The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

Early Renaissance in Italy

What is Masaccio’s Trinità?

Known by his nickname, Masaccio, lengthily named Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone Cassai was an early renaissance painter whose work blended the realism of Giotto with the concepts of perspective established by Brunelleschi. His monumental fresco, Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors was painted in the Church of Santa Maria Novella around 1426. This illusionistic fresco appears to be a three-dimensional niche in the wall in which Christ, impaled on the Crucifix, hangs above an altar. Framed by painted pilasters in the Classical order, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling, the pale, emaciated Christ is frail yet powerful. God the Father, depicted in the form of a man, towers over him from behind while a white dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, floats just above Christ’s halo. Somber representations of the Virgin Mary in blue, and St. John the Evangelist in red, draw the viewer’s attention to the plight of Christ, while outside the sacred arched space occupied by the saints the patrons kneel in prayer. Just below this scene is the image of an entombed skeleton with the proclamation, “What you are, I once was. What I am, you will be.” The realism of the figures and the use of single-point perspective effectively trick the eye into imagining that these figures are present within the confines of Santa Maria Novella, sending a powerful message of the importance of salvation.


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