(b. 1401, San Giovanni Valdarno, d. 1428, Roma)

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

Fresco, 208 x 88 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

This fresco was cut at the top during the 18th century architectural alterations. This is one of the frescoes in the chapel which has suffered the greatest damage, for the blue of the sky has been lost.

The scene has been compared to Masolino's fresco of the Temptation on the opposite wall. Masaccio's concrete and dramatic portrayal of the figures, his truly innovative Renaissance spirit, stand in striking contrast to Masolino's late Gothic scene, lacking in psychological depth. In Masaccio's painting man, although a sinner, has not lost his dignity: he appears neither debased nor degraded, and the beauty of his body is a blend of classical archetypes and innovative forms of expression.

As far as Eve is concerned, one cannot help thinking of earlier interpretations of the Graeco-Roman "Venus Pudica" in 14th century (e.g. by Nicola Pisano). But Masaccio's Eve is only similar to them in her gesture, because her body expresses dramaticaly all the suffering in the world. Scholars have also pointed out the likely precedents for the figure of Adam (e.g. classical models such as Laocoon and Marsyas).

And yet, all these borrowings from classical and more recent art were then used by Masaccio in a very personal way, to build up a totally original end product which must have truly impressed his contemporaries.