Brancacci chapel (Santa Maria del Carmine) VI

Masolino ‘St. Peter is healing the cripple and resurrects Tabitha’
The first generation Bible Master Utrecht c. 1430

Masolino 'St. Peter is healing the cripple and resurrects Tabitha' Brancacci chapel

In his fresco, Masolino shows two miracles that according to the Bible took place in different cities: Joppa and Jerusalem. The city in the painted story looks a lot like Florence. It seems to be an ordinary day, but two actual miracles are occurring in the foreground.

Masolino 'St. Peter resurrects Tabitha' Brancacci

In the background, we see flower pots, bird cages, two monkeys and some laundry. Two women are leaning out their windows and are conversing. To the left in the foreground, we see a cripple figure raising his hand to collect money.

It appears a painted version of the moment in the book of Acts (3: 4-7) that says:

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said: ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said: ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Masolino 'St. Peter is healing the cripple and resurrects Tabitha' detail

On the other side in the foreground, we see Peter and Tabitha. This act of Peter performing another miracle went as follows: ‘He knelt and prayed. Then he turned to the body and said: ‘Tabitha, arise!’  Tabitha opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.’ (Acts 9: 40-41) Before the restauration, there was some criticism toward the building behind the cripple figure. The load-bearing parts painted by Masolino would never support such a construction. However, after the restoration, the capitals of the pillars and the crossed vaults were clearly visible.

‘St. Peter resurrects Tabitha’

Masolino 'St. Peter resurrects Tabitha' Brancacci

According to some authors, the background was painted by Masaccio. Baldini, under whose charge the restoration was carried out, contests this. According to him, the work was done in full by Masolino. Whichever the case, what we do know is that the two centre figures are definitely by Masolino.

As mentioned, this fresco is well aligned with the opposite fresco, the Tribute Money, particularly when it comes to perspective. Still, there is a clear difference in the way both artists use that said perspective. In the Tribute Money, the eye of the viewer is guided through the perspectival lines, the roof edges, the cornice and the steps behind the tax collector, to the head of Christ. This is where the story begins, namely with the man asking Christ to pay taxes. 

Masaccio ‘Tribute Money’      Perspective

Masaccio 'Tribute Money'  brancacci
photo: Streven Zucker

Masolino ‘Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha’       
Perspective       Vanashing point

Masolino ‘Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha’       

Masaccio thereby uses perspective to clearly narrate the story for the viewer. Masolino sends the viewer’s attention to the heads of the two striking figures (a little to the right of the man in the pink gown is the vanishing point) at the centre of the picture plane. These ‘two young dandies’ dressed in the latest Florentine fashion of the 1424-1425 season’ are prominently visible, but contribute nothing to the story. At most, they function as a visual bridge between the two miracles. Using figures to enhance the entire work, decoratively as it were, is typical of Masolino’s ‘old style’.

According to Alberti, a painter needs to tread carefully, because:

“I disapprove of artists who, for the sake of being lavish or not wanting to leave any empty space, do not follow a composition but scatter everything in a disorderly fashion, so that the picture does not accomplish an action but seems to be in a general state of chaos.” Cited and translated from: Alberti, L.B., ‘Over de schilderkunst,’ (vertaling Lex Hermans, Inleiding en annotaties Caroline van Eck en Robert Zwijnenberg) Boom, Amsterdam Meppel 1996 blz. 107

Masolino ‘Healing Cripple Raising of Tabitha’  detail

Masolino 1425 and Gentile da Fabriano  c. 1423


Now, it’s worth mentioning that Alberti’s verdict is especially applicable to a painter like Gentile da Fabriano. Indeed, in his triptych, ‘The Adoration’, from 1423 (Uffizi) we do see a fear for emptiness. It’s entertaining to see so many details, but it does render the depiction of this Adoration rather chaotic. For instance, we cannot make out how the procession is moving to worship the Christ child.

Still, the two centre figures are a kind of ancient-style remnant. A style where the decorative, the ornate and the fun details played a large role. Masolino’s dandies with the rich brocade cloaks are exquisitely finished, but do distract from the story. Masaccio, on the other hand, suppresses the decorative to better emphasize the story. Masaccio therefore joins a tradition that started with Giotto.

Filippino Lippi ‘Disputation with Simon Magus and the Crucifixion of St. Peter’
Chromolithograph after Lippi’s Disputation and Crucifixion

Filippino Lippi 'Disputation Simon Magus  Crucifixion of St. Peter' Brancacci
Chromolithograph: wellcome collection

Masolino and Masaccio never finished the fresco cycle. A man named Filippino Lippi would finish it at least fifty-six years later. Filippino is the son of Fra Filippo Lippi. This monk was a Carmelite from the Santa Maria del Carmine monastery.

According to Vasari in his Life of Fra Filippo Lippi, he loved drawing and …

Self-Portrait from ‘Dormition of the Virgin’ Spoleto, Cathedral

“In those days, the chapel in Carmine had just been repainted by Masaccio, and it was so beautiful that Fra Filippo particularly enjoyed it; hence he went there every day for his pleasure and, in the company of many young people who were always drawing , became so skilled that he far surpassed the others in skill and ability […].” Cited and translated from: Giorgio Vasari, ‘De Levens van de grootste schilders, beeldhouwers en architecten Van Cimabue tot Giorgione’, Contact, Amsterdam, 1992 deel I blz. 228 (originele editie 1568).

The monk, Filippo Lippi, fell in love with a nun, left the monastery and had children. Filippino, one of his children, also became a painter. Filippino restored some damaged works. He also painted several new portraits as the faces of the Brancacci’s were severely damaged after their banishment from Florence. Lippi painted three new scenes, including the Disputation with Simon Magus and the Crucifixion of St. Peter. In the Raising of the Son of Theophilus, Lippi held to Masaccio’s style for the figures to the right. His own style was quite different. This becomes evident when looking at the folds of the drapes in a design drawing of two figures by Filippino, from the same period in which he was working in the Brancacci chapel.

Filippino Lippi ‘Study: Two Standing Men in Cloaks’ 1480s
Filippino Lipppi ‘Raising of the Son of Theophilus’ detail

Filippino Lippi 'Study: Two Standing Men in Cloaks'
Hermitage Museum

Before Nero stand the heathen priest and sorcerer Simon, and Peter, with at their feet a pagan idol. It’s worth mentioning that Lippi actually used a coin with Nero’s image to create his portrait. The Legenda Aurea goes into detail about the battle between Simon and Peter.

Filippino Lippi ‘Disputation with Simon Magus’

Filippino Lippi 'Disputation with Simon Magus'  Brancacci chapel

One day, Peter and Paul visited a certain Nero to warn him for Simon’s sorcery. The moment that Lippi chose for his painting can be read with Jacobus de Varagine:

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Fall of Simon Magus’ 1461-62
Royal Collection Trust
Michelangelo, ‘The Torment of Saint Anthony’ 1487

“According to St. Marcellus and Leo, Simon said: ‘But, that I may not long endure him as an enemy. I shall forthwith order my angels to come and avenge me upon him.” ‘Peter said: “I am not afraid of thy angels; but they shall be much more afraid of me. ‘Are you not afraid of Simon, who confirms his godhead by deeds?’ Nero asked.  Naturally, this did not end well for the pagan sorcerer. Simon used his magic to fly high up in the air to prove he was superior to those so-called Christians. ‘Peter,’ asked Paul, ‘why are you idle? Finish what you have begun, for our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us.’ And Peter said: ‘I adjure you, you angels of Satan, who are carrying him into the air to deceive the hearts of the unbelievers, by the God that created all things, that you no longer from this hour keep him up, but let him go!’ And immediately he was let go. He fell down, broke his skull and died.’   Cited and translated from: Jacobus de Voragine, ‘De hand van God De mooiste heiligenlevens uit de Legenda Aurea,’ (vertaling van Vincent Hunink en Mark Nieuwenhuis) Atheneum-Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2006 blz. 115 en 118

The moment when Simon drops dead was already painted by the Florentine painter Gozzoli ten years prior. Nero was furious and told Peter and Paul ‘and that is why, as a fearsome example, I shall have you killed.’ Lippi does not paint Paul’s beheading, but does paint Peter’s crucifixion.

Filippino Lippi ‘Crucifixion’

Filippino Lippi 'Crucifixion' Brancacci chapel

The Crucifixion was originally already painted as a kind of altarpiece. This fresco likely disappeared when the adored byzantine icon of the Madonna del Popolo became the new altarpiece.

Hugo van der Goes 'Portinari altar' detail

Hugo van der Goes ‘Portinari altar’      Zoom out
Filippino Lippi

The two scenes are separated from each other by a small vista. The landscape that can be seen through the gate reveals that, after the death of Masaccio and Masolino, Florence had become acquainted with the Flemish Primitives. Such a vista and the refined atmospheric perspective that lets the eye wander far into the deep was an invention of the Flemings. The altarpiece painted by Hugo van der Goes in 1474-75 for the Florentine merchant Portinari (Uffizi) left a lasting impression on the Florentines.

Filippino Lippi also depicted himself in his fresco, on the far right. He is looking at the viewer. Antonio del Pollaiuolo (left) is also portrayed. He is standing with the three men between Nero and Peter to the left, wearing a green dress. According to Vasari, the man to the right with the red headdress in this group of three is Botticelli. Presently, it is assumed that this figure is actually a portrait of the merchant Raggio.

Continuation Florence day 5: Brancacci chapel (Santa Maria del carmine) VII