Temptation in the Garden of Eden. Fresco, 1426-1427. Cappella Brancacci,
Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
Vasari's Lives of the Artists
TRULY GREAT, I believe, must be the contentment of those who are approaching the highest rank in the science wherein they are laboring; and those, likewise, who, besides the delight and pleasure that they feel in working valiantly, enjoy some fruit from their labors, without doubt live a quiet and very happy life. And if perchance it comes to pass that one, while advancing towards perfection in any science or art, is overtaken by death in the happy course of his life, his memory does not become wholly spent, if only he has labored worthily in order to attain to the true end of his art. Wherefore every man should labor the most that he can in order to attain to perfection, since, although he may be hindered in the midst of his course, he will gain praise, if not for the works that he has not been able to finish, at least for the excellent intention and diligent study which are seen in the little that he leaves behind.
Masolino da Panicale of Valdelsa, who was a disciple of Lorenzo di Bartoluccio Ghiberti, was a very good goldsmith in his youth, and the best finisher that Lorenzo had in the labor of the doors; and he was very dexterous and able in making the draperies of the figures, and had very good manner and understanding in the work of finishing. Wherefore with his chisel he made with all the more dexterity certain soft and delicate hollows, both in human limbs and in draperies. He devoted himself to painting at the age of nineteen, and practised it ever afterwards, learning the art of colouring from Gherardo Stamina. And having gone to Rome in order to study, the while that he dwelt there he painted the hall of the old house of the Orsini on Monte Giordano; and then, having returned to Florence by reason of a pain in the head that the air was causing him, he made in the Carmine, beside the Chapel of the Crucifixion, that figure of S. Peter which is still seen there. This figure, being praised by the craftsmen, brought it about that he was commissioned to adorn the Chapel of the Brancacci, in the said church, with the stories of S. Peter; of which chapel, with great diligence, he brought a part to completion, as on the vaulting, where there are the four Evangelists, with Christ taking Andrew and Peter from the nets and then Peter weeping for the sin committed in denying Him, and next to that his preaching in order to convert the Gentiles. He painted there the shipwreck of the Apostles in the tempest, and the scene when S. Peter is delivering his daughter Petronilla from sickness; and in the same scene he made him going with S. John to the Temple, where, in front of the portico, there is the lame beggar asking him for alms, and S. Peter, not being able to give him either gold or silver, is delivering him with the sign of the Cross. Throughout all that work the figures are made with very good grace, and they show grandeur in the manner, softness and harmony in the coloring, and relief and force in the draughtsmanship; the work was much esteemed by reason of its novelty and of the methods used in many parts, which were totally different from the manner of Giotto; but, being overtaken by death, he left these scenes unfinished.
Masolino was a person of very good powers, with much harmony and facility in his pictures, which are seen to have been executed with diligence and with great love. This zeal and this willingness to labor, which he never ceased to show, brought about in him a bad habit of body, which ended his life before his time and snatched him prematurely from the world. Masolino died young, at the age of thirty-seven, cutting short the expectations that people had conceived of him. His pictures date about the year 1440. And Paolo Schiayp who painted the Madonna and the figures with their feet foreshortened on the cornice on the Canto de' Gori in Florence strove greatly to the manner of Masolino, from whose works, having studied them many times, I find his manner very different from that of those who were before him, seeing that he added majesty to the figures, and gave softness and a beautiful flow of folds to the draperies. The heads of his figures, also, are much better than those made before his day, for he was a little more successful in making the roundness of the eyes, and many other beautiful parts of the body. And since he began to have a good knowledge of light and shade, seeing that he worked in relief, he made many difficult foreshortenings very well, as is seen in that beggar who is seeking alms from S. Peter; for his leg, which is trailing behind him, is so well proportioned in its outlines, with regard to draughtsmanship, and in its shadows, with regard to coloring, that it appears to be really piercing the wall. Masolino began likewise to give more sweetness of expression to the faces of women, and more loveliness to the garments of young men, than the old craftsmen had done; and he also drew passing well in perspective. But that wherein he excelled, more than in anything else, was coloring in fresco, for this he did so well that his pictures are blended and harmonized with so great grace, that his painting of flesh has the greatest softness which one is able to imagine; wherefore, if he had shown absolute perfection in draughtsmanship, as perchance he might have done if he had lived longer, he might have been numbered among the best, since his works are executed with good grace, and with grandeur in the manner, softness and harmony in the coloring, and much relief and force in the draughtsmanship, although this is not in all parts perfect.