Masaccio The Trinity – Born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, Masaccio (1401-1428) was a renowned Florentine artist. He was regarded as one of the first and best painters during the Italian Renaissance period. He had outstanding skills in creating paintings that perfectly imitated nature. Masaccio effectively created 3D paintings that had life-like figures as well as the potential of “movement” from how they were depicted, thereby convincing viewers of the humanistic form of his artwork. He applied the use of foreshortenings and nudes in his portrait figures, something that hadn’t been done before.
A Brief Overview of Masaccio Holy Trinity Artwork
- Painter: Masaccio
- Type of Art: Early Renaissance
- Genre: Religious/ Architectural
- Start Date of Painting: around 1425
- Date of art creation: 1427
- Painting technique: fresco
- Location: Santa Maria Novella – Florence, Italy
- Type of Highlighted Theme: Life and Death, Christianity, Holy Spirit, The Holy Trinity, Architectural design, and buildings.
Type of Artwork
The type of artwork that was done by Masaccio was natural 3D. His figures or structures were depicted in a humanistic and realistic form as possible. He applied the laws of perspective, especially in his fresco, the Holy Trinity where there are clear orthogonal, receding coffers, and a vanishing point, etc.
About the Masaccio Holy Trinity
The title of this painting refers to three main figures: There is God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (represented in the form of a dove). The Christ is on the cross while God is standing behind him, on a platform. Traditionally, He wouldn’t stand in such a place but rather sit on a platform that obeys the law of physics.
Other people in the Trinity Masaccio painting include Mary and St John. They are present in the crucifixion of Jesus and they are standing at the foot of the cross, on either side. Additionally, there are two donors on either side as well.
Representation in Masaccio the Trinity
It’s intriguing that Masaccio actually painted God as a standing human with only visible feet. Well, what might strike you or anyone else is why is God standing? We all know him as an all-powerful being. In fact, all our images about him are usually based on the fact that he is an old man with a white beard, in a king-size chair and sitting.
Well, Masaccio used related imagery of God, as a normal human being and not just God. He didn’t even try to add an element of power. With one of his feet visible and actually standing on a platform, this is a fully relatable human being who can stand and even walk.
Note: in ancient drawings, God was depicted in paintings as a powerful with a representation of the hand. He was considered to have abstract power over our lives. But there is a huge contradiction in this painting where God can be seen in Human form, having blood and flesh.
Meanwhile, Mary and St John at the feet of Jesus are placed a step above the two donors. Naturally in the biblical setting, the donors would have been placed in the recessed space, and not in the space of the viewer. However, this is not the case here because they are actually located in the space of the viewer.
Masaccios Holy Trinity Analysis: The Architecture
This fresco has a remarkably unique architecture that resembles ancient buildings in Rome or Greece. Generally, Masaccio borrowed a lot of features from the Roman Empire design. History indicates that he might have been helped to design this by Brunelleschi, a renowned architect in the Renaissance period. Details of this architecture include:
- Pilasters: they are shallow columns that are flattened out and attached to the wall. Generally, Pilasters have no function except for enhancing the appearance of the building. They are normally used for decorative purposes only.
- A barrel vault: it is a type of a ceiling that as a round arch on it.
- Coffered ceiling: they are the indented squares that form part of the ceiling.
- Fluting: this is a vertical type of indented grooves that normally decorates the pilasters. It’s worth noting that you can also find them in columns.
- Ionic and Corinthian capitals: capital can be described as a top decorated part of a building’s pilaster or column. Ionic capitals have scroll shapes while Corinthian capitals have leave shapes.
Masaccio had an open love for antique buildings and in this artwork, he clearly outlines his love for them. It’s clear that he took his time to clearly outline the architecture of this building, paying key attention to the dimensions.
The coffers, for instance, create clear orthogonal lines while the vanishing point is located at the base of the cross. He is said to have used the one-point linear to perfectly convey an image whose outline gradually recedes from the front to the back.
Moving downwards. There is a tomb with a skeleton. Masaccio has used an amazing illusion which perfectly outlines that the tomb is below the surface of the building, where the donors are standing. Generally, it has a subtle outward projection because it’s on the foreground. However, there is also a recession where the skeleton is lying.
Masaccio the Trinity highlights the relationship between life and death. While, Jesus is one the cross dying with his family and donors around him, under the tomb lies a dead man who was once alive. It’s a clear projection that life is transitional, moving from the living to the dead.
The Skeleton has an inscription that perfectly cements this school of thought. If it’s translated, the inscription means that “I was once what you are, and you will also be what I am now.” Life is fleeting and there is no doubt that we will also face our deaths, just like the skeleton. This message is dedicated to you (the viewer of this painting).
Although this morbid message isn’t outlined in bold, it will definitely get the attention of any viewer. But believers, especially those who believe in God are offered a new and fresh hope with Jesus’ death on the cross. His crucifixion was so that mankind can have eternal life after death. So, there is freedom even after death for those who choose to believe.
Lastly, there is a clear vanishing point between the cross above and the tomb below. It separates and joins these two entities, highlighting the connection between life and death.
General Meaning of Masaccio the Trinity
The Trinity Masaccio is something simple yet so deep. This iconic piece of work is straightforward, especially if you are a Christian. The main theme is Jesus dying on the cross and being attended by God, his father, his mother Mary, and John.
Well, this theme is said to be very common during the 15th and 16th century and artists used it quite a lot. It should be noted that only prayer (by the donors) can actually join the living, the dead, and the Holy Spirit. It’s believed that this is the only thing that can guarantee any Christian believer everlasting life as they transcend their earthly life.
Note: Apart from life, faith, and religion, the Holy Trinity also exemplifies the Roman architectural style and its importance during the renaissance.
The Impact of Masaccio the Trinity
It is said this is one of the most influential paintings in the Renaissance period. The next generation involving the Florentine artists found it inspirational. Writing about this piece of work more than one century later, Girgio Vasari, a biographer, and a Mannerist artist, described it as overwhelming, especially with the foreshortening feature that Masaccio used.
Masaccio’s Linear Perspective Demonstration
Masaccio used the geometric principles found in linear perspective, a 3D-painting method highlighting various depth coverage on a flat canvas. It is said he is the first person to use the technique in the Florentine Renaissance with his Trinity painting.
The illusionistic type of painting gives the viewer a realistic view, with the features receding backward after opening up to the viewer on the forefront. It’s also worth noting that every entity in this painting occupies a 3D space, except God.
The strong pillars and the cavernous interior depicts a Renaissance chapel, all with its overwhelming pillars and outstanding curves. There are definitely numerous humanistic aspects as well as in-depth reality in this flat surface painting.
Other Pieces of Artwork by Masaccio
Even though he had a short life and a brief carrier, Masaccio’s work left profound influence. Some of his popular artwork includes the San Giovenale Triptych (1442) and the Virgin & Child with St. Anne in 1424. He also created other artworks such as:
- The Tribute Money in 1425
- Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in 1425
- Madonna with Child and Four Angels in 1426
- Adoration of the Magi in 1426
- Crucifixion in 142
Masaccio Holy Trinity is a thought-evoking painting that was created between 1425 and 1427. He died in 1928 after creating this magnificent painting and shortly after turning 27. Although his body of work might have been small, there is no doubt that the few pieces of artwork he left behind had a massive impact on the incoming generation. The Holy Trinity is one of this last and outstanding commissions in his life, with renowned artists classifying it as a timeless masterpiece.
Start Date: 1427
Date of art creation: 1428
Art movement: Early Renaissance
Genre of painting: Religious painting
Painting technique: Fresco
Dimensions: 667 x 317 cm
Location: Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy
Content: Christianity, saints-and-apostles, houses-and-buildings, Holy-Trinity, St.-John-the-Evangelist