Masaccio is a celebrated leading painter of the Italian Renaissance. The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden is one of his frescos. Painted around 1424-27, the fresco rest on the walls of the Florentine Brancacci Chapel. 1 (Fig 1. ) It documents how Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Similar to Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden; Masolino’s magnificent Renaissance fresco, Temptation of Adam and Eve, (Fig 2. ) is also found in the Brancacci Chapel of the Santa Maria del Carmine Church.
Both frescos are two of the most representative depictions of Adam and Eve, but Masaccio’s approaches of working on shadow, composition, expressions, color and symbols made his Expulsion from the Garden of Eden more unique at that time. Both artists had their different approaches in terms of style; Masaccio was much younger than great artists like Donatello, so his skills and techniques were definitely benefited from the observation of those older artists’ work.
In The Brancacci Chapel and Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lipp, Austen Henry Layard wrote, Masaccio was born in a town near Florence, now calls San Giovanni Valdarno. He mainly studied those great artwork made by Fra Filippo Lippiand and Donatello in Florence when he was young. 3 Donatello was one of the greatest sculptors at that time; Masaccio must have learned the rules of perspective by study his sculptures. For instance, one of the Donatello’s reliefs was sculpted at the bottom base of the statue of Saint George in Orsanmichele, (Fig 3. The architecture behind the princess clearly shows the liner perspective.
When lights come from an oblique angle, the shadow of Saint George, his horse and dragon all have their shadow shown on the surface. In The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eva are walking beside each other; the liner perspective is shown by their positions in the space. And similar to the architecture behind the princess in the relief, the wall and arch door behind Adam and Eve obviously indicate the liner perspective by the shapes. One side of the architecture is leading liner towards the vanish points.
Masolino’s fresco is much flatter in a sense. It has the heritage of the International Gothic style. Both characters, Adam and Eve are static and seem suspended in the air. Masolino was much older than Masaccio, and he had studied the lighting and shadowing for a while. In the Crayon, Thomas J. Watson mentioned that Masolino was also advanced the knowledge of chiaroscuro, 4 one of the technics that painters used to depict strong contrasts of light and shade. However, he didn’t paint any shadow in Temptation of Adam and Eve in order to comply with the prevailing artistic conventions.
Adoration of the Magi, (Fig 4) a great work painted by Gentile da Fabriano in the International Gothic style. The main charterers, such as one of the Magi in the painting almost have the same style as Masolino’s Adam and Eve. They all look like floating in the air because they don’t have shadows. It is totally understandable that artists like Gentile da Fabriano and Masolino wanted their work have their uniqueness, but according to the origin story that Adam and Eve represent the sin of disobeying God.
Therefore, A more naturalistic perspective is surely a better choice for the implication of religious purposes. People would feel more related to the work in their real life. Masaccio caught this significant point, and it made his piece stand out. Masaccio excellently captures the excruciating agony of Adam and Eve’s experience of their punishment by depicting the angel watch over the banishment. The composition tells the story immediately, and it perfectly heightens the emotion and natural reaction.
In an article, Gender and Shame in Masaccio’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, James Clifton wrote, Masaccio’s Adam and Eve are struggling because of the fact that they are experiencing shame in the painting, and we can all feel what both characters had suffered by looking at their gesture, body parts and contrapposto, a visual balance of human figures standing with most of its weight on one foot. 5 Since Donatello’s sculptors were Masaccio’s major study objects, the vivid naturalism of those statues must pass on to Masaccios’ figures in his paintings.
The muscle structures of Adam and Eve clearly indicate Masaccio’s advanced understanding of anatomy and body movements. Even though Adam is arm looks little smaller than usual, his muscles on rib and abs are very well painted. There were not many artists have the observation of painting muscles in such details before him. Furthermore, although Adman and Eve were in motion, we can still see the body weight is on one foot. For example, Adam’s right leg is lifted up and going to walk forward. The precision of body motion creates a real natural movement. The most important actions of these two figures are the gestures.
Adam handles his shame by covering his face, and Eve has her hands on her female part to hide herself from shame. Both actions could literally happen in real life. They feel very natural and relatable to the viewers. Moreover, Masaccio is really a good storyteller. Another work painted by him in the same Chapel, The Tribute Money, (Fig 5) all the characters have different postures within different scenes. Viewers can very easily tell the storyline by just looking at the fresco. Naturalism is certainly the key for narrative story to Masaccio, and it helps him to transmit the emotional impact immediately with those realistic postures.
Especially back then, not too many people read, thus a visual emotional connection is definitely a better option to inform majority of people what is the meaning of those scenes. On the other hand, Masolino’s Temptation of Adam and Eve is set against a dark background, which was well depicted before, but it had disappeared over the years. The two characters are parallel to each other. They almost display the same gesture and pose. Both of them are looking at opposite direction and showing a three-quarter view of the face. The body languages for the characters in both frescos reflect the understanding of nature human body studies.
Accounting to Lilian H. Zirpolo, who wrote in The A to Z of Renaissance Art, Masaccio’s figures show his advanced understanding of human anatomy, while Masolino’s Adam and Eve is quite simple in poses, even though he had studied anatomy. 6 In this case; notwithstanding, Masolino was skilled with painting human figures, his Adam and Eve could be any nude characters, if there are no other symbols in the painting. It doesn’t truly tell the story right away. Viewers can’t really conclude the emotions of his characters and there is no relatable emotional response either.
In contrast, Masaccio’s naturism produces a perfect scene by emphasizing the body language with emotional feelings that leads people connect them to their life. In Italian Renaissance Art: Understanding its Meaning, Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier wrote, Masaccio’s painted emotion equals to the laws of nature, people could easily recognize it and relate it to real life situation. 7 Masolino’s Adam and Eve are unperturbed at their nakedness, even though it conjures a mixed feeling of awe and fear because they feel at ease in the presence of the serpent with a woman’s head.
Perhaps, Masolino is trying to create a sign of danger, while both characters are not aware of it. At that time, people would easily religiously connect themselves to the scenes with the background stories or mythical tales that they heard, but Masolino’s approach is still not as powerful as presenting a direct emotion by depicting naturalistic body languages like Masaccio did. Comparing the characters’ expressions of both frescos, Masaccio’s characters have stronger emotional impacts in terms of depicting the facial expressions.
The misery on Eve’s face perfectly implies the utter banishment from God’s love and the lifelong shame of eating the forbidden fruit. People were shocked by the realistic facial expression back then. In Masaccio – Trinity: the emergence of a psychodynamic image, N P James states that the painful pathos and realistic expressions of Adam and Eve are cruel, it shocked a lot of people at their first time of seeing it. 8 It is not hard to imagine, around 1424, there were not many paintings have those extreme facial expression. People didn’t get used to seeing this screaming and howling in paintings.
Accordingly, when people try to connect the expressions to the story, it surely creates an intense feeling of what the story was about and what was the cost of disobeying God. On the contrary, Masolino’s Adam and Eve don’t really have any expression on their faces. Adam seems little anxious, but it is really hard to tell what’s the context between the expression and the story. The use of color and symbolism is apparent in both frescoes. In Masaccio’s piece, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden mirrors the drifting of humanity away from God on committal of the original sin.
Even though the angel is holding a sword, the red robe and open arms show mercy, and also a hint of glory and beauty. On Adam and Eve, Masaccio employed a normal brown color on Adam and little lighter brown for Eve, a move that makes the figures realer. In Storytelling in Christian Art from Giotto to Donatello, Jules Lubbock wrote that the angel is above them heartlessly sending them away, but the red color also represents love and warmth. The arch formed arms over Adam and Eve perhaps also imply the mercy of God’s subsequent redemption of mankind. 9 Furthermore, as a master of light, it is expected of Masaccio to use interesting light works.
The dark lines flowing from the Garden are illustrative of the condemnation. There is light on the right side of the fresco. The light illuminates on the bodies of the banished couple in a way that exposes the sins, guilt and shame of the couple. In Masolino’s fresco, the serpent with a woman’s head symbolically reflects accepting the forbidden fruit as the bridge that connected humankind to evil. And the color scheme is at one time pleasant and artificial. There is a balance of color between the green and brownish hue. The eyes of the couple are vacant making the figures inexpressive. It represents the naivety and hidden danger.
Both artists had their symbols well shown, but the implication of Masaccio’s red angel has a deeper conceptual meaning that people could see hope and admonishment. Where Masolino is subtle, Masaccio is intense in conjuring up emotions and naturalistic reaction. Characters in the fresco of The Expulsion from Paradise attains a style that is human in conveying intense and tragic feelings against Masolino’s courtly and elegant nude figures. Masaccio defies the artistic traditions of the day and produces works that are natural, sensual and real by showing the detail of the figures, expressions, compositions, shadows and fascinating symbols.