Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Class notes: The last couple of days dealt with sculpture, which is the art form that began the Renaissance movements. Painting then followed. We began at the institute for a presentation on Gentile da Fabriano, Masaccio (the hero of the day), Masolino, Fra Angelico, and Fra Filippo Lippi. Masaccio is the one who perfected single point perspective, which ended the flattened Gothic and Byzantine method of painting figures as symbols. Now paintings gave us the illusion of space, form, emotion and action. Masaccio only lived to the age of 27, however in those few years he changed painting forever. We looked at Fabriano's 'Adoration of the Magi' to give reference to the perfered art to the shocking new techniques of Masaccio. The bankers like the Medicci were the patrons and they liked the style of Fabriano. One can only imagine how the gold in the painting would of glowed in candle light in those dark chapels. It would have been magnificent. The Medicci family every year would act out the 'Adoration of the Magi' with the family members playing the Magi. They would parade from Santa Maria Novella to the Church of the Annunciation. The Stozzi family, also very rich, loved the gold in the art work and illuminated manuscripts. The pearls and gold were added on to the painted surface like a relief. This was the height of the Gothic style. Then in 1426 Masaccio painted the Madonna on the Throne in a natural form.The angels instruments are angled along with their halos to give them space.

The objects appear real - a visual illusion. You really believe Mary is there and thus she is looking at you and she sees you. That means that Christ sees you.

"Crucifixion" - Massaccio - he shows us great grief with tricks like covering the subjects face with their hands or showing the back of Mary Magddlene. Great stress and emotion is conveyed now in paintings.

"Trinity" - with Mary, St. John the Evangelist and the two donors is an excellent demonstration of single point perscpective by Masaccio. I viewed this painting today in the Santa Maria Novella. There is possibly a flaw or was it intentional. God seems to defy the laws of perspective as to the placement of his feet on a shelf on the back wall. He is inconsistent with the space.

All this lead us to the Fresco cycles of St. Peter in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine. We were a half hour looking at the Frescoes. The limit is 15 mins. and no photos anywhere today! This church had a fire and we are very lucky that this chapel had little damage. Masaccio's most celebrated paintings are in this chapel. 'Tribute Money' 1420's is the story of Peter getting a coin out of the fish's mouth to pay the tax collector for the taxes Jesus also owes. This is a comment on Florentine taxation at the time as it was now levied on the citizens. Even today this Bible story is used for reference when questioning if priests should pay taxes too. Well, Jesus did. The perspective and communication between the figures in this painting is brilliant. The fresco also covers three separate time frames; the tax collector's demands to Peter, Peter getting the money, Peter paying the tax collector. Thus Peter appears three times in the fresco. The scene plays out in front of a Florentine landscape. There are many Biblical stories here that the patrons commissioned which illustrate the stories taking place here in Florence.

As a side note the Frescoes were very important as many could not read the word. Thus in the 8th century Pope Gregory the Great allowed visual art work to be devoted on as a substitute to the word of God. Everyone would no the stories and events even if they could not read. with in the Fresco cycle of the life of Saint Peter Masaccio conveys human drama and grief, as seen in the one of the expulsion of Adam and Eve. The images could now move people to tears. Move them to Faith, not simply used as decoration.

Many of the portraits are inspired by the classical sculptures, especially in 'Baptism of the Nyophytes. The cold figures are shown quite 'buffed'. One of the most emotionally moving figures is the lame man that Peter walks by and heals with his shadow. People have never seen this naturalistic drama before. Christ was working through the painter and the image.

It is referenced that Michelangelo was inspired by Masaccio and there are many similarities between the Adam and Eve in this chapel, to Michelangelo's in the Sistine Chapel. Only the emotions and gestures of the figures are important, the background is nonexistent.

The other side of the chapel has been painted by Masolino. They were both hired by Medicci and worked side by side in the chapel. Masolino fails to execute the perspective as his partner does. His frescoes are not as successful and more confusing to view, as our eyes are drawn away from the main figures to the center of the plane, thus separating the miracles of Peter into two different paintings unrelated, yet they are in the same fresco. Fra Giovanni Angelico would have finished the frescoes. He worked on the faces and one can see the style revert more towards flattening. On the left side there are five heads but only four pairs of feet. The heads also seem to be all finished unnaturally at the same height, unlike 'Tribute Money' done entirely by Masaccio.

The lecture and viewings today also demonstrated the first use of perspective in alter pieces. They now always include one figure looking out at the viewer. It is an invitation into the story. Alter pieces now by Angelico are less Gothic in style. They still have Gothic arches but they do not separate the scene. We saw this alter piece in the San Marco Museum. It created a stir in its day as Angelico used ionic columns with corinthian columns, which would be blasphemy! Why would he do this? I think he was showing that the annunciation of Mary leveled everyone from their status. The mother of Christ need not be of the highest court.

The artist also began to place 'ads' for themselves in the paintings. Angelico created beautiful tapestries and glass vases to show off his skill of painting glass that looked so convincing that we knew the painting was real. The story is real.

After the Chapel as mentioned above we toured the Musio di San Marco. Here is where we saw the alter pieces. The more intriguing part of the tour was the second floor. This museum was a Dominican Monastary. The monks cells were on the second floor. Each one had only a painting done by Fra Filippo Lippi. Most monks had the crucifixion or the suffering Christ on the wall. Some had his baptism or the ascending Christ from the tomb. The paintings emphasized Christ's wounds and many had blood pouring or gushing out of him. Imagine this life of prayer. To be in these 8x8 foot rooms with out comforts. I need to check if they even had a bed, desk and chair.

Of course Cosimo Medicci paid for all of this so he had the 'penthouse' cell to come and go as he pleased to pray. It was a two story with windows and 12x14 on each floor or so. Quite the guy. I understand why he needed to pray so much!

After the tours Corinna and I had lunch with Giuseppe from Italy, who is in our class. He is an Agricultural Engineer with a passion for history and is taking the class for his holiday this year. I guess that is what I am doing as well. Then we went to the Santa Maria Novella. We found chapels we both felt we could study. I should be working on mine, as Corinna decided to do so this evening. However, I skyped my husband then went to the bank bought some gifts and now am doing my journal and photos. I hope to add in photos here about the art work. I decided I am writing accounts down in too many places. So this blog will serve as my class journal as well. Hence the lecture notes and information on the art.

News today of a strike. This changes our schedule for the Uffizi. This is David's home and they are on strike. Usually in Italy when one service goes on strike they all follow in solidarity and it actually shortens the strike time. However, this is my time in Florence!!! I also am concern about train travel for if I venture out of town to Rome, I could be stranded.

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