Brancacci chapel (Santa Maria del Carmine) IV

St. Peter

Brancacci chapel  Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life  detail: St. Peter

This fresco is also based on the Legenda Aurea. According to De Varagine, Peter was preaching in Antioch and was captured by order of the Roman governor, Theophilus. He was not given water and bread in prison. Paul visited Peter in prison. Filippino Lippi painted this story after 1481 right next to and before the story that took place in Antioch. Paul asked Theophilus to release Peter. The governor agreed on one condition: Peter had resurrect his son, who had been dead for fourteen years. This is what Masaccio shows in the middle of his fresco. The bones next to the boy, who had just come to life, show that he had been dead for many years. The governor, like the inhabitants of the city, converted to the one true faith: Christianity.

Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life and becomes the first bishop of Antioch      Zoom in
Chromolithograph after Peter brings Theophilus to life

Brancacci chapel: Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life
Chromolithograph wellcome collection

Peter    Theophilus

They built a church and Peter was appointed bishop. On the right, Peter sits on a throne in front of the church. Of course he sits higher than the Roman governor on the left. Peter is also depicted more often in this fresco, but Theophilus is also depicted. On the left on the throne with the staff and the sphere in his hand and on the right kneeling on the ground in front of the bishop Peter. After all, spiritual power is higher than secular power, and what better place to show this than in a church like the Carmine.

Portraits of contemporaries in the raising of Theophilus and the Sagra

The churchgoer must have looked up to the many contemporaries he or she saw. Because you not only get to see Masaccio, but also Brunelleschi, Alberti and Masolino. The members of the Brancacci family, including Felice, were also originally portrayed. After the banishment of the Brancacci family from Florence in 1435, the portraits in the Raising of the son of Theophilus were removed or repainted by order of the Medicid.

On 19 April 1422, Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masolino took part in a festive procession that continued in rows of five and six across the square in front of Santa Maria del Carmine. Masaccio later captured this procession above the door that led to the cloister. According to Vasari this was the source for the later portraits in the chapel of Brancacci.

Reconstruction (detail)       Copie Masaccio’s  Sagra 16th century Uffizi

Masaccio  Sagra 16th century
Wikipedia (Italian)

This fresco in terra verde (green colours) was destroyed in the seventeenth century. Vasari praises the Sagra. He writes the following about this feast of consecration:

“It came to pass, the while that he was labouring at this work, that the said Church of the Carmine was consecrated; and Masaccio, in memory of this, painted the consecration just as it took place, with terra-verde and in chiaroscuro, over the door that leads into the convent, within the cloister. And he portrayed therein an infinite number of citizens in mantles and hoods, who are following the procession, among whom he painted Filippo di Ser Brunellesco in wooden shoes, Donatello, Masolino da Panicale, who had been his master, Antonio Brancacci, who caused him to paint the chapel, Niccolò da Uzzano, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, and Bartolommeo Valori, who are all also portrayed by the hand of the same man in the house of Simon Corsi, a gentleman of Florence.” Cited from Vasari ‘The life of Masaccio’ pp. 188-189 Gutenberg

Michelangelo ‘The three standing men’ c. 1494

Most likely refers to Masaccio’s destroyed fresco of the “Consecration (Sagra) of S. Maria del Carmine” in the cloister of this church.“[…] This work, truly, shows great perfection, for Masaccio was so successful in placing these people, five or six to a file, on the level of that piazza, and in making them diminish to the eye with proportion and judgment, that it is indeed a marvel, and above all because we can recognize there the wisdom that he showed in making those men, as if they were alive, not all of one size, but with a certain discretion which distinguishes those who are short and stout from those who are tall and slender; while they are all standing with their feet firmly on one level, and so well foreshortened along the files that they would not be otherwise in nature.” Cited from Vasari ‘The life of Masaccio’ pp. 188-189 Gutenberg


In the chapel, for the first time we know of, Masaccio places contemporaries in a religious story. Alberti (self-portrait; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), who can also be seen in the raising, was very enthusiastic about Masaccio’s work. For example, in his book from 1436 about painting (Italian version), upon returning to Florence after a long time, he writes:
“[…] I realized that many, but especially you, Filippo [Brunelleschi], and our close friend Donatello, and others such as Nencio [Ghiberti], Luca [della Robbia] and Masaccio, have a talent for every praiseworthy cause that is equal to that of those who were famous for these arts in antiquity.” 

Not being inferior to Antiquity was the greatest compliment you could get in the Renaissance.

Portrait Alberti from: Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life

Masaccio has depicted himself: on the right by the open door. He is looking at the viewer. Right next to him and in front of him stands Alberti and behind him stands Brunelleschi with a headdress. The head of the man on the right belongs to Masaccio. Further on the other side, on the left, a portrait of Giangaleazzo Visconti who died in 1402. The man sitting below him is Coluccio Salutati.

f.l.t.r. Masolino, Masaccio, Alberti and Brunelleschi

 Masolino, Masaccio, Alberti and Brunelleschi from: Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life

After this work, the custom of painting contemporaries in a religious representation became common in Florence. In the Brancacci chapel, we see this by Filippino Lippi. After 1481, he portrayed himself in the crucifixion of Peter exactly opposite the Raising of the son of Theophilus. Lippi looks at the viewer just like Masaccio. Many other painters would follow Masaccio’s example as can be seen in the frescoes by Ghirlandaio in the chapel of Tornabuoni.

Five Gentlemen with eight feet  from: Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life
photos: jean louis mazieres

Five Gentlemen with eight feet

According to Vasari, Masaccio died before completing the work on The Raising. It was completed later, after 1481, by Filippino Lippi. The far-reaching restoration of 1983-1989 revealed a great deal of data in this respect. It is clear that the five figures on the far left are by Lippi’s hand.

The theory of the art historian Spike, who has written a monograph on Masaccio, is that Filippino Lippi has painted much more than has been assumed to date. In fact, Lippi did not even leave Masaccio’s original composition intact (Spike, J.T., ‘Masaccio’, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York/London/ Paris 1995 52-53, 195-196).

Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life     Zoom in     Theophilus     Carmelite

Masaccio 'Peter brings Theophilus’ son to life'
photos: Marie-Lan Nguyen and Nicola Quirico

Continuation Florence day 5: Brancacci chapel (Santa Maria del Carmine) V