(b. 1401, San Giovanni Valdarno, d. 1428, Roma)
The Baptism of the Neophytes1426-27
Fresco, 255 x 162 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
Compared to the situation before the recent cleaning, this is the fresco that appears to have benefitted the most from the operation: the splendid colour tones have been rediscovered, as well as the lighting and the draughtsmanship, justifying the fact that this fresco has always been considered a work of unparalleled beauty. Vasari wrote: " ... a nude trembling because of the cold, amongst the other neophytes, executed with such fine relief and gentle manner, that it is highly praised and admired by all artists, ancient and modern."
Behind this nude, there is another neophyte still fully clothed, in a red and green iridescent cloak. The execution of this figure displays such skill and a sure hand, as well as such a novel pictorial technique, that it almost seems to herald the art of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.
The cold, flowing water of the river presses against the legs of the kneeling neophyte; the water that Peter pours from the bowl, with a gesture rather like that of a farmer sowing his seeds, splashes onto the man's head, drenching his hair and dribbling off in rivulets. Again, as it falls into the river, it splashes and forms little bubbles. These realistic details are not fully visible from the ground.
In the past several scholars have suggested that Masaccio must have been helped in this fresco by Masolino or Filippino Lippi (e.g. the head of St Peter, the landscape). However, after the restoration there are no doubts that the entire scene is by Masaccio.