masaccio in 1424. Masolino is credited for his work on Saint Anne and the three angels holding a tapestry in the background while Masaccio’s work is of the most important subject—the Virgin Mary and child. Masaccio is also credited for painting the two angels in either side of the chair (

This masterpiece is a great example of how renaissance artist pays attention to great detail via the angels and the elaborate design of the tapestry that the angels in the background where holding. Masaccio was able to vividly put to life the Madonna and child through the use of chiaroscuro which was very apparent in the veil and robe of the Virgin Marry which created depth and a sense of three-dimensionality. This is coupled with the proportionality of the baby Jesus in the lap of the Virgin Mary which seemed to be closer to the viewers. This portrait, being one of the earliest works of Masaccio still depicts his Byzantine influence. This could be viewed by the elaborate design of the Madonna and child’s halo. This is also very apparent on the architectural design of the chair. Notice the dome-like tip of the chair poles which is very common on Byzantine ornaments and architecture.

Despite the fact that this was a collaborative effort, Masaccio’s work stood out because of Masolino’s handywork—his elaborate strokes on the tapestry, and the vivid emotion of Saint Anne; and his angels was not accurately proportionate in relation to the subject of the painting. His heavy use of color makes his work looks flat and myopic—i.e. the wings of the angel on the left which are all painted in solid black color. But despite these criticisms, all in all, the work is still well-presented and is a true testament to the brilliance of renaissance artists.

Holy Trinity
Holy Trinity | Source

Holy Trinity

The fresco of the Holy Trinity in Santa Maria Novella, Florence was painted by Masaccio in 1427, again, here is another great example of Masaccio’s genius of using linear perspective to add depth and three-dimensionality to his painting. Another interesting bit about this painting is that it showcases the Humanism philosophy which was very prevalent during the 15th century in Florence (

On this painting, Masaccio took a low vantage point in such a way that when viewers would look at the painting, it seemed as if we are looking up to the crucifix—the orthogonal lines in the ceiling could be traced in relation to the vanishing point that could be found at the base of the cross. Another interesting aspect is that the portrait of God the Father was that of a man: notice the foot showing at the lower left side of the cross. Usually, God is always characterized through symbolism such as a hand. In this case, Masaccio depicted God as a man and not as a divine entity or a powerful force, hence the very obvious influence of humanism philosophy (ibid).

The elaborate background, architecture, the figures on the foreground and the position of God in the background all add-up together to incorporate depth and the three-dimensionality of the painting. The positioning of the women and saints in the foreground also adds to the illusion of creating the depth of the picture.

Also in the painting is the use of science via mathematical proportioning. To emphasize this, the ladies and saints have two varying positions in the foreground. The ladies, positioned outside the enclave of the crucifix are positioned in such a way that they seemed to be the ones closest to the viewer and also it is from their vantage point (of looking up) that the main subject is highlighted. To add detail and another dimension of depth, the saints at the foot of the cross are portrayed closer to the cross and farther than the two women who were outside.

Masaccio also uses symbolism to represent the Holy Spirit which he did through the form of a white dove that seemed to be cleverly hidden between Jesus and God the father. This add mystery to the painting because onlookers would have to figure out how the painting is named “Holy Trinity” yet the most obvious was only of Jesus and God the father. The Dove seemed to be a part of the clothing of God. But upon closer scrutiny the white spec at the neck portion of God is actually a white dove. It has a very distinguishable body and the wings are painted in such a way that the dove’s position is as if it was animatedly flying. The use of the white dove as symbolism was taken from the biblical record when the Holy Spirit fell upon Jesus in the form of a dove when John the Baptist baptized him.


Besides The Holy Trinity and Madonna and Child with Saint Anne,other great works of Masaccio includes The Tribute Money, a fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence; The Expulsion (of Adam and Eve); Crucifixion; San Giovenale Triptych; St. Paul; St. Jerome and St. John the Baptist; and Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus. It is no doubt that Masaccio has been very influential not only as a renaissance artist whose predecessors, like Michelangelo, have looked up to him in high-esteem but had a lasting impact on the way we see and appreciate art. His works is very distinguishable in the sense that there is commonality in his presentation of work and the intricacy and care that he puts effort on all his work.

For one, there is always a structure that frames his subject that provides a background or venue not only to add adornment but to create a background that would add depth and focus to the main subject.

Secondly, everything on his painting has a purpose and not just for aesthetic decoration. It adds vividness to the overall impact of the subject, it creates depth, it transforms a flat picture to create dimension and emphasize the point of view, and the play of light and shadow through the use of chiaroscuro.

Lastly is the detailed articulation of the faces of the subject to give them life and make them appear more real by putting emotion through facial expressions as if the painting is telling a whole story though it is only a picture; a captured essence of an entirety.

Tribute Money
Tribute Money | Source

Bibliography Tommaso Cassia [Masaccio] Biography. Art during the Italian Renaissance. N.d. Web. 27 June 2010.

Annenberg Media. Renaissance. Interactives. 2010. Web. 27 June 2010.

Dowling, Mike. Renaissance Art. The Renaissance. 05 January 2005. Web. 27 June 2010.

Esaak, Shelley. Art History 101—The Renaissance. 2010. Web. 27 June 2010.

Esaak, Shelley. Early Italian Renaissance Art—How Florence Got a Competitive Edge. 2010. Web. 27 June 2010.

Kren, Emil and Marx, Daniel. The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne. Web Gallery of Art. N.d. Web. 27 June 2010.

“Masaccio’s Holy Trinity”. Smart History. N.d. Web. 27 June 2010. Masaccio. Biographies. 20 June 2001. Web. 27 June 2010.

Witcombe, Christopher. Focus in Florence. Art History. February 2010. Web. 27 June 2010.


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