When I left for Florence, I knew I would be seeing some incredible art – after all I was going to a Renaissance art history course in the city! I had a short list of must-see pieces that I would’ve been disappointed to leave without seeing. In the case of the Brancacci Chapel, it was not just one piece –the entire chapel was on my list!
The Brancacci Chapel is located in Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, which is on the other side of the Arno River – not a far walk if the weather is nice (it isn’t far if the weather is bad either, just seems longer!). As you look at the church, the entrance to the chapel is actually to the right of the church – you can’t get to it directly from the regular part of the church. Enter through the door and pay the admission fee. They will direct you to the chapel.
The chapel was painted by Masalino and Masaccio, Masaccio being the more famous of the two. Later on Filippino Lippi would complete portions of the chapel. Michelangelo was influenced by Masaccio (and he lived about 100 years after Masaccio) and would come to this chapel for inspiration. He is quoted as saying that his only inspiration was Masaccio and God – quite a high honor then for Masaccio! It is said that this is the chapel where Michelangelo got into a fight and had his nose broken. So the place has some history and great artists attached to it.
The Renaissance is about rebirth – the renewing of human spirit and emotion – and you just don’t see it any better than in the Expulsion of Adam and Eve . You will find them on the top half of the left hand side, all the way over to the left. Look at the sorrow and grief on their faces as the angel guides them out of the Garden of Eden – they are absolutely miserable. The anguish in Eve’s face is particularly striking.
To the right of The Expulsion is another Masaccio (he primarily painted the entire left side, Masolino the right side, and both worked on the center). This one is call The Tribute and you see the story of Peter paying the taxes in three parts: in the middle is the tax collector demanding the money and Jesus instructing Peter on where to find the money, to the left of this scene is Peter (with his robe removed and in a heap beside him) getting the money from a fish’s mouth, and on the right is Peter paying the taxes. This painting is important to Renaissance art because it is the first to apply a one point perspective, meaning your eyes are draw back to a single point (somewhere behind Jesus’ head) – the architecture of the building helps with this.
For an informative video about Masaccio's Tribute, visit the Khan Academy website.
Another important part of this chapel is the highlights in the paintings – look at them and figure out where the light is coming by where the highlights and shadows are. If you look at the center wall above the altar, there used to be a window up there that gave natural light. Masaccio painted this using unified light (another trendsetting technique) as if the paintings were being lit from that window!
The other scenes in the painting tell the story of the life of Peter, including his crucifixion on an upside down cross (he didn’t want to be crucified in the same manner as Christ). You can see Peter healing a man by his shadow, being put in jail and leaving, and other miracles.
And you can see Masaccio himself in the chapel – he is the man in the red looking out from the right door (on the far left side below The Tribute ).
The ceiling has been redone in Baroque style after a fire destroyed it. Before you leave the church if it isn’t open to go into, try to catch a glimpse of the nave ceiling – it shows some pretty fine architecture that is all paint!
Warning – they let you take photos but do not deviate from the barriers they have set up and please don’t touch anything or even think of leaning against the marble wall or sitting on the marble steps. You will hear about it from the guard. We watched one women slip in quietly to part of the church outside the barricade to pray and she was brusquely removed. When you take photos, don’t use a flash – the flash isn’t allowed because over time it can damage the artwork. This is just common sense whenever you are taking photos of paintings.
Weekdays: 10-17 (closed on Tuesday)
Sundays and holidays: 13-17
Closed on New Year’s Day, 7 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 16 July, 15 August, Christmas Day
If you had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the ceiling of the church and want to get a closer look, you’ll need to exit the Brancacci Chapel and enter through the front doors of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
If you are interested in art of art history, please go see the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This famous peice of Masaccio is quite enthralling. The fresco has been cleaned and worked on since 2001. This is a picture of the before and after.
Masaccio (actually mostly Masolino's) expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Paradise. One of the earliest and most important frescoes of the Florentine Renaissance.
Worth every bit of the 5000 lire entry charge. Now its probably 5 euros with all the conversion inflation Italy has become famous for.
The frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel were begun by Masolino and Masaccio, and finished by Filippo Lippi after the latter’s death. There are twelve scenes, starting with The Original Sin and up to the Scenes from the Life of Saint Peter. The most famous of all are the dramatic Expulsion and The Tribute Money.