Skip to main content

Renaissance Top 48: Holy Trinity

Identification

21-12 Masaccio, Holy Trinity, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, ca. 1428. Fresco, 21' x 10' 5".

Context

Masaccio's Holy Trinity became a hugely influential painting for generations of Florentine artists

Holy Trinity in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy embodies two principal Renaissance interests

This work is so much in the Brunelleschian manner that some historians have suggested that Brunelleschi may have collaborated with Masaccio

Content

The painting depicts a chapel, that the interior seems to open up before the viewer

The artist painted the composition on two levels of unequal height above, in coffered barrel-vaulted chapel reminiscent of Roman triumphal Arch, the virgin mary and saint john appeared on either side of the crucified christ

The modelling of these figures is so realistic that they could be statues

Each of them (except for God) appears to occupy their own three-dimensional space

God the Father is depicted behind Christ, supporting the arms of the cross (God the Father)

The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers between God's head and Christ's head and looks down at Christ

In front of the pillars which form the entrance to the make-believe chapel, Masaccio portrayed the two donor donors Domenico Lenzi and his wife. He painted them life-size and in equally realistic detail

Below the altar the skeleton is depicted in an open tomb that says "I was once what you are, and what i am you will become"

Image

Form

21' x 10' 5"

Powerful fresco that instructs the faithful through it's images

Illusionistic 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

This gives an overall vertical-to-horizontal proportion of about 2:1. The ratio between the upper and lower sections of the work is very roughly 3:1.

The painted figures are roughly life-sized

Masaccio was so exact in his metrical proportions that is actually possible to calculate the dimensions of the chapel (for ex. the span of the painted vault is 7 feet, the depth of the chappel was 9 feet)

It is also a demonstration of the "impossible: - the creation of three-dimensionality from a two-dimensional surface using chiaroscuro.

This showed the linear perspective using a vanishing point at the body of Jesus

Function

Although the subject of the holy trinity may not be dramatically innovative, the illusionism of Masaccio's depiction is breathtaking

The ascending pyramid of figures leads viewers from the despair of death to the hope of resurrection and eternal life

The theme of Jesus on the Cross, attended by God the Father, Mary and John, was a relatively common motif in the 15th century and early 16th century art. 

The Holy Trinity exemplifies cutting edge early Renaissance painting.

In its synthesis of Biblical art, religion and science, it expresses the mystery of faith as well as God's perfection through the harmony of classical architecture and the dignity of the human form.

Masaccio was using this scientific demonstration to allude to the greater impossibility of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.