Brancacci Chapel – Frescoes by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippo Lippi
Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
The Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine is famous for its frescoes started by Masaccio and Masolino in the 1420s, and completed by Filippino Lippi in the 1480s. They include Masolino’s Temptation and Masaccio’s Expulsion on the entrance arch, a cycle on St. Peter, which includes Tribute Money and St. Peter Baptizing the Neophytes by Masaccio, the latter of which is set at the headwaters of the Arno. The frescoes in the Chapel became a model for generations of later Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo. They were so influential that Vasari called it “the art school of the world.” Although art historians lament that the original early Renaissance art was purposefully altered or eradicated later in its history, the Chapel has stood up fairly well against many disasters, most notably its miraculous survival of a great fire in 1771 with little damage, although the rest of the church was devastated. (Hartt, History of Italian Renaissance art, 208-215) The frescoes suffered some damage as the heat from the fire changed some of the colors; they also suffered slow damage from votive candles being burned in the Chapel. (Casazza, 310)
During World War I, the church was being used as a military depot, but a partition was constructed to cut off the Chapel from the rest of the church for part of the war. As part of the program for “the defense of Italian artistic patrimony against the perils of war,” the frescoes were protected with a wall of sandbags and strips of paper and cloth. (Casazza, 315)
During World War II, the church and cloister, like many buildings in Florence, suffered damage to the roof from shells and broken windows, which had to be closed as the church was awash with rain. Even with this, the frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel were completely unharmed. The church was completely repaired by February of 1945 and gentle cleaning of the frescoes revealed new details. (Hartt, Florentine art under fire, 124) The frescoes were fully restored in the 1980s and “the art school of world” has continued to endure despite various perils throughout the years.
• Baldini, U., & Casazza, O. (1992). The Brancacci Chapel. New York: Abrams
• Hartt, F. (1949). Florentine art under fire. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.
• Hartt, F, & Wilkins, D.G. (2009). History of Italian Renaissance art: painting, sculpture, architecture. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.