Holy trinity

Masaccio’s “Holy Trinity” (1425)

The main subject, as the title suggests, is the “Throne of Grace” represented in the form of the Trinitarian deity. The Father holds his crucified Son as the Holy Spirit descends on Christ in the form of a dove.

May 29, 2018

By Joynel Fernandes
Masaccio (1401 – 1428), born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, was one of the greatest artists of the Proto Renaissance period. He was nicknamed Masaccio (short for Tommaso). According to the art historian Vasari, his name recalled his eccentricity and his way of thinking because “having fixed all his thought and his will on questions of art, (he) cared less for himself, and still less of the others ”. His brief career ended abruptly when in 1428 he died (allegedly) after being poisoned by a jealous rival artist.

Despite his short lifespan, Masaccio was an extraordinary artist. He saved art from its artificiality and from its “other world”, capturing majestic moments with a sense of naturalism and ease. He largely swept away the rigidity of art and brought art and art to life. His dynamic reason, his vivacity, his mysticism and his grace ended up laying the scientific and stylistic bases of Western painting.

Masaccio’s revolutionary innovations in the field of art are best expressed in the painting under consideration. One of his greatest achievements, the “Holy Trinity” can be found at the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Masaccio performed this piece in 1425, at the age of 25, barely 3 years before his death.

Breathing with life, the painting displays the meaning of a material world imbued with metaphysical attributes. He dwells on the essence of being “in the world but not of the world”. The main subject, as the title suggests, is the “Throne of Grace” represented in the form of the Trinitarian deity. The Father holds his Son crucified as the Holy Spirit descends on Christ in the form of a dove.

The theme is taken from the scriptures of the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 16. It reads: “Let us therefore approach with confidence the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our own life. time of need. ‘

Without a doubt, the most interesting character in this painting is God the Father. Notice his feet on the ledge. Unlike traditional iconography, God the Father is not presented to us as an abstract force or power, nor is he placed on a gold background. Rather, God is portrayed as an elderly man, with human hands and feet. It is a testament to the enduring spirit of Renaissance humanism.

Looking at us, he presents to us the Body of his Son, as a way of salvation. Doesn’t the image evoke the celebration of the Holy Eucharist? Does this not recall the priest lifting up the Holy Host and proclaiming the words: “Here is the Lamb of God, here is he who takes away the sins of the world”?

Right below the image of the Father is an attribute that appears to be His necklace. However, on closer inspection, we soon discover the image of a haloed bird with two wings and a tail, involving the dove and symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

At the center of the composition is the fascinating figure of Christ, executed with extraordinary rendering. Notice the antagonism of its anatomical features such as the exposed rib cage, the contour of the muscles, and the tearing of the aspirated stomach. The pathos of Christ seems real, His sacrifice tangible!

Below this mystical wonder stand two intercessors. The desperate Virgin waves her hand towards Christ. She invites us into the cardinal mystery of the Christian faith and on the road to salvation. On the other side is present John the Evangelist. He puts his hands together in awe and prayer, accepting the beauty of his creed and the loving love of his gentle mother.

As we move outside, towards our space, we notice two figures kneeling on either side of the arch. These people are contemporary Florentines who funded or commissioned the painting. We join them in adoration and solidarity in witnessing to the communion of sacred love which is at the heart of the Trinity.

Yet Masaccio’s heart sought something more than the sacred. He directs our attention not only to the Divine but also to the environment in which they have been represented. The triumphal arch borrows heavily from ancient Roman and Greek architecture.

Look at the coffered ceiling, barrel vaults, pillars, pilasters, columns, iconic and Corinthian capitals! They seduce us in the recesses of the room in the delight of the vision. The technique of creating this optical illusion is called “Trompe-l’œil”, which can be translated as “fooling the eye”.

Taking history and time into account, we realize that we are in 15th century Florence where growing economic trade is underlined by a strong banking and mathematical network. Masaccio wanted to use geometry and perspective in order to synthesize Christian theology and faith with academic knowledge and skills.

So he used formulas in order to define a low vanishing point that would create an incredibly deep space. The technique he used was called linear one-point perspective and it was this approach that set the benchmark for the Renaissance artist to explore the mixed marriages of science, art, and faith.

As our eyes roam the fresco, we meet a skeleton. Who can it be? Is it Adam, who was believed to be buried under the cross of Christ? Or does it mean something more than that? The answer to our question is right above the sarcophagus. It can be translated as “What you are, I once was; what I am you will be.

The skeleton therefore serves as a memento mori intended to remind us of the inconstancy of life and the reality of death. Above all, it announces the message of hope, indicated by the Virgin Mary. The way to eternal life lies in the suffering of the Cross and the saving love of the Holy Trinity!

(Joynel Fernandes is Deputy Director, Archdiocesan Heritage Museum)

Courtesy: www.pottypadre.com(Used with permission)