MASOLINO da Panicale
(b. 1383, Panicale, d. 1447, Firenze)

View of the Cappella Brancacci (after restoration)

Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

The chapel in the right-hand arm of the transpt in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine is consacrated to the Madonna del Popolo, and a painting of the Virgin stands on the altar. The patrons of the chapel was the Brancacci family, from the second half of the 14th century until 1780. Felice Brancacci was the patron of the chapel from 1422 till 1436. He was a rich and powerful man and he commissioned the fresco decoration of the chapel in 1423 shortly after he returned from Cairo where he had been sent as Florentine Ambassador. It is assumed that work on the frescoes began in 1424, at a time when Masaccio and Masolino were working together, and that it continued until 1427 or 1428, when Masaccio set off for Rome, leaving the fresco cycle unfinished.

The appearence of the chapel today is the result of alterations begun immediately after Felice Brancacci fell out of favour; he was exiled in 1435 and declared a rebel in 1458. Further changes were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Originally the chapel was cross-vaulted and lit by a very tall and narrow two-light window; the last of the stories from the life of St Peter, his Crucifixion, was probably painted on the wall below the window, but this fresco was destroyed soon after Brancacci was declared a rebel so as to cancel all traces of a patron who had become politically embarassing. The chapel, formerly the chapel of St Peter, was reconsacrated to the Madonna del Popolo. It appears that Felice Brancacci was subjected to an operation of "damnatio memoriae", for all the portrayals of people connected to the Brancacci family were eliminated from Masaccio's fresco of the "Raising of the Son of Theophilus". The scene was then restored in 1481-82 by Filippino Lippi, who also completed the cycle.

After the chapel was reconsacrated to the Virgin a number of votive lamps were installed: the lampblack they produced coated the surface of the frescoes, causing such damage that as early as the second half of the 16th century they had to be cleaned.

In 1670 further alterations were carried out: the two levels of frescoes were divided by four sculptures set in carved and gilded wooden frames. It was probably at this time that the leaves were added to conceal the nudity of Adam and Eve in the two frescoes, Masolino's Temptation and Masaccio's Expulsion from the Garden. This was probably conceived during the reign of the bigoted Cosimo III.

After several events, including a fire in 1771, a restoration combined with a thorough scientific investigation in the last decades brought the chapel to the state in which we can visit it nowadays.

The fresco cycle, with the exception of the first two, tells the story of St Peter, as follows:

Temptation (Masolino)

Expulsion from the Garden (Masaccio)

Tribute Money (Masaccio)

Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha (Masolino)

St Peter Preaching (Masolino)

Baptism of the Neophytes (Masaccio)

St Peter Healing the Sick with his Shadow (Masaccio)

Distribution of Alms and Death of Ananias (Masaccio)

Raising of the Son of Theophilus and St Peter Enthroned (Masaccio and Filippino Lippi)

Disputation with Simon Magus and Crucifixion of St Peter (Filippino Lippi)

St Paul Visiting St Peter in Prison (Filippino Lippi)

Peter Being Freed from Prison (Filippino Lippi)

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.