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Turning Points in Art History: Perspective


Welcome back to the Accessible Art History Blog! To kick off the new year, I want to start a new series about the turning points in art history. These moments are the ones that change the trajectory of artistic creation and I think it will be a fascinating series to explore together. The first post in this new series is about a pivotal moment in the Italian Renaissance: the redefinition of linear perspective by the artist Massachio. So, to learn more, keep on reading!

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings

Born in San Giovanni Valdarno, Tuscany, Masaccio's artistic talent blossomed at a young age. His full name was Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, but his nickname essentially translates to “clumsy Thomas”. Masaccio’s father was a notary, but died when he was only five years old. He had a younger brother, born the same year as their father’s death, who would also grow up to be an artist. 

As was typical during this period, Masaccio apprenticed under renowned painter Masolino da Panicale. Collaborating on various projects, Masaccio’s skills quickly developed, showcasing his unique ability to capture human emotions and depict realistic figures.

The Discovery of Linear Perspective

Masaccio's groundbreaking contribution to art came in the form of linear perspective, a technique that revolutionized spatial representation. While not the sole inventor, he significantly advanced the application of this technique. Linear perspective introduced the concept of creating depth and dimension on a two-dimensional surface, mimicking the way the human eye perceives space.

The Holy Trinity

The most famous example of Masaccio’s “discovery” is his work “The Holy Trinity” located in the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. Painted between c.1426-1428, this fresco was commissioned by the couple kneeling on the “ledge” in the corners of the architectural feature. 

In between the couple, is the vanishing point. Although invisible, the viewer can tell that all the lines of the work originate from this point and create a sense of three dimensionality. This is best seen in the barrel vault behind the figure of God. It appears to go back into the space, despite actually being flat. 

This was a revolutionary technique and it would change art for generations to come. 

Legacy and Conclusion

Masaccio’s mastery of perspective influenced artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who further developed and refined this technique. His emphasis on naturalism and three-dimensional space laid the groundwork for the High Renaissance, marking a pivotal shift from the flat, medieval style to a more realistic portrayal of the world.


 Sources and Images


  1. Holy Trinity by Masacchio. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  2. Holy Trinity Diagram. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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