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Masaccio’s Holy Trinity: Analysis of Visual Rhetoric Essay

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Updated: Jan 15th, 2022

The issue of art has always been a very debatable and temping one for many critics and artists. Many talented sculptors and artists have been developing their masterpieces for years in order to gain recognition either during ancient times or way after that until nowadays. As such, the fresco by Masaccio called Holly Trinity is worth paying precise attention to as a skillful work of art by one of the most talented and prolific artists of the fifteenth century. It is necessary to outline that his work presents a great interest due to the number of reasons: it was one of the first frescos to contain features of realism and humanism, the work poses a viewer in front of the characters though a little lower than the Trinity; amazingly, this is only way to place yourself towards the painting. Although it is only a painting on the wall, Masaccio masterfully placed a viewer right at the vanishing point in order to convey that the Holy Trinity is situated above the standpoint which reflects humans’ position within religion back then and nowadays, as well.

So, the fresco has an image of the Holy Trinity, the Virgin and Saint John right above the Trinity and the donors. Also, there is a skeleton lying in a tomb at the bottom of the fresco. It symbolizes every person’s overall being and inevitable end. There is a carved inscription that is translated into English as – I once was what you are and what I am you also will be – which is very symbolical within this picture. Only with the help of belief and utmost devotion to God a person could overcome the hardships of human’s life on Earth with dignity and ensure afterlife’s nice existence. This is what a skeleton conveys to the viewer with the Holy Trinity painted above.

But what is even more interesting about the masterpiece is that Masaccio managed to create a work that changed understanding and overall perception of the following painters as per the painting art in general. Indeed, it had a transforming influence on many generations of painters from then on. The reason it was so significant was due to the technique. Masaccio painted with a newly percepted volume. The viewer could explicitly understand that the vanishing point is somewhere on the same point as he/she stands at. The vanishing point is behind the Christ, we cannot see it but we understand exactly that all the lines painted come together at one point and that is why the vault with its coffers seems so vivid. Later on Masaccio’s technique of the coffered ceiling was inherited by many artists like Michelangelo, for example. The painting was probably one of those first frescos that showed there can be a volume space in the image. A viewer could distinctly look at the work and feel as if it was a continuation of the surroundings with its own floor and ceiling – not a flat picture. The excitement over the novelty of that volume image was perhaps the same as the emergence of 3D images in the twentieth century. The painter used to trace the geometrical lines in order to create the linear perspective. Some of those lines are still seen nowadays. It is said, however, that Masaccio inherited Brunelleschi’s linear perspective technique. It was a great step forward to show the depth of image and extraordinary involvement of the viewer standing right opposite to the vanishing point.

Aside from the true linear perspective that was firstly demonstrated in 1400s, there is an extraordinary presentation of the architecture of Romans and Greeks. The artist was twenty when he painted his volume illusion. The architectural capitals that Masaccio painted are astonishing. The architectural elements were also a contribution to the overall linear painting technique. Masaccio used to carve the dots in the wall and scratch the lines in order to make those a sort of a rough draft to exercise the linear project of future depth painting. The great illusion was created with the help of the columns with Iconic and Corinthian capitals that represent those times vividly.

Although this is not a painting on the canvas there are the strokes remained until nowadays and they are simply amazing. The painter used to make a part of the wall wet and paint until it dries out. The places of overlapping plasters are still seen on the fresco nowadays. Not only architectural objects are painted in a linear position, the figures of people are painted linearly, as well. Interestingly, Masaccio used squares of wet plasters on the face of Mary to carry out the technique.

Returning to the point of discussion, it has to be said that linear projection by Masaccio made it possible to understand that God and Christ were standing somewhat deeper in the image. This reflects a position of the Holy Trinity in respect to the human – the viewer – the person looks up and has other layers in front of him rather than having God, Holy Spirit (the dove), and Christ in the front row. Due to the perspective Masaccio acquired in his masterpiece we can see distinctive layers of the work – the front row with the Patrons, the second layer with Mary and Saint John, the Holy Trinity, and the back wall which is not seen, though we know it is there. These layers at the same time show that God is walking towards us holding his son on the cross. As such, the religious principle is kept to: the Holy Trinity is way far from tangible objects that is why first we see the patrons (contemporaries of Masaccio) then there are Mary and Saint John and only after the viewer-believer passes these stages of acquiring religion, he/she will reach the God. We see the patrons kneeling and the linear projection makes it possible for a person to want to step in the image and kneel next to them. Or advance further to the second or the third horizontal layer of the picture. Moreover, this spectacular fresco gives an opportunity to percept the scene both horizontally and vertically due to the dove that approaches vertically.

The fresco by Masaccio The Holy Trinity is a real masterpiece and an advanced step forward that made many following artists look differently at art. The linear technique that made the fresco look alive was a real shock for the contemporaries of Masaccio. The artist had much trouble with the technology of painting back in those days due to dry wall and the paint itself, though he did make a real breakthrough in the perception of paintings and the expression of religion through art. Standing opposite to the vanishing point ensured viewer’s precise understanding of his/her position towards the Holy Trinity psychologically and physically because the fresco looked as a real space room.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Masaccio’s Holy Trinity: Analysis of Visual Rhetoric." January 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/masaccios-holy-trinity-analysis-of-visual-rhetoric/.

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