Masaccio, Botticelli, and Lippi
The Italian Renaissance was a time when great changes occurred in art in all areas. Architects, sculptors, and painters began changing their artistic styles from Gothic to a style that showed more interest in the beauty of nature and the human body. Many painters changed the whole art world by switching from Gothic style religious paintings where symbols were used to represent objects to using a natural style to make things look real and human. Three of the most influential and innovative painters of the time were Masaccio, Botticelli, and Filippo Lippi. All three of these Italian artists painted during the Quattrocento and began using linear perspective to make their work look more natural. Masaccio is considered by many to be the first great painter of the Italian Renaissance. He was influenced by the sculptor Donatello and the architect Brunelleschi. Botticelli was an apprentice under Filippo Lippi and was also influenced by Masaccio’s style of painting. Botticelli is best known for a painting that depicts a mythological scene called The Birth of Venus. Filippo Lippi’s early style is based on that of Masaccio but he later used more richly decorative effects in his paintings. A major accomplishment of Lippi’s development is the Vision of St Bernard, which is one of the best lyric pictures of the Renaissance.
Masaccio was the first painter to use linear perspective in his artwork. Masaccio’s fresco of the Holy Trinity in the church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, was also the first artwork that was spatially correct. He used mathematically correct proportions to make three dimensional subjects look real with linear perspective. All of Masaccio’s art was religious in nature and was based on Classical techniques. Masaccio also made his paintings look real by using light and shading and natural color. Before Masaccio used color and other techniques to make his paintings look real, all the religious artwork was of the Gothic style where the religious figures were painted by using symbolic figures that often had nothing to do with reality.
The Holy Trinity shows three figures in the painting; a dove, Christ, and God. The Trinity symbolizes God as the Father, Christ as the Son and the white dove as the Holy Ghost. Masaccio used single point perspective and a vanishing point, and he was the first to use these in his paintings. The vanishing point ends as the painting points down to the tomb of Adam. The perspective that Masaccio used had three rectangle shapes, one above the other. The rectangle on the bottom is Adam’s coffin, and the top rectangle goes all the way to the top of the vaulted roof.
The painting, The Holy Trinity, shows a chapel with classical columns holding up a ceiling that is a barrel vault. In the painting, Christ is crucified, and God is looking down on the scene. John and the Virgin Mary are also in the painting. The figures, for the first time ever, look real and natural. Masaccio was so talented that he was able made the viewer feel like they were in the painting because of the depth created. Looking at the painting makes people feel like they are looking into the chapel and up at the figure of Christ. The use of geometry and perspective in The Holy Trinity shows how Masaccio mixed religion with his knowledge of mathematics and science to create a beautiful work of art filled with symbolic meanings.
Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus is a perfect choice of paintings to represent the Early Renaissance; because it is an excellent example of the combining of classical ideas with Renaissance art. The painting shows the goddess, Venus, a classical character, blended with the emerging themes of the Renaissance. The nude form of Venus showed the beauty of the human female body for the first time during this period. There is also beauty in the details of this painting. The shell that holds the goddess, the figures around her and the background surrounding them are all full of soft light, and bright colors.
This is an almost life size painting of a female nude that is pagan in that it is Venus, the Goddess of love. Venus floats on a seashell since she’s born from the sea; and because the painting is classical mythology, she can be born fully grown. Venus floats on a seashell since she’s born from the sea; and because the painting is classical mythology, she can be born fully grown. Venus is blown to shore by the west wind, Zephyr, whose body is wrapped around the body of Chloris. On the right is a maid waiting to wrap up the newborn goddess. The painting shows that Botticelli has an advanced understanding of the human form and how to make it come alive in his art. He is able to show depth and makes it almost look like Venus is moving. The way Botticelli uses light and dark creates the feel of movement and depth and dimension.
Filipino Lippi was trained as a painter by his father, Filippo Lippi, and he later apprenticed with Botticelli. One of Lippi’s most famous paintings is The Vision of Saint Bernard, which now hangs in the Badia Fiorentina, a church in Florence. In The Vision of Saint Bernard, the artist combines a reflective and poetic interpretation of his subjects with warm colors, a new subtlety of chiaroscuro, and a Netherlandish interest in genre detail and landscape (Goldner 2004).
Filipino constructs an elaborate setting of rocks, foliage, and architecture. Bernard is seated at a makeshift lectern supported by a tree stump with vines, an allusion to the wood of the Cross and Christ’s statement, “I am the vine.” Numerous books are arranged on the rocky ledge, a metaphor for the Church as the Rock of Ages and its foundation in Scripture (Adams. 2013).
Lippi portrays Saint Bernard as the intercessor with the Virgin Mary. The Vision of Saint Bernard by Lippi is filled with many complex images in the humanist style. The story told by the painting is of Mary with angels meeting with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to offer him encouragement when he was struggling and ill and didn’t think he could keep writing and working. There is a Bible near Mary; and it is open to the Annunciation from the book of Saint Luke. There are rocks in the landscape in the background with a devil in chains and an owl that can be seen hiding. The devil with chains is said to represent Bernard’s defeat of heresy, and the owl symbolizes Satan as the Prince of Darkness because of the owl’s nocturnal nature (Adams. 2013).
Birth of Venus. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/old masters/botticelli.htm
Botticelli The Birth of Venus – What is the meaning of this painting? (n.d.). Retrieved
February 9, 2019, from http://lovefromtuscany.com/art/botticelli-the-birth-of-venus.
Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index. (2014). Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard.
Retrieved https://inpress.lib.uiowa.edu/feminae/DetailsPage.aspx?Feminae_ID=30942 Apparition of The Vision of Saint Bernard by Filipino Lippi, an Italian Renaissance painter, is an article written for Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index in 2014. The painting was a large panel oil painting commissioned for a chapel around 1486. Filipino Lippi was taught by his father, Filippo Lippi, and apprenticed and worked with Botticelli after his father’s death; therefore, he learned from some of the best of the new Renaissance painters. In The Vision of Saint Bernard, Lippi shows Saint Bernard with the Virgin Mary in a scene where Mary is offering encouragement at a time when he was having problems with his writing and teaching. The painting is filled with people and rocky landscapes and many hidden details. Other than our textbook, this is about the only source I could locate that actually discussed the painting and the meanings and techniques Lippi used to make it so amazing. Most articles about Lippi are about his father, Filippo, and his very colorful life. The few resources on Filipino are mostly biographical; however, this source talks about the reality and humanity of the painting and praises Filipino Lippi for being an artist who had a major role in promoting paintings that looked real instead of flat and without dimension.
Filippino Lippi (ca. 1457–1504). (2004, October). Retrieved from
Goldner, G. (2014, October). Filippino Lippi. Retrieved from
Harris, B., Dr., & Zucker, S., Dr. (2015, August 09). Masaccio, Holy Trinity. [Transcript of
audio file]. Retrieved from https://smarthistory.org/masaccio-holy-trinity
“Masaccio, Holy Trinity”, is an article written for Smarthistory by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. The article was written August 9, 2015; and there is also a video by Harris and Zucker to accompany the article. Masaccio was the first painter of the Renaissance to use linear perspective in his paintings; the painting of The Holy Trinity in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy, was one of his best examples of this. The Holy Trinity is an example of the change from Medieval symbolism to Humanism in Renaissance paintings that made them look more natural and realistic.
I enjoyed the article, and especially, the video by Harris and Zucker. They are actually at the location of the painting in Florence; and they sound very knowledgeable and enthusiastic in their comments. There are amazing, full-color photographs that accompany the article, and diagrams to overlay the painting to show how Masaccio used one-point linear perspective to make his painting look life-like. They also included diagrams and definitions of many of the architectural terms associated with classical architecture and pointed the items out in the painting which made it easier to understand.
Harris, B., Dr., & Zucker, S., Dr. (2015, December 05). Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
[Video file]. Smarthistory. From https://smarthistory.org/sandro-botticelli-birth of-venus
The video, Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, was published December 5, 2015 by Smarthistory with Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. This has become one of my favorite resources; because they provide so much detail and make the presentations informative, as well as, interesting. The Birth of Venus by Botticelli represents the paintings of the Early Renaissance and is an excellent example of the combination of classical ideas and Renaissance art. The classical subject matter is mythological in that a woman is born fully grown and floats on a seashell toward the land. Botticelli used humanism to make the mythological ideas look real instead of being represented by symbolism as classical artists portrayed their work. The Birth of Venus is also remarkable because it is one of the first life-size paintings showing a nude female. Harris and Zucker comment that Botticelli definitely understood the human form and how to make it come alive in his art. Botticelli also used light and shadows to create the feeling of movement and depth. I always enjoy the presentations of Harris and Zucker; because they are so professional and their presentations provide so much information while being very entertaining. The only thing I didn’t care for in the video presentation is that they were on location; and the filming took place during visiting hours with quite a few tourists viewing the exhibit. The noise was a distraction; however, Harris and Zucker could still be heard clearly.
Marx, D., Kren, E., & Web Gallery of Art. (n.d.). Apparition of The Virgin to St Bernard. Retrieved from https://www.wga.hu/html_m/l/lippi/flippino/2/2appari.html
Prest, T. (1970, January 01). Visions of St Bernard of Clairvaux. Retrieved from
Tommaso Cassai Masaccio. (2017, July 19). Retrieved from https://www.artble.com/artists/tommaso_cassai_masaccio