Masaccio: Expulsion from Heaven

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"A picture is a poem without words".


Art has been decorating the walls of history for centuries. People always had the tendency to express their thoughts, feelings and views by means of visualizing the inner state. Art is a process of transcendence of the interior sometimes even unconscious side of the personality. In each peace of art, the painter's character is seen and percept. From medieval times, when people had no governmental organizations, no technological progress, they were still creating the art. Paintings on walls of the caves, and those "primitive" sculptures fascinate archeologist by their details about the early life time. For me, art is a way to expose the inner state, the world view, the truth, or even more, the aspirations, dreams, or a story. All of these come through a process of deep processing.

In the world are known many artists but there are people who are well known in the history as the most impressive artists. Their job, life and dreams were all in art. They were thinking in art, living and speaking through art. At different stages of life, or historical period's different artists presented to the world different visualized reflections. Renaissance is a period in the history of art. The development of the époque of Renaissance begun in Italy in the waning of the Middle Ages about 1300 A.D. By the middle of 14th century the Renaissance had become a distinct and recognizable cultural movement because such of remarkable people as Giotto, Masaccio, da Vinci and others were the most revolutionary painters of this age. (Hale, 1965)

In the typical paintings of the 13th century the human figures are flat and unreal. Because of this it is difficult to imagine them speaking, however the movement, body language, the colors speak and reflect the state very well. Buildings are symbolic objects, not places to live in; the landscape is only decorative. Many details are shown without relation to each other; everything is confused. However by the 15th century the painters were painting animated, tree dimensional people. The main figures of the early 15th are Masaccio and the sculptor Donatello. As Leonardo da Vinci say: "[...] this art declined again, and because everyone imitated the pictures that were already done...until Masaccio showed by his perfect work how those who take for their standard anyone but nature-the mistress of all masters-weary themselves in vain". (Hale, 1965)

Masaccio is the first painter after Giotto to approach him in talent. With him, painting entered a period of intense technical development, most of which is foreshadowed. His figures are both solid and more relaxed than Giotto's, and his settings are inspired with a sense of moving air. He was the first painter of the Renaissance era to use the mechanical perspective. He was the first to indicate human anatomy under the folds of draperies and the first to experiment intensively with chiaroscuro-a way of painting shadows so as to give explanation to the forms they fall across. All of these but especially the perspective occupied the attention of painters and sculptors for the next 50 years. His discovery enormously excited his fellow artists. (Hale, 1965)

Masaccio's real name is Tommaso. He was born in the village of San Giovanni in the Valdarno, in December 1401. He worked principally in Florence and Pisa but died in Roma, in November 1428. Some suggest that he died of malaria; others say that someone poisoned him. He was inspired by Donatello and Brunelleschi; he graced the streets and guilds and workshops of Florence. Inspired by Donatello he created powerful figures of solid humans, strong and heroic people "indifferent to gracefulness, people who did human things, expressed human emotions, and endured human pain". (Thomson, 1996) Masaccio's art was something overwhelming in expressing of human suffering; the tragic element is always present in his art and it is full of essential optimism which the Renaissance directs toward human nature. The dignity and humanity of Masaccio's figures, their dramatic gestures, their authentic characterization make us "transpose" it on us, and feel the same emotions that the characters felt, or feel the atmosphere.  (Thomson, 1996)

In 1427, Masaccio joined his friend Masolino, and worked as a decorator of the Brancaccio Chapel. On these walls is left Masaccio's essential art. It is his essential message that was left to humanity. The huge fresco starts with a painting which shows two people in grief, the painting is called Expulsion from Paradise. The fresco retails the story of Genesis. Masaccio captured the moment after Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and got the knowledge about good and evil. It is the moment when they both became mortal and became the ancestors of future sinful generation. The moment is crucial for theologians because this moment describes the sinner, inborn "quality" of a human being. This captured moment includes the "curse" of God, the limitations (deadly), the shame, grief, and sorrow. (Zamkova, 1999)

I like the painting very much because Adam and Eve do not stand gracefully under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as in other Renaissance works. Rather, they are driven out of the garden in shame and sorrow by an Angel; and their suffering is palpable. They are both naked. Adam covers his eyes which have been seen too much, it looks like the knowledge, wisdom and the understanding of the world hurt him so much, and it is too much for him as a human to keep it all in his mind.  Eve's shame is equally unmistakable. Above them stands the angel of justice who carries out the sentence of expulsion; his sword and pointed finger warning us that there will be no reprieve. The verdict will stand for all time and all human beings. (Thomson, 1996)

In this painting the artist had to deal with a problem of how to express the naked body. The detailed representation of the anatomical body is not present, but the clear view of how a human body is catch. The feeling of the platonic beauty is present and it is the feature of Protorenaissance. Protorenaissance is close to the term "Early Renaissance." (Znamerovskaya, 1975) The faces of the sinners are expressive and full of emotions. Their movements are natural and real. For the first time in Italian Art, humans are represented naked. (Thomson, 1996) Masaccio focuses on the mass of the body. This perception is formed by the underlying bone and muscle structure that creates a new realism. He used generalized light shining on the figures from a single source and further emphasized their tangibility with cast shadows. Ignoring earlier interpretations of the event that emphasized wrongdoing and the fall from grace, Masaccio was concerned with the psychology of individual humans who have been cast mourning and protesting out of paradise, and he captured the essence of humanity thrown naked into the world.

The painting expressed the sharpness representation of Adam and Eve's anxiety. The enveloped with infinite sorrow Adam closed his face with hands. The genuine grief of Eve is expressed by the strained eyebrows, deep set eyes are directed to Creator, and the mouth is open while she is yelling in the moment of hopelessness and prayer. Adam and Eve lead to the second part of the fresco, which is The Tribute Money. It is amazing how the frescoes are interrelated. And actually they all are a piece of one huge story. (Stokstad, 2009)

In 1428 Masaccio stopped his work on chapel Brancaccio in Florence and started another project in the church Santa-Maria Maggiore in Rome. His death interrupted this work. He couldn't finish it, Masolino did it. In Masaccio's art the audience can admire the gracious gravity of his figures, the litheness, the harmony of his characters in his compositions, and his "play" of light and shadow. I have chosen this particular painting because it is challenging. The painting has dual meaning, from one side; it shows the begging of the sin, two people who condemned the humanity to struggle with weaknesses and face the consequences of the fall. From another side, I see two people who are in grief because of the understanding that there is no forgiveness, they lost God's love in the sense they perceived it while being a part of the Paradise. Also, I have an excuse for them, which let me see them not as condemners but in saviors in a way. I see two people who are the grand-parents of the humanity, and of everything that was created. They let us, ancestors become who we are, and create what we create; can we live a better life? Are we sure that we would never ate from the forbidden tree? The answer is seen in our weaknesses, and everyday choices. Should we condemn them, or thank because they let be scapegoats for the sake of humanity?


Hale J. R., (1965) Renaissance, New York

Stokstad M., (2009) Art History: 14th-17th Century Art, Pearson

Thomson B., (1996) Humanists Reformers: A history of the Renaissance and Reformation, Cambridge, U.K.

Zamkova M. (1999) National London Library, Olma Group, (Russian book) retrieved on December 7, 2009 from:,

Znamerovskaya T., (1975), Art Encyclopedia (Russian edition), retrieved on December 7, from: