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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVIII, No. 2
Pentecost 2013

The Holy Trinity by Masaccio

The famous fresco on our cover — of the Holy Trinity with the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, and donors — is the work of the first great painter of the early Italian Renaissance period known as the Quattrocento (1400s). Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, known as Masaccio (“messy Tom”), was born December 21, 1401, and died in 1428.  He is known for his innovative realism and use of perspective. The Holy Trinity fresco, ca. 1427, is in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, a Dominican church.

An unusual aspect of the painting is the artist’s combining the Trinity with the Crucifixion.  The complex triangular composition of the painting also alludes its subject, the Trinity: the large triangle formed by the heads of the donors with its apex being either the head of the Father or of the Son; the equilateral triangle formed by the heads of the Virgin Mary and Saint John and the crucified Jesus; and another by Mary, John, and the head of the Father. Yet another subtle inverted triangle is formed by the extended arms of Jesus and His feet. The three persons of the Trinity are represented with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove between the heads of the Father and the Son.

The figures are life-size and executed with remarkable realism. The linear perspective is also innovative: with its focal point at the foot of the cross, and radiating from it, it creates the architectural space in which the members of the Trinity and the Virgin and Saint John are located, with the donor figures kneeling outside the coffered niche. God the Father is standing — not floating — on a ledge behind the cross.  Mary faces the viewer and gestures toward her crucified Son, inviting us to look at Him — a gesture that suggests her role as an intercessor. — hhhitchcock

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